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Student-Athlete Influencers: A Game Changer for Brands?

By Hannah Turner, July 23, 2020 // Social Media

[About a 5 MIN read]

2021 could just be when the social media marketer’s dreams all come true. That’s when the NCAA is going to allow student-athletes the opportunity to benefit from the use of their name, image, and likeness. This is a game changer for athletes to become social media influencers, and for brands, it taps into a whole new market of influencer. 2021 seems far away now, but there’s a lot of planning to be done for both the brands and the NCAA.

What the New NCAA Rule Means for Social Influencers

“Student-athletes may be amateurs on the field, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get them for free,” says Influencer Specialist Kendall Capparelli with Pathfinders Advertising. And because many are minors, some schools are putting staff in place to ensure the athletes won’t be taken advantage of. Students are also a savvy group that have grown up with social media influencing, so they’re knowledgeable about what they could be worth.

Right now, the biggest speculation is what costs will be associated with student-athletes. There’s no way to predict, but each NCAA division will have its own rules. When these go into effect, your brand will want to know which division your prospective influencer is in and brush up on the NCAA rules. And just as there are different rules for each division, it’s a safe bet that your expenses will vary. Some estimates put Division I players with a large social media following earning as much as half a million dollars per year at almost $20,000 per social media post, while those with a small following may only make a few hundred dollars per year.

How Your Brand Can Utilize This New Market

A lot of eyes will be on brands to not take advantage of this new, young, emerging market. You’ll want to ensure your brand is positively and ethically engaging student-athletes, and that will mean looking for potential obstacles and missteps.

Lastly, think outside the box on compensation. On a recent campaign for a beauty launch for Artistry® Studio,  Capparelli’s team was able to capitalize on an overseas trip experience as the only compensation for the deliverables created by influencers. “This approach,” Capparelli says, “along with a relationship-first approach, has proven to produce authentic content and build strong partnerships with influencers.”

In preparation for the launch of these influencers, you’ll want to start researching now. The process isn’t much different from finding non-NCAA influencers:

  1. Evaluate your brand for where student-athletes could enhance messaging. Be careful not to make assumptions here. “Athletes will most likely avoid products that go against their naturally healthy image, such as supplements, junk foods, or alcohol,” says Capparelli.
  2. Research athletes whose profiles match your brand’s mission, archetype, and messaging. And unless your brand is Nike or Adidas, you’ll most likely benefit from the micro-influencer — influencers that are both professional and high-quality content creators, rather than simply looking for an athlete with a large following.
  3. Monitor your prospective athlete’s social media channels to ensure they are regularly posting, messaging is consistent, and followers are engaged.
  4. Plan ahead and keep a lineup of qualified influencers. Make sure to engage with them so they are equally engaged with your brand. “An influencer who uses your brand will be more convincing than one who just puts out scheduled posts,” explains Capparelli. “Set priorities and goals and track their deployment and results.”

 

What You Need to Know Now

Legislation should be approved by Jan. 31, 2021, with effective dates no later than the start of 2021-22 academic year. If you already have an influencer strategy with your brand, you’re probably in a good place to brush up on the NCAA rules and know that your pool of influencers will grow in 2021. If you’re new to using social influencers, be ready with strategy development for a campaign that can take up to about six weeks, and overall planning and research that can take three months. The strategy and research are worth it for a successful launch, and there are agencies (like Pathfinders) that can help. Agencies have teams of specialists that can assist with anything from strategy, research, branding, content, or running your whole program — leaving brands to do what they do best: producing a great product.

Each NCAA Division will have its own set of rules, but they are all looking towards the same goal for students:

  1. Assure student-athletes are treated similarly to non-athlete students unless a compelling reason exists to differentiate.
  2. Maintain the priorities of education and the collegiate experience to provide opportunities for student-athlete success.
  3. Ensure rules are transparent, focused, and enforceable, and facilitate fair and balanced competition.
  4. Make clear the distinction between collegiate and professional opportunities.
  5. Make clear that compensation for athletic performance or participation is impermissible.
  6. Reaffirm that student-athletes are students first and not employees of the university.
  7. Enhance principles of diversity, inclusion, and gender equity.
  8. Protect the recruiting environment and prohibit inducements to select, remain at, or transfer to a specific institution;

It takes a full, experienced team to manage social media influencers. Contact Pathfinders Advertising today to start a conversation about how our team can help.

Author

Hannah Turner
Hannah Turner

Hannah Turner has been immersed in the public relations and advertising world for over 10 years. With more than 5 years under her belt at Pathfinders, she’s been able to use her obsession with social media to bring campaign success to a number of national and global brands. As Social Media Lead, Hannah drives her team to execute a variety of paid and earned media strategies that pull brands and social media platforms into a cohesive marketing approach. She has worked with many well-known brands, including Welch’s, Amway, Fifth Third Bank, PayPal, Boxed Water, and LEER.

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