NCAA decision let athletes profit from image use could affect influencer marketing

By Danielle Masterson

- Last updated on GMT

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Getty Images

Related tags Sports nutrition athletes Instagram ncaa

The new decision could disrupt the industry and shake up how brands use student athletes to promote their products online.

The NCAA recently announced that it plans to allow college athletes to earn compensation. The organization's board of governors voted unanimously to permit student athletes to profit from the use of their name, image and likeness.

New laws to allow something similar were being considered by state legislatures in New York​ and Florida​. 

The surprise move comes on the heels of a California bill which also allows​ student athletes to be compensated for their image and likeness. The bill was set to take effect in 2023, but would now no longer be necessary. 

Times they are a changin’

In announcing the decision, the NCAA acknowledged that the college atmosphere is changing and it’s time to modernize the institution.  

"We must embrace change to provide the best possible experience for college athletes," ​said Michael Drake, the NCAA board chair who is also president of Ohio State University. In a statement​, Drake stressed the need for "additional flexibility" in the NCAA's approach. "This modernization for the future is a natural extension of the numerous steps NCAA members have taken in recent years to improve support for student-athletes, including full cost of attendance and guaranteed scholarships."

How transformative the measure will be, remains in doubt

How student athletes will be paid is up to how each of the three divisions of NCAA athletics see fit. Joshua Schall of J. Schall Consulting LLC​, told NutraIngredients-USA that the devil is in the details. 

“From my perspective, the initial announcement was soft on details about how athletes will benefit and that concerns me. The NCAA is giving its 'working group' time to flush out details by April 2020. At which point, it could take years for any changes to take shape in college athletics. I have a bad feeling the changes will be less transformative than the headlines read because the NCAA will find a way to add layers of control into the decision to allow name, image and likeness (NIL) ​rights.”

The college sports industry is big business

College sports programs took in $14 billion in 2018 through ticket sales, television contracts, apparel deals and merchandise sales, according to the “Madness Inc”​ report. 

...and so is Instagram 

According to the influencer management platform Traackr​, 72% of major brands say they are dedicating a sizable portion of their marketing budgets to influencers. This year, marketers said they are 30% more likely to use some form of influencer technology.


Instagram’s best-paid athlete is soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo, with 188 million followers. He rakes in $975,000 per post.

While that profit isn’t realistic for college athletes, the possibility to earn some extra money is a step in the right direction, said Schall.

“In my opinion, today's college athletes deserve the chance to make a profit off their name, image and likeness (NIL). As college sports has grown into a billion dollar industry, it has become increasingly apparent that everyone is profiting from it except for the talent (aka the athletes).”

Indeed, the Madness Report mentioned that even in the richest athletic conferences, such as the Big Ten or the Southeast Conference, just 12% of revenue goes to athlete grants-in-aid, while 16% goes to the salaries of coaches.

“The business ecosystem that surrounds college sports is robust and each collegiate athlete should have the same NIL rights as your or me to profit off of them at the height of their marketability,”​ added Schall. 

The new rule could be a game changer for dietary supplement brands

When the rules are worked out, student athletes steeped in social media will have tools at their disposal to monetize their personal brands quickly and we could see them hawking a variety of products. 

“For most of these college athletes, they are at the peak of their marketability and can be a highly leverageable asset for brands. The available pool of potentially high ROI endorsers are increasing and that can only been seen as a great thing for brand marketers,”​ said Schall, a self-proclaimed social media marketing ninja. 

Vitamin companies like Ritual, Care/of and SugarBearHair have a large presence on Instagram, vying for a piece of the multi-billion dollar market. Online vitamin sales have grown over 40%​ in the last year, thanks mostly to health-conscious Millennials, according to market research firm Rakuten Intelligence. 

So will college athletes be promoting sports nutrition supplements? 

“Though most college athletes already take some form of supplements or functional food/beverage, I don't think you will see a flood of endorsement deals come from the industry comparable to others like apparel or footwear. The main reason for that is surrounding the restrictions on allowable supplements in collegiate athletics. I believe that will leave supplement brands that have third-party testing certifications like NSF or Informed Choice to be the most likely to benefit from college athletes as brand ambassadors,”​ said Schall. 

While the clean label trend is gaining popularity, much is yet to be seen as the NCAA haggles over how to implement the new rule, and how brands and athletes react.

Influencers, the microbiome, protein, formulation challenges and opportunities, and female athletic consumers are just some of the topics that will take center stage at the NutraIngredients-USA Sports Nutrition Summit​ in San Diego, Feb 3-5, 2020. 

For more information and to register, please click HERE​.

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