The Brands Partnering With Hoop Stars for March Madness

Edition #55

Happy Friday! Let’s dive right in.

Today’s Edition:

  • Degree, Pringles, General Motors, and more invest in NIL deals for college’s biggest sporting event

  • TikTok tackles education content with a new STEM feed

  • Flipboard launches new creator programs to support the creator middle class

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Degree, Pringles, General Motors, and More Invest in NIL Deals for College's Biggest Sporting Event

It's that time of year again! March Madness is in full swing, and the annual college basketball tournament promises to be as thrilling as ever.

Last year marked the first time that college athletes could enter into name, image, and likeness (NIL) deals for the second biggest sporting event of the year, behind the Super Bowl. Brands such as Bose, Dollar Shave Club, Outback Steak House, and Wingstop provided a glance at the potential of NIL during March Madness.

As the second half of the first-round games kick off later today, here is a look at some of the key themes amongst NIL deals this year.

Brands Keep It Going

Brands that have already formed partnerships with student-athletes are continuing to work with them for March Madness. Degree, for example, is expanding its #BreakingLimits team by collaborating with NBA superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo for The Degree® Walk-On program. This program honors walk-on student-athletes, including UCONN’s Andre Johnson Jr. and Duke University’s Spencer Hubbard. Athletes will receive $25,000 to go towards the costs and living expenses for one year of college, along with mentorship.

Non-alcoholic craft beer manufacturer Athletic Brewing added three more players to its growing list of NIL partnerships with the University of Houston’s Marcus Sasser, the University of Texas’s Rori Harmon, and the University of Southern California’s Boogie Ellis. These partnerships are part of “Fit For All Times,” a campaign the brand launched this past fall, which focuses on athletes highlighting how they enjoy non-alcoholic beers while performing their best.

Other brands include Beats By Dre, Under Armour, Crocs, and Dunkin'.

NIL First Timers Make Their Debut

Pringles is looking to make a mark with its first national NIL campaign. The Kellogg’s brand signed Gonzaga University’s Drew Timme, Duke University’s Dariq Whitehead, and Virginia University’s Ben Vander for the Pringles March Mustache Collection. Each player will have a limited edition can with their face on it, featuring their unique mustache, with each shared via Instagram Reels. There is also a social media contest tied in, with fans having the opportunity to win the collection by showcasing their own tournament-inspired real or fake mustache in an Instagram post.

Goldman Sachs is also making its foray into the NIL space this month. The financial institution tapped the University of Iowa’s Caitlin Clark and the University of North Carolina’s Caleb Love for a commercial to promote its 10,000 Small Businesses initiative, which advocates for the reauthorization of the Small Business Administration.

Tournament Sponsors Get In on the Action

Long-time NCAA partner General Motors launched the “See Her Greatness” campaign for Buick, spotlighting five of the top women’s basketball players, including University of South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston, UCONN’s Azzi Fudd, and UCLA’s Kiki Rice. Aimed at increasing women’s visibility in sports and supporting initiatives that drive equity and inclusion, the campaign also supports Women’s History Month. Athletes shared inspiring videos across Instagram about their love for basketball and are featured on the brand’s website.

LG Electronics, who is a third-year sponsor of the NCAA is partnering with both men and women players like Louisiana State University’s Flau’ Jae Johnson and Indiana University’s Trayce Jackson-Davis. With the “Game 4 Good” campaign, athletes will be featured in brand video content that promotes the importance of mental well-being. LG is also donating $10,000 to a charity of choice for each athlete.

Lastly, Great Clips, who signed a multi-year deal in 2020 to be the Official Hair Salon of March Madness, is partnering with Illinois University’s Matthew Mayer and UCONN's Caroline Ducharme to help promote their Hats Off Sweepstakes, where fans can show off their hat flips for a chance to win a trip to the Final Four games. They shared sponsored Instagram Reels and appeared in a YouTube Shorts video on the brand channel along with other creators, encouraging viewers to enter the Sweepstakes.

The Best Deals May Be Yet To Come

As the tournament progresses, more deals are expected to materialize. As players make a name for themselves with standout performances, brands will likely seize the opportunity to partner with them, just as Buffalo Wild Wings did with Doug Edert, who now plays for Bryant University (Go Bulldogs!), during Saint Peter University’s historic tournament run last year. The spontaneity of these deals can lead to unexpected wins for both athletes and brands, but they require both sides to be able to move quickly, which can be difficult when players' biggest priority is helping their team move on.

FanWord, an athlete storytelling and branding company, may make it easier for athletes and brands to capitalize on these opportunities with the public launch of its Men's and Women's March Madness student-athlete directories. Brands can search for over 1,000+ athletes and access their social media profiles and profiles across NIL platforms and send a message to them.

“One of the many reasons we launched the March Madness directory was to simplify the discovery and outreach process. As a brand, for example, you don't always know where or how to best connect with an athlete. We wanted to remove that friction,” CEO Christopher Aumueller shared with me.

TikTok Tackles Educational Content with New STEM Feed

TikTok is launching a new STEM feed, a dedicated tab for users to explore science, technology, engineering, and math content.

More Feeds, More Ways to Discover Content

The STEM feed will join the already existing Following and For You feeds. STEM content has proven to be popular on TikTok, with over 110 billion views to date on videos with related hashtags. The new feed also includes extended partnerships with Common Sense Networks and Poynter, which will help evaluate appropriate content for the STEM feed and assess the reliability of presented information respectively.

The STEM feed has been introduced as TikTok continues to experiment with different feeds across various categories, such as Gaming, Food, Fashion, and Sports. These experiments aim to help users find more of the content they want.

It’s Also Likely a PR Move

While the STEM feed does not address privacy concerns that governing bodies have raised, it does position the platform more as a learning tool, potentially improving its reputation.

Outside of privacy issues, many people have flagged how the different algorithms for Douyin, the Chinese version of the app, are from those of TikTok. Douyin promotes more educational content to children, while content served in markets outside of China is more entertainment-focused. The STEM feed will better surface more of this positive and educational content that helps improve TikTok’s perception.

In addition to this, TikTok also launched TikTok Sparks Good, a docu-series that spotlights the life-changing that TikTok has had on families across America. Will it work? With TikTok facing bans left and right, anything positive will help.

Flipboard Announces New Creator Programs to Support the Creator Middle Class

Flipboard is out to support independent creators and emerging voices with their announcement of new creator programs. The news-reading app is searching for domain expert creators who regularly publish high-quality, original content, have at least 1,000 followers on one social channel, and have a Flipboard account. Creators can apply via a Google Form.

How The Programs Will Work

All applicants to the program will be added to the app's email list, where they can receive tips and tricks for utilizing the app, access to early betas, event invitations, and more. A select group of creators will be chosen for the Flipboard Creator Collective, which provides them with access to initiatives valued at $2.5 million annually. These initiatives include:

  • Red Check Verification: Creators receive a verified badge on their Flipboard account, confirming their authenticity and public interest status.

  • Newsletter Takeover Program: Creators serve as guest creators for the app's key newsletters and are able to direct readers to their own channels.

  • Promoted Stories Program: Creators are gifted ad inventory within Flipboard's newsletters and the app.

  • Resident Program: Creators serve as paid in-house experts for three to six months.

  • Sponsor Referral Pilot Program: Creators can utilize their existing brand relationships by earning a commission for any brands that sponsor their newsletter takeover.

Why It Matters

Flipboard's new creator programs offer a chance for participating creators to expand their reach by being promoted across various Flipboard channels, gain paid residencies, and generate new economic opportunities while building their communities. Unlike other platforms that cater to established creators, Flipboard's initiative aims to support the middle class of creators, recognizing their crucial role in the long-term success of the creator economy.

The platform is also taking a unique approach by targeting bloggers, newsletter writers, podcasters, and YouTubers, rather than solely emphasizing short-form video creators. Flipboard's creator programs represent a departure from the creator fund model that has proven unsuccessful so far. By providing participating creators with opportunities for promotion, community-building, and economic growth, creators are set up for more long-term success than programs mainly focused on dishing out cash in exchange for content creation.

More Support for Creators

While Flipboard has historically focused on publishers, it's not the first time the platform has shown interest in creators. Over the years, Flipboard has expanded its support for creators by featuring them in creator spotlights, providing how-to guides and editorials, and introducing new tools like Notes, which enable creators to publish original content directly to Flipboard and foster conversations.


More News

TikTok Introduces New Feature for Refreshing the For You Feed

TikTok introduced a new feature that lets users refresh their For You feed when the recommended videos become irrelevant or repetitive. Though the algorithm is great at delivering personalized content, it can sometimes result in harmful "echo chambers." Some users have tried to fix this by creating new accounts or viewing different types of content, but this can be time-consuming and ineffective.

With the new feature, users now have a streamlined way to retrain their feeds to match their evolving interests or desire for a wider range of content.

LinkedIn Launches AI-powered Tool for Profile Writing Suggestions

LinkedIn has announced new AI features, including a tool that provides users with personalized writing suggestions for their profiles. Powered by ChatGPT, it scans the most important skills and experiences on a profile and provides suggestions for the About and Headline sections. From there, creators can review the suggestions for accuracy and make edits to align with their tone and voice before saving. Initially, the tool will be available to a select group of Premium subscribers before rolling out to all Premium subscribers in the coming months.

Like other platforms, LinkedIn is taking advantage of the launch of the ChatGPT API. This new tool allows users to quickly generate engaging About and Headline sections for their profiles. While generative AI isn't perfect, tools like this provide a solid starting point that creators can build upon. As a profile can be crucial in helping users grow their following, this launch has the potential to make a significant impact. Previously, LinkedIn rolled out Collaborative Articles, another AI-powered feature, which has been met with mixed reviews.

Pinterest's Latest Partnership Will Add Nearly 200 Exclusive Original Videos

Pinterest has announced a new partnership with Dotdash Meredith, the largest publisher in America that houses renowned brands such as Better Homes & Gardens, Food & Wine, Allrecipes, and Martha Stewart. This deal will bring nearly 200 exclusive original videos to the platform, covering diverse categories such as lifestyle, fashion, and food, and catering to significant events like wedding season and the holidays.

This follows up on deals with other publishers like Condé Nast Entertainment and Tastemade. Publisher partners, along with other efforts, have been instrumental in Pinterest seeing a 30% increase in video content quarter over quarter.

FYPM Launches Rate My Offer Tool to Help Creators Evaluate Specific Brand Collaboration Offers

FYPM has launched the Rate My Offer Tool, a feature that enables creators and talent managers to input details of offers received from brands and compare them to 10,000 collaboration reviews in its database. They can then access insights such as the percentage of comparable collaborations that offer cash compensation, compensation ranges, and reviews for similar offers, which can be filtered to include collaborations or only those within the specific brand industry.

By providing detailed information about specific offers, creators and their managers can assess the value of brand collaborations more effectively and make informed decisions about which offers to accept, reject, or negotiate. The tool is part of several updates the platform is releasing this year, including FYPM for Business, a new offering for brands, agencies, and influencer platforms.

Influencers Have Greatest Impact on Sustainable Choices, Finds Unilever Study

Influencers have the greatest impact on people's sustainable choices, according to a new study by Unilever and The Behavioural Insights Team. The study revealed that 78% of respondents believe that influencers have the biggest influence on their behavior to live more sustainably, which comes ahead of TV documentaries (48%), news articles (37%), and government campaigns (20%). It also revealed that consumers are open to sponsored content related to sustainability, with 72% saying they support creators who promote sustainable products and services.

The study highlights the vital role that influencers play in promoting social good and purpose-driven initiatives, especially amidst the ongoing conversation around "de-influencing." Brands can tap into the trend of younger consumers being more conscious of their spending habits by integrating genuine sustainability elements into their influencer campaigns.

 What I’m Reading

  • Creator economy to generate $75bn in 2024 – CitiBank (Business Day)

  • Finding a buyer for TikTok may not be so easy (New York Times)

  • Influencer parents and the kids who had their childhood made into content (Teen Vogue)