Are NCAA Athletes The Next Wave of Influencers?
Recent changes to the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) bylaws mean that for the first time, student-athletes are now able to profit off of their name, image and likeness (NIL). Many athletes are already taking advantage, announcing sponsorships and other plans to build their social media followings—including Miami Hurricanes quarterback D’Eriq King hearing from 50 companies the first day the new rules went into effect.
With fall sports season underway, social media promotion has accounted for 90% of deals between athletes and brands. So what does this influx of new NCAA social media creators mean for brands? While athletes represent a huge new pool of partners, it’s important to approach potential partnerships with the same care, attention and commitment to authenticity as brands would working with any creators.
How athletes can impact influencer marketing
There are more than 450,000 NCAA student-athletes—a group more than 100 times larger than the pool of the about 5,000 professional athletes that make the most impact with brand sponsorships. “There’s so many new creators that brands can partner with,” says Alec Wagley, Senior Director of Influencer Integrations at BEN. “It opens up the door for so many new creators to have a voice and align themselves with brands that they care about.”
And crucially, beyond just their athletic accomplishments, college athletes are often also gamers, or fashionistas, or have specific lifestyle interests. “There are so many verticals that these athletes can help brands reach,” Wagley Says. “It’s important to marry the athlete’s interests with the brand in an authentic way.”
Working with college athletes also opens up targeting opportunities for brands looking to reach specific geographic markets where college athletes enjoy high profiles. “If brands are looking to target a specific market, using NCAA athletes is a really big opportunity, as locals have affinities for the schools in their communities.” Wagley says.
Considerations for brands when working with athletes
Though athletes offer brands exciting new partnerships and targeting opportunities, Wagley notes that overall, it’s important to treat athletes as creators in their own right. Sourcing an athlete to work with on an influencer campaign will look similar to other influencer campaigns. “I’m going to look for athletes who have a certain following size, engagement rate, click through rate, and bot percentages,” Wagley explains.
At the end of the day, NCAA athletes are still young adults with audiences, so just like when working with any creator, brands will have to evaluate the potential drawbacks of an athlete posting something controversial, or receiving negative media attention. “We’re always going to vet for brand safety to make sure there’s nothing that could put a brand at risk,” Wagley says of BEN’s work, but notes this is the same approach that would be taken with any creator.
Ultimately, adding NCAA athletes to the influencer economy will bring about new content, trends and virality. “I’m excited to have athletes be part of this creator economy conversation because they’re going to help drive the next wave of excitement,” Wagley says.