It has been a little more than a year since NCAA vs. Alston where the Supreme Court ruled in favor of student-athletes. As a result, the NCAA now allows student-athletes to receive compensation for their name, image, and likeness (“NIL”). 

What is NIL?

NIL literally means name, image, and likeness. In the context of collegiate sports, it refers to the compensation deals that brands make with a student-athlete in order to use their likeness in their marketing efforts. These deals can be for money or in-kind compensation with tickets, merchandise, or other products.

What has changed?

Not only do student-athletes now have the ability to profit off of publicity, they can remain on scholarships while being paid for their likeness (FanNation).

This change has already created some net positive effects on collegiate sports. Female athletes and lesser-viewed sports like lacrosse and crew are benefiting from NIL programs more than the naysayers predicted–and more athletes appear to be staying in school and building financial literacy along the way (ESPN).

The Supreme Court ruling also paved the way for “ collectives” or “boosters” to step into the ring. There are a few types of collectives and each individual organization, separate from the infrastructure of a given school, has its own goals, but they all must abide by certain guidelines outlined in the NCAA’s Interim Policy. They may help facilitate deals for student-athletes, pool funds from individuals and businesses, and even create unique ways for student-athletes to monetize their own brands (On3). It is yet to be seen if they will create a positive or negative impact on the overall NIL ecosystem. While they may support student-athletes in negotiating deals, they also might create new challenges to attracting and keeping top tier talent. 

How can it help my brand?

It is getting continually harder and harder to reach students directly at collegiate sporting events. In fact, the 2021 season saw the lowest average student attendance at college sporting events since 1981 (CBS Sports). The expectation is that this trend will continue to spiral downwards.

Although some administrators are willing to simply chalk it up to “kids these days,” the theories as to why attendance has been dwindling include students facing more rigorous academic programs, a lack of tension surrounding the competition between teams, and rising costs of living–not to mention tuition (Sports Illustrated). There are many other reasons, of course, but the symptom is that brands are not able to reach college students with traditional sports marketing tactics as they have enjoyed in the past. 

If you want to reach alumni, it still pays to focus your marketing efforts at live college sporting events. If you’re trying to connect directly with students, a critical demographic for brand switchers and apps, NIL should now be a key component of your integrated marketing campaigns.

Why NIL?
Student-athletes aren’t only influencers in the digital sphere–they are a recognizable face on campus. Building a relationship with a charismatic student-athlete means you get the benefit of their endorsement, along with access to their personal network of fans and friends. Associating your brand or property with their friendly and successful faces will go a long way in creating brand awareness that sticks and curiosity from new customers about how they can engage with your product or service. 

What can I do to get started?

The Black Sheep works with student-athletes to build packages that can be tailored to your campaign needs. We do our homework on each student-athlete to ensure they are a good fit for your brand and work with you to identify student-athletes who are best suited to represent your business. Not only can we help you create a fair and equitable contract, but our team will help you negotiate the contracts, manage legal and compliance requirements, and help coordinate branding and marketing efforts. 

We also have research showing WHERE students are watching games. It’s not that they aren’t watching…it’s that they aren’t attending. This is the critical difference for your marketing and activation budgets. (Want the research and viewing locations on your target campuses? Contact us at

Working within a limited budget?

No problem! The beauty of NIL is these deals can be made with athletes at any level of tier and prestige. In the process of vetting student-athletes, we don’t merely look at their current star status–our team is actively building relationships with student-athletes with strong reputations and potential to boot.

These mid-level athletes, with 5k-50k followers, may even create better partnerships with businesses who want to ensure the majority of the student-athlete’s following are actually students on campus. Recognizable, local talent can extend your marketing budget and provide even more targeted demographic engagement.

And hey, you never know–that particularly talented sophomore on the women’s volleyball team–for example–may have Olympic aspirations, and your brand could be along for the ride. 

In summary: If part of your sports marketing budget is focused on college students, add NIL to your roster.

We are in the early days of NIL and things will continue to change, particularly as more state laws are developed. As the leading marketing firm focused on college students in the United States, our teams are actively on top of the changes to the regulations, as well as what is working on campus to attract, engage and acquire Gen Z customers.

Contact The Black Sheep at to talk about your desired markets and we’ll help you choose which student-athletes and NIL campaigns can help you put up the high score this season.