Skip to main content

Name, Image, and Likeness: 7 Brands Reshaping the NIL Market

After more than a year since the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) changed its rules governing compensation to student athletes for t...

After more than a year since the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) changed its rules governing compensation to student athletes for their name, image, and likeness (NIL), the NIL market has exploded across college athletics. Opendorse, a NIL marketing company, reported $917 million in contracts at the 12-month milestone, which exceeded the $500 million it anticipated. The organization expects the market to grow to well over $1 billion in 2023 and double annually through the foreseeable future.

What is NIL?

On July 1, 2021, the NCAA began permitting student-athletes to profit from their name, image, and likeness through lucrative endorsement arrangements. Prior to this change, college players were not allowed to be paid for their individual performance and brands, beyond academic scholarships and education expenses.

This rule change and accompanying legislation have changed the landscape of college athletics because it might incentivize star athletes to forego professional careers for an additional year or two.

A number of renowned collegiate athletes have signed NIL deals in the millions for their support of a range of products, including car dealerships, restaurant chains, and sportswear. This sea change represents an opportunity for every university, brand, and marketing team throughout the US.

The Brands

1. Mission-Driven Support with Cash App 

Cash App, a growing financial technology platform, has taken advantage of the potential of NIL contracts, signing Paige Bueckers, a superstar basketball player at the University of Connecticut, and Bryce Young, the starting quarterback for the University of Alabama.

Cash App will be a significant contributor to the Paige Bueckers foundation, which focuses on promoting social justice and equal opportunity, starting with donations of $100,000 in Bitcoin and $100,000 in cash, as well as $15 payment giveaways to fans to promote the partnership.

Even before he made his college debut, Cash App partnered with Young on content creation related to his role.

2. Telling Richer Stories with NFT Genius 

NFT Genius signed former LSU and current NBA G-League basketball player Shareef O’Neal to a long-term contract in December 2021 to create a line of NFTs that tell Shareef’s story, with a focus on his love of family and sports. NFT Genius investors include Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

“[I see] NFTs as an innovative medium to bring fans along my life’s journey… We have a lot of surprises in store including winning signed memorabilia, free air drops, and access to some cool experiences with me and my family,” said O’Neal.

The partnership between O’Neal and NFT Genius highlights how brands can give fans a deeper view into the background and character of star athletes, beyond their on-field performances. 

3. Developing Advanced Technology with Diamond Kinetics 

Diamond Kinetics, an industry leader in baseball and softball technology, partnered in January 2022 with University of Alabama softball star Montana Fouts, a two-time All-American and 2021 NFCA Pitcher of the Year for the Crimson Tide, to use its sensor-embedded softball in her training. The data tracked from the softball she endorses is shared via the Diamond Kinetics app, which will now include training drills and content that feature Fouts and the smart softball. 

Diamond Kinetics produces sports technology with USA Softball and USA Baseball, and works directly with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Cleveland Guardians, and Toronto Blue Jays.

4. Fueling Fashion Trends with Amazon 

Amazon signed a deal in August 2022 with Auburn University quarterback T.J. Finley, allowing the new Tiger to sell custom merchandise on Amazon Fashion’s platform. Finley is reportedly the first NCAA football player to sign with the company, which is expanding into college and professional sports. Finley’s custom clothing line includes t-shirts, sweatshirts, phone cases, tote bags, and even phone pop-sockets. 

Through social media, the quarterback is also promoting Amazon’s Prime student membership, reminding fans they could get free shipping on his branded gear if they signed up for the service (first reported by Front Office Sports).

5. Spotlighting Future Stars in NBA 2K 

Before becoming the first overall pick by the Orlando Magic in the 2022 NBA Draft in June, Paolo Banchero signed a NIL deal while still a freshman at Duke University to become the first NCAA basketball player included in the video game NBA 2K22. The incoming rookie will be featured within a special game mode alongside Washington Wizards forward Rui Hachimura and Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant. Despite featuring other basketball (and football) players in past video games, the NCAA has not previously compensated the athletes whose image appeared in those programs.

This shift reflects a substantial opportunity for an array of gaming companies. For example, EA Sports is planning to relaunch its NCAA College Football game in 2023, which will certainly include athletes compensated under the new NIL rules. 

6. Reimagining Influencer Marketing with Level 13 Agency 

Level 13 Agency launched its NIL-focused sports marketing practice in July of 2021 and a year later signed a contract valued over $250,000 with the Texas Tech women’s basketball team that pays each player $25,000 to promote its work and partner with the firm’s clients through social media posts, autograph sessions, in-person appearances, and commercials.

“We essentially contract the players with our agency and then the community contracts us to get the players to do the marketing,” advised Kirk Noles, Level 13’s co-founder.

7. Driving Team Success with Linktree

Linktree, a platform that allows creators, brands, and athletes to engage directly with interested audiences, created the first Team Linktree class of college athletes in July 2021, which includes recognized stars Margzetta Frazier, Grant Horvat, Shareef O’Neal, Masai Russell, and Alana Walker. In the past year, the group’s platform has gained over 20 million users, including the four major sports leagues (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL) and celebrities like Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.

These five athletes have created and shared a diverse portfolio of content that showcases their personality beyond sports, using Linktree to connect their audiences to their stories, brand deals, communities, and NIL ventures.

Opportunities for PhotoShelter

Many of the most notable NIL partnerships focus on visual storytelling and influencer marketing. They empower athletes to profit from their talent and unique brands to promote sponsors that align with their missions.

PhotoShelter for Brands may have a unique opportunity to serve as a bridge between collegiate-level influencers and brands by enhancing the real-time workflow and messaging of the brands to maximize the returns on their NIL investments, while supporting star athletes with a solution to help them integrate their social media promotions and other influencer activities. Existing integrations with Opendorse, INFLCR, Greenfly, and Socialie into PhotoShelter’s API platform have them positioned firmly ahead of competitors. 

If you have any thoughts or questions of your own, tweet @psforbrands or join our PSB Slack community.

Ready to transform your team’s creative workflow?