Playing the Game Using NIL

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Significant changes in collegiate sports laws in 2021 freed female athletes to capitalize on the opportunities and protection in using their Name, Image and Likeness, or NIL, for product endorsements. This means everything from appearances to autographs, endorsing brands, creating their own brands and becoming their own brands, too.

With the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of student athletes and against the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the path to financial gain will be paved with female college players, from covering the cost of college tuition to generating revenue. Women athletes are perfectly poised to pitch their unique brand of playing the game.

While only roughly 2 percent of college athletes continue to play professionally, the other 98 percent can profit from their NIL, too. In the past, we’ve always heard about collegiate football players scoring big on their product endorsements. Traditional sports media such as television and radio may still be male-dominated; yet research shows it’s the women athletes who have garnered a more visible social media presence. They post more and share more than most male athletes. In this previously untapped outlet, social media could literally level the playing field more than the traditional media coverage that athletes have coveted for decades, according to a recent Tampa Bay Times article. Social media equals relationship building, engaging fans and followers, sharing their experiences, and that opens the door to more financial opportunities for women. TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are expected to bring in $15 billion in revenue.

That translates to dollars and sense for influencers such as Haley and Hanna Cavinder, twins who play basketball for Fresno State University and boast a fan base of nearly three million followers. Their huge following helped them seal the deal with Boost Mobile. Then there’s Chloe V. Mitchell, freshman volleyball player at Aquinas College, Grand Rapids, Michigan. During COVID lockdown, she needed something to do. As a high school senior whose life came to a screeching halt from the pandemic, she yearned for a physical outlet. She created DIY videos when she built her backyard shed and gained a social media audience of millions doing it! Now Chloe is believed to be the first college athlete to monetize her likeness without penalty. Together with her father, Chloe co-founded a company and mobile app, PlayBooked. Its goal is to “connect college athletes to fans and brands.” She hopes these new NIL laws lead to athletes learning about handling finances for their future, for a life after sports.

Take heed, sisters, and get your head in the game. Whichever path you decide to trailblaze, start with solid strategy and planning. First, athletes should check their respective state laws regarding NIL, as these vary from state to state. New NIL laws not only permit a student athlete to earn financial rewards for using her name, image and likeness, but it prevents educational institutions from forbidding athletes to earn money or goods. Next, double check with your respective school, as colleges still have their own particulars around the new ruling. Restrictions on school logos, product endorsement and other details come into play and differ greatly.

Now comes the fun part. Focus on growing your social media accounts, as this appears to be the best return on investment. Make your posts entertaining, engaging and connecting. Strengthen your fan base and the endorsements will follow. Best of all, you don’t need a tremendous following to start looking for brand partnerships. Many companies prefer a quality relationship between “micro-influencers” and fans over sheer quantity. You do you, as the saying goes; be your most genuine self. Find out what sets you apart from other student athletes and carve your own niche market.

Once the possibility of compensation becomes a reality, create a financial game plan. Check out your university’s business or law school for assistance with contracts. If that’s not possible then find a financial adviser to help you navigate the murky waters of endorsement contracts. A professional firm that coordinates endorsement deals and obligations should rank at the top of your list. Pay off the remainder of your college tuition, room, board and everything else not covered by your athletic scholarship. Consider choosing a charity to donate some of your earnings and possibly become its spokesperson, too. Think long-term and invest. Take a page from Chloe, who is saving for a house as a long-term investment property for when she attends graduate school later. Save now and pay your future self, because as much as you love the game you’re playing, injuries and age are harsh realities.

One last sage piece of advice—be sure to include your parents in the loop because they have life experience and your best interests at heart.

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