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NFL's NIL Move: Leveraging College Athletes in Expansion of Collegiate Marketing Program

In an ever-changing sports marketing landscape, the NFL has unveiled an innovative strategy to harness the marketing skillfulness of college athletes, propelling itself into a dynamic future of fan engagement and brand connectivity.

The NFL has taken a significant step in broadening its outreach by enhancing its program aimed at enlisting college players as brand ambassadors, reports Julian Cannon of DIGIDA. This fresh initiative, known as the Collegiate Marketing Program, aspires to foster a closer connection between collegiate athletes and the NFL. Notably, this year's initiative boasts active participation from all 32 NFL teams and over 100 universities nationwide, a significant expansion from the 60 participating universities last year.

This expansion aligns with the NCAA's adoption of its NIL (Name, Image, Likeness) Program, which permits college students to earn compensation for the use of their personal brand. Experts estimate the NIL market to be currently valued between $750 million to $1 billion, with projections suggesting it could swell to a staggering $3-$5 billion within the next five years, as reported by Football stands at the forefront of the NIL arena, closely followed by men's basketball.

Sana Merchant, NFL Senior Director of Club Social Strategy, highlighted the NFL's pre-existing collaboration with college students, even before the NIL rule change. During this period, students were involved in creating content related to NFL alumni who were once recruited from their college programs. Through the marketing program, college athletes receive coveted exposure on NFL social platforms and gain access to the NFL's valuable intellectual property. This access enables them to incorporate NFL-sponsored content into their own promotional endeavors. The NFL, regardless of the content creator, maintains specific guidelines about where its content can be used, working in tandem with the respective colleges to establish precise policies.

“We work with our partner schools to highlight key on and off-field moments that we think will resonate with our target demos,” said Merchant. “Though the game action is a core tenant of our strategy, our coverage goes much beyond that and a lot of the content we collaborate on focuses on moments where the helmets are off.” They have been covering a wide spectrum of topics, including key college matchups, compelling storylines, combine performances, drafts, rookies' debut games, and more. Merchant declined to disclose specific budget details, so for now the precise allocation of the NFL's advertising budget for these efforts remains undisclosed.

Ryan Detert, CEO of Influential, an influencer marketing agency, underscored the critical importance of expanding fan bases, particularly among younger audiences like Gen Z and Gen Alpha. Detert pointed out that through the college marketing program, the NFL taps into the popularity of NIL-endorsed talent, bridging the gap between diverse demographics and piquing the interest of new fans who might not fit the traditional mold. As Detert noted, we can anticipate brands of all sizes leveraging NIL talent to better connect with younger fan bases and nurture brand loyalty moving forward.

In embracing the potential of college athletes as marketers and seizing the opportunities presented by the evolving landscape of NIL, the NFL positions itself to engage fans across generations, ensuring a vibrant future for the sport.

Madelyn Feyko is a 2L at the Hofstra Law and is the Vice President of Sports for the Sports and Entertainment Law Society. She can be found on LinkedIn at the following link: or on Twitter @madelyn_feyko.

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