NIL Ready: Preparing Student-Athletes to Win in the New Era of Name, Image, and Likeness Rights | Part 2

Name, image, and likeness rights monetization is nothing new. In fact, athletes have been earning money this way for decades. 

Until recently — the moment that student-athlete compensation began to dominate the college athletics conversation — the term “NIL” was reserved for professional athlete marketing contracts and group licensing deals. But these opportunities activate in our face every day. Sponsorship, endorsement, and even influencer marketing is all directly tight to the value of those rights. From billboards and shoe deals to autograph signings and sponsored social media posts… it all comes down to NIL rights.

And now in a matter of months, student-athletes will finally have a seat at the table to benefit from their NIL rights.

The moment restrictions to NIL monetization regulations are lifted, collegiate athletes around the country will be given the opportunity to earn income from their name, image, and likeness rights. 

To meet the moment, student-athletes and their respective programs are hustling to prepare for the future of NIL. In Part 1 of this student-athlete series, we shared several tactical takes on how athletes can assess and edit their personal presence. We broke down how athletes can begin to maximize their value immediately with simple steps, including:

  • Building effective social media profiles
  • Auditing prior posts
  • Understanding how they compare to peers

In Part 2, we’re moving from assessment to prepartion — to share how athletes and their programs can set the wheels in motion for success with name, image, and likeness rights.

What’s Your Why?

We’ve helped thousands of professional and post-amateur athletes earn and fulfill endorsements in the past decade. From All-Pros and Olympic gold medalists to fringe free agents; we’ve negotiated, facilitated, and activated NIL opportunities for athletes at every level. 

This experience has taught us first-hand what makes athletes most marketable. We understand what attracts fans, and ultimately, brands to talent. And we know that draw does not stop with production inside the lines sport. 

Yes, big-time stats help the cause, but fans follow because of who you are and what your brand represents. Those with the best-established brands are the most marketable, and in turn, will receive the most endorsement opportunities. 

But brands aren’t built by accident. Athletes must understand and embrace their why… what motivates you to build a brand; to stand out amongst your peers; to become marketable?

The potential answers are many…

To make money?

To give back to the community?

To provide for your family?

To prove yourself right?

To line up your first job offer?

To build a platform that lasts beyond your athletic career?

Whatever the why —  find it and embrace it. Understanding your why is internal, but it will drive the way the world sees you. When there’s conviction beyond your why, you will let it lead your actions on social media, at the podium, and how you carry yourself within and beyond the lines of your sport. 

Learn from the best: Emmanuel Acho

If you’ve been on social media recently, you’ve likely seen Emmanuel Acho and his series, Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man. The former Texas Longhorn and NFL vet also just announced his move from ESPN to Fox Sports. 

Before Acho was able to rack up millions of video views or receive the support of the largest publishers in sports, he discovered his why and took action to achieve his goals every step of the way. 

During his playing career, he actively built his platform as a conduit to share his faith and help people in need. By building his brand and the influence of his voice, Acho is able to reach a larger, more attentive audience.

To get there, he consistently shared his mission and persona. He accepted interview requests, wrote articles detailing his experiences,  and spoke on summit panels. Post-NFL, Acho began his broadcasting career at the Longhorn Network, followed by his rapid rise at ESPN. 

By understanding his goals and consistently striving to reach them, Acho now owns one of the most powerful platforms in sports media, providing the tools to rise to the occasion and reach the masses with his message in recent weeks. 

Who Are You?

You know who you are, right? The question sounds elementary, but trust, it’s a powerful thing to understand. 

Knowing your why is the start — putting that goal in your sights — but knowing who you are is how you’ll build the platform that will get you there. 

Consider this — CJ McCollum and Emmanuel Acho are both setting themselves up for successful post-playing careers in media and journalism, but the two communicate in very different ways. 

Know your bio

So, how do you know… who you are? Some of these answers are easy, but can be extremely valuable in shaping your brand.

  • Hometown
  • Sport
  • Position
  • Year in school
  • Major

These are simple, but they offer insight into how your audience views you, and also who you will be compared to in the NIL era.

You can bet NFL sponsors know who the most marketable rookie receiver is, and will take that into consideration for their next sponsorship activation. The same will be true at the college level. If you can stand out among your peers, more opportunities will come your way. 

Embrace your interests

Next, dive a little deeper into the details: what do you care about? 

Friends, family, sports, culture, entertainment, etc., are all potential personal interests. This is another area to carve your niche. 

P.J. Tucker has built a recognized off-court brand and revenue stream from his status as a Sneakerhead. JuJu Smith-Schuster has accessed an all-new audience by becoming synonymous with video game streaming. The Ball family has doubled down on their family dynamic to achieve a level of fame that, so far, outpaces on-court performance.

Embracing interests will set you apart from your peers. While fans of your team are your most likely followers, sharing what you’re all about outside the lines will make new audiences accessible and attract advertisers that align with your interests. 

When and where is your time spent?

This seems like another easy answer for many college athletes. You likely spend your time at practice, in meeting rooms and training facilities, in the weight room, at study hall, and in class. Maybe you get more free time in the offseason, but between school and workouts, that schedule stays full.  But to understand where you should spend your time building a personal brand, look to when and where you’re already doing it. Which social media channels do you scan? What television do you watch? What activities do you join off-line and what communities are you a part of online? Knowing this can show you where your most natural opportunities exist and where pitfalls might lie. If you’re already active on Twitter, then consider doubling down to establish your brand on the platform. If you already spend time shooting video with your friends, maybe YouTube is the opportunity for you. If you’re a gamer, work to understand your opportunity with Twitch. While where is important, when is also key. The most marketable athletes don’t stop communicating with their audience. They stay active when the lights are brightest in-season, and keep their followers entertained even when sports are slow. Whatever your channel(s) of choice, commit. Frequency and consistency will lead to more engagement, more followers, and ultimately increased value of your NIL rights.

What’s Next?

Now you can begin to build your blueprint. Answer the questions above and begin to put your plan on paper. By embracing your why, understanding interests, and examining your current habits, you will be in position to be prepared for NIL. 

Next week, we’ll share tips to understand your audience and offer insights to take your following to the next level. 



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