Marketing Insights Public Relations

Exploring NIL Partnerships: A Playbook for Success

NIL Athlete sitting in front of MHP/Team SI camera crew

If you follow college sports, then you have likely heard of NIL (meaning name, image and likeness) and the opportunities it presents for both student-athletes and brands. Thanks to a combination of new state laws and NCAA legislation, brands have been testing uncharted territory by tapping college athletes for marketing campaigns. Some brands have utilized NIL as a roundabout pay-for-play opportunity. They have sought to compensate the best student-athletes on their local collegiate sports team for a small-scale brand partnership. While perhaps this is a smart sporting strategy, it is not a great strategy for receiving ROI on a marketing campaign. When executed properly, we’ve seen that an NIL partnership is an excellent opportunity for brands to tap into a passionate fan base to market products and raise brand awareness. 

Several factors need to be considered when executing a successful NIL campaign. The most important is to remember that NIL campaigns can’t be executed like a typical influencer agreement. Sure, brands can tap into an athlete’s social media channel as a means to gain traction, but that’s only one aspect of NIL. If brands limit NIL deals strictly to organic social media content, opportunities will be left on the table. And vice versa, if brands are only using student athletes for TV commercials or billboards, the partnership is not being utilized to its fullest potential. In order to receive the best ROI, marketers need to treat NIL partnerships as a hybrid influencer campaign + celebrity endorsement. In other words, NIL partnerships need a TraDigital approach. 

MHP/Team SI has experience working with both college athletes and online influencers. Based on our history implementing NIL campaigns, we’ve rounded up a quick list of tips and best practices:

1. Find the right partner. 

Finding a student-athlete that resonates with your brand is an important step that cannot be overlooked. In order for content to hit the mark it needs to be authentic to the student-athlete’s brand. Don’t just look for an endorsement from your university’s most popular student-athlete. Look for an advocate that has experienced your brand first-hand. If they haven’t experienced the brand, then look for immersion opportunities.

Another important step is conducting an online audit to see where/how their name appears online. Review the student-athlete’s social media accounts. Watch their news conferences and media interviews. You want to make sure the student-athlete will represent your brand well.

2. Forge a mutually beneficial relationship. 

Just like traditional influencer partnerships, contract agreements and creative briefs are important assets to protect both the athlete and the brand. A successful NIL partnership is a mutually beneficial relationship for both parties that can include both monetary payment and in-kind services. By providing in-kind services in the agreement, you are guaranteeing that the student-athlete can experience the brand and authentically speak to it.

When drafting an agreement, keep in mind the student-athlete’s top priority is school and sport. Time constraints and school commitments will need to be factored into your timeline agreement. Additionally, both the brand and student-athlete will have to adhere to college branding guidelines. At the end of the day, the partnership needs to be reasonable and easy for the student-athlete to execute.  

3. Deployment is everything. 

How brands choose to deploy NIL campaigns determine ROI. A strategic, omni-channel plan is key to overall success. MHP/Team SI’s playbook includes:

  • Creative Campaign – Development of a campaign thematic that is bold and attention grabbing. 
  • Organic Content – Content is king and video plays a pivotal role, especially for channels such as Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, owned channels, etc. 
  • Paid Digital and Traditional Media – Utilize paid strategies to get in front of the right audiences. 
  • Public Relations – Tap into earned media, influencers and grassroots opportunities to maximize organic channels. 

How do I know if NIL is right for my company or brand? 

NIL is a buzzword that has garnered a lot of attention this past year, and rightfully so. When implemented successfully, it can lift brand awareness, as well as increase social media engagement, website traffic and sales. Companies with budgets of all sizes can take advantage of NIL opportunities, from small businesses and nonprofit organizations to Fortune 500 companies.

To learn more about how NIL can help your brand, email Kristen Nicholson, MHP/Team SI Vice President of Public Relations, at

Watch MHP/Team SI’s latest NIL videos below.


Kristen Nicholson