How Brands Are Partnering With Student-Athletes On NIL Deals For March Madness

Edition #14

Good morning! As a make-up for no newsletter last week, this week’s edition is jam-packed with updates that occurred this week and last week. With March Madness upon us, we’ll look at how brands and student-athletes are taking advantage of name, image, and likeness (NIL) for the first time.

Today’s Edition:

  • How brands are partnering with college basketball players during March Madness

  • Instagram introduces enhanced tags to support creator crediting

  • Pinterest announces new shopping features

A Look At How Brands Are Engaging College Basketball Players Through NIL Deals During March Madness

The March Madness tournament kicked off this week, which is one of the most exciting times of the year for sports fans. This year, it’s even more exciting as it marks the first time that name, image, and likeness (NIL) deals are possible. College basketball players can take advantage of the increased popularity of their sport during this time and earn money from brand partnerships and endorsements. In addition, brands can attach themselves to the iconic annual tournament by partnering with student-athletes.

Here is a look at how brands are working with student-athletes on NIL during March Madness.

Dollar Shave Club: Noticeable Smooth

The official razor of March Madness signed Gonzaga University's Drew Timme as its “first and only chin-influencer." Timme, who made waves during last year's tournament with his handlebar mustache, will share sponsored content, host an Ask Me Anything with fans, and be featured in digital marketing.

Other components of the brand’s larger Noticeable Smooth marketing campaign include television spots and sweepstakes where fans can win tickets to the Men's Final Four. They can do so by sharing a photo of their smooth chins on social media with #contestchintry as the hashtag, buying products, or referring others to the brand website.

Timme's prowess on the basketball court and his internet-breaking look help raise awareness of the brand in a fun and quirky way. By tying in sweepstakes that allow fans to get in on the action through social content and other activities, Dollar Shave Club promotes user-generated content that expands the reach of the activation.

Wings Over: Madness Meals

Wings Over is partnering with over a dozen men's and women's basketball players to create Madness Meals at its locations nationwide. University of Connecticut's Christyn Williams, Providence College's Jared Bynum, Ohio State University's Kateri Poole, and others customized their own Wings Over meals. The meals are available for a limited time at select Wings Over locations. Athletes are promoting the meals across social with promo codes.

Through the name Madness Meals, Wings Over establishes a link between its brand and the tournament without violating any copyrights, which can pose a challenge for brands hoping to become a part of March Madness. The custom meals, which are essentially co-branded products, make these partnerships more personal. Rather than promoting standard meals, athletes get to share their personal favorites with promo codes that their fans can use to get discounts. The addition of promo codes allows the brand to track the conversions athletes drive, allowing them to evaluate these partnerships more effectively.

Yahoo Sports: Yahoo Sports Tourney Pick’Em

To mark the first NIL deals for promoting bracket gaming, Yahoo Sports signed Duke University's Paolos Banchero and Gonzaga University's Chet Holmgren to support its Yahoo Sports Tourney Pick’Em bracket game. They will serve as brand ambassadors, sharing sponsored content across their own channels and being featured in branded assets that are amplified on Yahoo-owned digital properties.

Banchero and Holmgren are two of the biggest names in the tournament with both expected to be early draft picks in the forthcoming NBA Draft. The activation is relatively straightforward with content and amplification being the main plays, which works in this case. Even though bracket games are already popular with fans, Banchero and Holmgren can use their star power and endorsement to convince fans to play Yahoo's game as opposed to other alternatives.

Wing Stop: Wing Experts

Wing Stop is celebrating women on the court with its Wing Experts program. The program’s name is a play on “wing players,” a term for basketball players that can switch between playing shooting guard and small forward, and a nod to its 11 iconic flavors. The wing chain is partnering with players such as University of Maryland’s Angel Reese, NC State University’s Jakia Brown, Baylor University’s NaLyssa Smith and Stanford University’s Lexie Hull. Players will receive Wing Stop swag and share their experiences across social media, while fans can take advantage of a free delivery promotion on select dates throughout the tournament.

Through Wings Expert, Wing Stop covers March Madness and Women’s History Month. Focusing its partnerships with some of the standout players in women’s basketball, the chain extends its commitment to fostering a diverse and inclusive environment through its ESG initiatives. This is also a sign of deeper investment and interest in the women’s side of the tournament.

Outback Steakhouse: TeamMATES

The steakhouse added 12 basketball players to its TeamMATES program roster, which pairs men and women players from the same teams, such as the University of North Carolina, University of Michigan, Arizona State University, and Villanova University. Players will share their favorite Outback Steakhouse bundle meals and help generate awareness for American Cancer Society’s Coaches Vs. Cancer initiative. Fans can also participate in sweepstakes for a chance to win $10,000 towards a “fan cave” home renovation and a trip to watch the National Championship game.

Outback Steakhouse provides an example of how student-athletes can help contribute to a brand’s philanthropy efforts. With the brand highlighting basketball players that are leaders on and off the court, it can help people view college-athletes through a new lens.

Candy Digital: Candy Sweet Futures Basketball Collection

Candy Digital expanded its Candy Sweet Futures Basketball Collection, an NFT collection featuring top basketball players with the addition of University of Memphis’ Jalen Duren, University of Notre Dame’s Blake Wesley, University of Nebraska’s Bryce McGowens, and others. NFTs combining 2D photography of the players and immersive digital environments will be available for purchase at price points ranging from $20 to $250, depending on their rarity.

Digital collectibles such as NFTs have been an increasingly popular way for student-athletes to monetize. Candy Digital’s expansion of its Candy Sweet Futures Basketball Collection gives fans the opportunity to get their hands on digital collectibles of a trio of likely first-rounders.

Bose: QuietComfort 45

The audio equipment leader signed University of South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston, Duke University’s Wendell Moore, and Gonzaga University’s Chet Holmgren to Team Bose. The trio will receive and help promote the Quietcomfort 45 noise canceling headphones to help them train, prepare, focus, and tune out distractions during the tournament. In addition, they are featured in videos, where each of them talks about their journey leading up to the tournament and explains how they block out the noise.

Bose extends its list of college-athlete partnerships with the addition of this talented trio. With headphones being a go-to for athletes, the partnership is authentic and natural. It shows how brands can get involved by integrating themselves into the college-athlete’s lifestyle.

Sheets & Giggles: Dream Team

Sheets & Giggles has teamed up with five men's and five women's players from some of the top teams in the tournament. Calling the group its "Dream Team," they are players who have played the fewest minutes on their teams, including the University of Tennesse’s Brock Jancek and University of Central Florida’s Becca Ripley. In exchange for cash and Sheets & Giggles bedding, the five will share branded content and their "sleep stats" during the tournament to educate fans about the importance of being well-rested.

Instead of partnering with the top players for NIL deals, Sheets & Giggles works with student-athletes who receive the least amount of playing time on their teams, which is different from the majority of brands engaging in the NIL space. The approach is innovative as it demonstrates that NIL isn't limited to just the best; it also offers student-athletes of all profiles the chance to monetize their audience. Lastly, the mattress company engages these athletes in a playful manner to match its brand voice with plenty of sleep-related puns.

What To Expect For NIL During March Madness In The Future

With eight months of NIL activity, brands and athletes continue to get familiar with navigating the space. Due to the legal barriers that exist for brands to participate in March Madness and the fact that the tournament really demands top-notch concentration from players, we’re likely not yet seeing as many brand deals as we will in the future. In all likelihood, the deals taking place during this period are just a fraction of what will happen for future March Madness tournaments. For future tournaments, though, brands will need to think more proactively and line up athletes well in advance of the competition. This will allow brands to maintain a high level of strategy while also allowing athletes the appropriate time to mentally and physically prepare for their games.

Based on the deals that are occurring this year, March Madness provides a great opportunity for brands and athletes to collaborate on branded content in many ways. As these examples show, brands in the food and beverage space can partner with athletes on customized meals that fans can enjoy during the action. In addition, brands or Web3 companies can engage top players for digital assets that fans can buy to support their favorite players as they try to make it to the big game.

Industry News

Instagram launched enhanced tags. The update allows creators with professional accounts to showcase a self-designated profile category so that when brands or other creators tag them in a photo or video, their specific contributions are more visible. According to Instagram, the update is the result of wanting to make crediting creators, in particular Black and underrepresented creators, easier.

The feature was designed by Alexis Michelle Adjei, a data analyst, and Cameryn Boyd, an engineer at Meta, who said "Black creators and addressing that inequity in the creator ecosystem" was top of mind when designing the feature.

Enhanced tags are the most recent move from social media platforms aimed at helping creators get credit for their work. TikTok, which has had a fair number of issues with Black creators not being credited for driving trends such as popular dances, recently released resources to promote creator crediting. While TikTok took the resource route, Instagram directly supports creator crediting with an in-app feature. Credit and attribution play a pivotal role in a creator's discovery, building an audience, and eventual opportunities for monetization, so this type of support is critical.

Instagram introduced Creator Lab, an educational portal for creators. The platform has partnered with a number of creators on videos to share best practices and tips. Video topics include finding the why as a creator, collaborating with others, and collaborating with brands.

With the help of creators who have had success on Instagram, Instagram increases its support for its most important users by educating and informing them about various topics.

This isn't the first time that platforms have called on creators in an effort to reach creators. TikTok, YouTube, Pinterest, and even Google have partnered with creators to develop educational and instructional content from the creator's point of view. Expect more platforms to bring creators into the mix as a way to support and cater to other creators.

Instagram added Live Moderator. When creators go live, they now have the ability to assign someone as a moderator. This gives them the power to report comments, remove viewers from Live, and turn off comments for a viewer.

Instagram's new feature, which is similar to TikTok's LIVE Moderators feature that debuted over the summer, allows creators to assign a trusted friend to assist them during their live streams. The unpredictability of live streaming makes moderators instrumental in keeping creators' live experiences positive.

TikTok announced the official launch of SoundOn. The new all-in-one music marketing and distribution platform is designed to help artists get their music to the masses and grow their fanbase. SoundOn enables artists to upload their music directly to TikTok, Resso, and other ByteDanced owned platforms and earn royalties (100% in the first year and 90% after that) when their music is used. Additionally, the platform provides artists with a number of resources and tools such as an artist team, audience insights, and a TikTok song tab on their profile, so that viewers can easily access their music for use.

There's no denying that TikTok has been a hotbed for music discovery. There have been dozens of examples of musicians going from relative unknowns to Billboard chart-toppers, thanks to their music being used across the short-form video app. TikTok, through SoundOn, can extend its global influence and help develop artists while expanding its library of sounds for creators to use to create even more videos.

Facebook rolled out new tools for Facebook Groups. Admins and moderators now have access to new tools including the ability to automatically decline posts that contain false information, suspend members for a specified amount of time from participating in conversations, and automatically approve or decline member requests based on specific criteria they set up. Additionally, admins can share their groups via QR codes or send invitations via email to invite people to their groups.

Using these new tools, admins and moderators can keep their communities safe by reducing misinformation, manage their communities more easily with automation, and grow their groups by giving people more ways to join and invite. Facebook Groups have become a powerful way for like-minded groups of people to connect and engage, however, with that has come the spreading of misinformation. Some Groups have hundreds of thousands to millions of members, which require tools for content moderation.

Pinterest announced a number of new features for the year. During Pinterest Presents, the platform's annual global advertising summit, Pinterest announced new features like Your Shop, a new shopping experience tailored to Pinners based on their activity and preferences, and Checkout, a way for users to discover and shop products without leaving Pinterest. It also noted that it will be launching updates for Pinterest Trends, its trends tool. Brands will soon be able to access new features for it such as real-time search data, more trend types, more granular audience tools, and personalized trend recommendations.

Pinterest expands its social commerce capabilities with these new features that make it easier for brands to reach consumers and for consumers to take action on product and brand discovery. The platform’s continued investments in shopping shouldn’t be ignored by brands or creators as each update it makes removes friction from the shopping journey.

Pinterest added new sharing capabilities for Idea Pins. Creators can now download and share published Idea Pins across Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat. Content downloaded from Pinterest will be branded with Pinterest's logo and the creator's handle.

The new features enable creators to distribute Idea Pins beyond Pinterest so that they can reach a greater audience. As content is watermarked, the platform may be able to drive more discovery, just as TikTok has benefited from watermarked videos being shared on other platforms.

Twitter launched Twitter Shops. The beta feature enables merchants to curate a collection of up to 50 products to showcase on their profiles. Merchants with Twitter Shops enabled will have a View Shop button above their Tweets. By clicking the button, users can browse products and learn more about them, and then check out on the merchant's website.

Twitter Shops joins Shop Module and Live Shopping, other features of Twitter Shopping. It builds on the platform’s other e-commerce features and adds to its recent efforts to connect brands and shoppers.

Compared to more visually focused social media platforms like Instagram and Pinterest, Twitter’s shopping capabilities are limited. There’s no word whether the platform is simply looking to check the box when it comes to shopping or if it’s trying to eventually create a more robust shopping experience. If it’s the latter, Twitter will need to find a way to get brands to churn out more visual content that will make product discovery easier.

Twitter introduced a new Creator Dashboard. With the dashboard, creators can keep track of and analyze their earnings across monetization features such as Super Follows and Ticketed Spaces. Creators can access data pertaining to new and existing Super Followers, the number of tickets they have sold, a list of ticket purchases, and estimated earned revenue of Ticketed Spaces. Currently, the dashboard is only available to U.S.-based creators on iOS who have over 10,000 followers, and it can be accessed under the app's Monetization tab.

The dashboard demonstrates Twitter's commitment to creators. There's currently a short but growing list of ways for creators to monetize their audience across the platform, making the dashboard extremely useful for creators who already monetize their audiences. Based on analytics pertaining to how much they earn from Super Follows and Ticketed Spaces, creators keep track of their revenue streams and can leverage those trends to increase their earnings. As social media platforms increase creator monetization opportunities, analytics become even more important.

YouTube is offering grants to podcasters and podcast networks. According to a recent report by Bloomberg, the Google-owned platform is extending monetary offers up to $50,000 to podcasters and up to $300,0000 to podcast networks to record video versions of their shows.

The move reflects a growing trend in which social media platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are building and expanding their podcasting footprint. YouTube already has a strong podcast presence that has been built without much effort. However, since the fall, it has hinted at taking a more active role in building out its podcasting capabilities, including the hiring of Kai Chuk to lead the podcasting initiative and noting that expanding podcasting opportunities is one of its priorities for the year.

Offering podcast creators and networks money to release video versions of their shows will help bolster its podcasting library.

Amazon launched a new audio app called Amp. The app allows creators to host their own radio shows with tens of millions of licensed songs from Universal Music Group, Sony Music Environment, Warner Music Group, and others. Amp has built-in discovery and notification features that help listeners find shows they are interested in. Creators can also let listeners take part in the action by taking calls.

Amazon plans to add more features to Amp in the future, such as Alexa integration and social sharing. Musicians, radio hosts, and writers such as Nicki Minaj, Pusha T, Big Boi, Zach Sang, and Guy Raz will host their own shows as part of Amazon's beta launch.

Amazon wants to reimagine radio with Amp by making it easy for creators to become DJs and reach audiences around the world. Unlike Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces, Facebook’s Live Rooms, Spotify’s Greenroom, and LinkedIn Audio Events, Amp is more focused on being a space for radio rather than social audio. Although creators and listeners can interact and engage with each other, these interactions are more likely to be focused and centered around segments.

Reddit has brought back Creator Stats. Now, users can again access Reddit's Creator Stats, which provide detailed performance data for posts, after they were disabled for the past three years. Those who have received at least 10 views on their posts can access metrics such as total post views, upvote rate, community karma earned, and total shares.

Creators Stats will help creators and moderators understand how their posts are performing within their communities.


What I’m Reading

  • March Madness is an NCAA gold mine. This year, players can finally cash in too. (NPR)

  • Linktree is poised to become a creator economy giant (Protocol)

  • Macy’s is updating its shopping experience by turning employees into personal stylists (Modern Retail)

  • How podcasts are helping brands meet DEI commitments (Marketing Dive)

  • How corporate America (mis)manages slash influencers (Fast Company)