Best Practices for Companies Wanting to Sponsor Athletes

The world of all things NIL contracts and college athlete endorsements is shiny and new. 

For those who don’t know (but if you’re a sports fan, we don’t know how you couldn’t), back in July of 2021 legislation passed in the US at a national level leaving it up to the states to fully legalize student athletes’ abilities to make money off of their Name, Image, and Likenesses.

In light of these new NIL rules, companies might think that the rules of thumb and tricks of the trade are the same for college-level athletes as they are for professional athletic endorsements. But we are here to set the record straight. There are important differences in approaching NIL contracts with college athletes that could make or break your brand’s chance at your desired athlete signing on the dotted line.

  1. Get to Know Your Athletes Before You Approach Them

College-age athletes are beginning to really come into themselves during the years at their universities. They are choosing the words they want to define themselves, indulging in their preferred pastimes and hobbies, and discovering brands that uphold their lifestyles and passions.

That’s why truly getting an idea of who an athlete is before approaching them with a deal is one of the best ways to ensure an NIL contract’s chance of succeeding before even pitching it to a proposed sponsee. 

Some top endorsement athletes might gravitate more towards a clothing or self-care brand, whereas others might be the perfect fit for an outdoor gear company or a new social media app. But determining whether or not an athlete would actually use your product or be proud to represent your brand is a good starting point.

Our recommendation? Begin to learn more about the athletes that you have in mind that seem perfect for NIL contracts.  Look at their various social media accounts; Twitter, Facebook, interviews. See what they fill their days with when they’re not playing sports, and then decide if your brand fits along those lines.

For example, Spencer Rattler, a University of South Carolina quarterback, loves to travel. Therefore, brands that have a more adventurous tone or product might have more success in reaching out with an NIL contract for Rattler. Another example of a company partnering with an athlete that has an interest in their service/business is Dylan Powell, an Indiana football player, who partnered with the local kennel at which he boards his dog, Hoosier, when he is away for games.

  1. Deals Don’t Have to Have a National Footprint to be Effective

With a new generation coming of buying age comes a new style of marketing tactics. This new ‘Generation Z’ tends to trust smaller scale marketing tactics that focus on what are called ‘micro-influencers’. These are social media presences that have a following sized anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000. 

Now top endorsement athletes certainly are not synonymous with influencers, but there’s a valuable piece of marketing savvy to be taken from this new sort of consumer behavior: small-time endorsements can be incredibly powerful.

For example, Markerly CEO Sarah Ware noted that when one of their clients used the Jenner and Kardashian sisters to promote a weight loss tea, it led to less conversions than when they contracted 30-40 micro-influencers to promote the tea. 

In the same vein, college athletes with a smaller and more intimate following have more of a sway over the consumer choices of those individuals, thanks to the increased intimacy of those relationships. Therefore pushing your brand or product to a student-athlete with a micro-influencer-size following could be a more effective way to leverage the new NIL rules.

Not only are small-time college-age athletes a good business investment, but these types of NIL contracts are going to be more affordable as well. Thus, paying a number of athletes with smaller followings less individually could end up being a better return on investment overall than lavishly paying one athlete with a huge following.

  1. Treat Athletes Like People, Not Walking Advertisements

Athletes have lives and personalities outside of their courts and fields. Letting those aspects of their person shine when crafting an NIL contract will show that you care about the athlete as a human being, not just because you believe they can shoot your brand into stardom. 

Try approaching a potential endorsement deal as more of a partnership; take what the athlete has to contribute in mind, and let them have a say in what it is they do and how they do it. After all, their fans follow them for a reason. 

Therefore letting these athletes put their personal touches on a caption or a photo will not only make that athlete feel more a part of the brand themselves, but it will also cause your endorsement post to resonate more with the audience your company is trying to reach.

How to Connect with Athletes and Lock Down Powerful NIL Deals

Companies wanting to sponsor athletes should look no further than Icon Source. We are an online marketplace that has been connecting athletes and brands since before the new NIL rules went into effect last year.

The steps are simple: you make an account on, and you start browsing athletes by sport, gender, age, school, you name it. Once you have found an athlete or athletes whom you would like to contact, you simply do so through our platform. It’s easy, safe, and secure. 

Have more questions about our company and how we can help yours flourish? Don’t hesitate to reach out. We are excited to get you started crafting and extending effective NIL contracts.

Drew Butler
You only have control over three things in your life: The thoughts you think The images you visualize The actions you take

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