Marketing Sports Marketing NCAA

Brands: proceed with caution during NCAA rookie frenzy

By Sly Peoples | EVP, influence, strategic development and collaboration

July 13, 2021 | 4 min read

The Supreme Court’s ruling on the NCAA name and likeness policy has created a marketplace frenzy. Everywhere from local car dealerships to global agencies are scrambling to set up shop and tap into the promise of partnering with college athletes. Edelman’s Sly Peoples explains why this is a moment of great opportunity for brands, but at the same time they must go to great lengths to avoid exploiting this young, burgeoning talent.


The Supreme Court’s NCAA ruling has opened up a gateway of opportunity

Since collegiate athletics’ inception, these young athletes have been a beloved part of American, consumer culture. Historically, however, these so-called ‘amateurs’ have not been able to reap the financial benefits of their own name, image and likeness (NIL). But now, for the first time ever, the floodgates are open – and everyone is rushing in.

The problem now is that we’re at risk of circling back to the very issue that created this debate in the first place – the exploitation of college athletes. As dealers in brand, influence and marketing, our industry has a role to play. Our first step into this arena needs to be explicitly in support of the athlete.

It’s one thing to sign an athlete, quite another to deliver reputable brand management that sets them up for long-term success. How can an experienced brand house help athletes navigate this very nascent, very complex ecosystem, while engaging ethically? There are a lot of components to getting this right – everything from establishing trust and personal brand-building to educating these newcomers on tax and trademark law. Here are the top five considerations we see for anyone who wants to get this right – whether you’re an athlete or a brand:

1. Trust: Regardless of their platform or time spent on TV, these individuals are still young 18-21 year-olds entering unchartered territory. Accountability and communication must be at the heart of the burgeoning brand-athlete relationship, and an honest contract and vetting process is key in building a foundation of trust that sets both parties up for mutual success.

2. Education: This isn’t like contracting a professional influencer accustomed to paid sponsorships. Brands must get back to basics when working with these athletes to ensure they have the tools and resources needed to understand the full scope of what these deals entail and what is expected of them.

3. Authenticity: There’s a land grab happening right now with most parties going after the top 1% – the Trevor Lawrence’s of the world. But it’ll be important for brands (and athletes) to look beyond name recognition for a partner that aligns most authentically with their values. This is an opportunity for brands to think outside of the box about who can best represent their mission and tell their story.

4. Flexibility: This ecosystem and process is brand new. From evolving rules and regulations to inevitable violations, there are going to be some growing pains – lots of them. Brands must be nimble.

5. Patience: This unfamiliar landscape requires a thoughtful approach that is laser focused on the long-term. Rushing to get there is not the answer, and we all have a lot of learning to do – together.

NIL presents both athletes and brands with a major opportunity – and an accompanying responsibility that is just as big. Before we jump the gun on these ruling many consider long overdue, we must ensure we have the right intentions and protections in place to make it work financially and ethically.

Sly Peoples is executive vice-president influence, strategic development and collaboration at Edelman.

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