As College Athletics test the limits of Name Image and Likeness (NIL) to funnel money directly to players, it's clear there are basically no boundaries for the athletes themselves to build a business of their choosing. The result has been a huge push of athletes at the collegiate level taking pages out of the influencer playbook to build a following on TikTok and Instagram.
The crux of successful social media content for athletes is leveraging the things, events, locations, etc. you have access to pared with your unique perspective.
Leverage What You Know To Grow
By being an athlete at any level, you are a person of interest for more people than you realize. While you might not be starting in the Super Bowl, you are having experiences playing games, training, and pursuing your career goals in athletics which inherently gives you a community you belong to and envy among people who cannot do the same. Maybe you're a High School Athlete, College Athlete, or so blessed to become a Professional Athlete - remember that everyone in the steps before you is wishing they become you.
Sharing your experiences is priority number one.
Jabril Williams, a D1 Offensive Linemen at Elon University in North Carolina, has grown an engaged following on TikTok with his big guy humor. "Linemanlations" are words he jokingly lives by as a lineman.
@jabrilw61 Reply to @brentlybig60 this one’s not mine but was too good not to make a vid out of🤝📖 #football #fypシ #offensivelineman #defensivelineman #sports #viral #linemanlife #entertainment ♬ original sound - sosa.
At around 600k views across 12 linemanlations posts, he's made it a successful format that's leverages his personality and experiences. Williams doesn't have nay #ad posts, but he has the making of a influencer business due to his affixation and growing reach - more on that later. I spoke briefly with Williams to get the run down on how he's creating that growth and where he's at with monetization.
It’s something that I’m working on, really looking to build my brand but all and all I just wanna make relatable content for the people that follow me. I would say that is the main reason for my growth, I just enjoy making content that people find funny and relatable and I’m going to continue to do that regardless of monetization
Working With Brands
Lauren Brzozowski became Team USA Development Bobsled Pilot shortly after graduating from college and has leveraged her access in such a unique sport to amass nearly 80k followers across her channels and find sponsors to help her continue in her sport. She was one of a handful of athletes who submitted to the USA Bobsled Virtual Combine and was selected to continue to train with the team.
@bobsled_broz Blessed to be in this program #TeamUSA #zozzy #brzozowski #takeaNAIRbreak ♬ original sound - AMPCLIPS⚡️
Working with xtremeelement she's realized nearly 6.2 million views total on content showcasing their product. Branded content doesn't usually reach that significant of viewership organically so it's not uncommon for the advertiser to spend additional money on the platform to promote your post to more users. While that might sound like a disadvantage to the athlete, it truly is mutually beneficial - giving both the brand and the athlete more eyeballs to convert into customers/viewers.
By the Numbers
So you're posting and creating content on these platforms, when does the money truck arrive?
Thomas McCoy, a class of 2023 wide receiver at Centerville High School has 300k followers across his social channels at only 18 years old.
The biggest D1 school he's talking to is UNC Charlotte, who has about 70k across all of their channels. While he's certainly a capable athlete, it's also feasibly a great business tactic at to have him on your roster if for nothing other than the reach he'd be able to generate over 4 years creating content at your institution. With the NIL rules of today, it would stand as legitimate NIL compensation as well. Although, very few college coaches are staking roster spots on brand building versus athletes who can generate wins, but it's certainly on the horizon as NIL snowballs down the free market hill.
To put this into perspective, his TikTok following alone actually lands him between App State and Ohio State for number of followers on D1 College Football account.
As of June 1st 2022 he's eclipsed 10.2 million likes on his page and only narrowly bested by the six time national championship football program in upstate South Carolina with 10.5 million likes, Clemson.
McCoy doesn't have any #ad content on his page, but that's more than likely so that he can preserve his eligibility for NCAA D1 schools - as athletes aren't technically supposed to be eligible if they make NIL cash prior to college.
But when he can, he'd pretty easily net 6k per post for a brand integration like Brzozowski's including media that he created himself (300k follower x .02 cents industry average per follower) but could quickly triple that estimate doing a deep integration with a brand who desires his core following and demographic. From an optics standpoint he could net virtually any amount from a college booster should he find himself in a blind bidding war like it seems many athletes on the Texas A&M and Ohio State's roster have.
How Do I Start & What Do I Need
None of the athletes above have woken up one day to the success on social they have now. They've work for years and achieved varying levels of success on each post, learned from that what can work for them, and tried again.
Brands and sponsors typically expect either a high level of legitimacy or reach from any influencer they work with and that can come in a couple ways.
Williams as a D1 athlete has the affiliation with his college that legitimizes him under NIL legislation as able to work with brands, as well as an athletic department which facilitates him to do so. His reach is still growing and that will really help him open door to opportunities.
Brzozowski has a unique affiliation with Team USA Bobsled that's given her true legitimacy as a pro athlete plus is using her social media as a business opportunity. She's got the dynamic combo now of legitimately and reach which is really key to unlocking bigger and better opportunities.
McCoy has great reach and will soon have some legitimacy if he becomes a college athlete. If he does not, his reach is significant enough that someone brand will certainly take a chance with him, perhaps for a smaller initial rate, to see if he's able to create engaging content around their product and ultimately drive a return on investment.
Just like scholarship offers, your first brand deal is often the hardest.
The best thing you can do is start creating content that showcases who you are. There's certainly a brand out there that wants to advertise to that demographic, it's only a matter of obtaining legitimacy or reach.