Tips for banks to win with student-athletes in the NIL era

Banks can position student-athletes as well-known hometown heroes, who must have discipline to adhere to rigorous schedules.

By Khalil Garriott

The June 2021 Supreme Court ruling about name, image and likeness changed the landscape of collegiate athletics forever. Banks must be strategic and opportunistic to benefit from this new opportunity.

That was the message that Allyson Twiggs Dyer delivered to attendees of the 2023 ABA Bank Marketing Conference. Her session “The Winning Playbook: Bank/Student-Athlete Collaborations in the Era of NIL” updated attendees about the current state of NIL and provided tips for all banks in this new frontier.

Business is booming. According to Twiggs Dyer, college athletes earned an estimated $917 million in the first year of NIL, and that number in year two is now upwards of $1 billion. Many big names in college sports have fully embraced social media exposure for players. Colorado football head coach Deion Sanders put player Instagram handles on their practice jerseys.

Now that players have won the right to capitalize on their NIL, a stuffy landscape that remained largely unchanged for decades has been shaken up. As founder of an agency dedicated to bank marketing, Twiggs Dyer shared the challenges and opportunities of banks playing in this space.

Among the challenges for banks: Student-athletes are young, busy, overwhelmed and exhausted. Also, they don’t always make great choices and aren’t always social media-savvy, plus have longer timelines because of hectic schedules. Another recent development, the NCAA transfer portal, which allows players to switch schools without sitting out a year, has proven to be a landmark change as many students transfer more frequently between institutions. Twiggs Dyer also cited injury risk as a challenge.

“Remember that they’re young people; they’re going to make mistakes,” she advised. “You’re going to have to take that risk.”

Banks have plenty of opportunities. Banks can position student-athletes as well-known hometown heroes, who must have discipline to adhere to rigorous schedules. They offer huge marketing potential.

Pre-NIL, NCAA-governed athletes were limited to a scholarship and stipend because of the NCAA’s “principle of amateurism.” They can now earn and accept money for commercial endorsements, appearances and social media posts. The Opendorse platform is built to facilitate these marketing prospects.

“A wide swath of athletes is now making money, and not just in the high-revenue sports,” Twiggs Dyer said.

Banks should understand where and how they can best capitalize on these partnerships. Specific to marketing, many distribution channels await: digital ads, podcast guests, TV ads, youth camps, autograph sessions and more.

“If you’re going to try to sell this to your (bank) leadership,” she said, “you’re going to have to label it as a sponsorship.”

Beyond marketing, Twiggs Dyer also recommended a few actions that banks can take to build relationships with these young influencers. She suggested having them open an account with the bank, offering them financial education and personal finance advice, and connecting the student-athletes with a financial planner.

“What can your bank offer them that will encourage more Gen Z participation?” Twiggs Dyer asked.

The consultant, as well as bankers in the crowd, shared several key learnings since the NIL era began, including:: having explicit instructions in the contract; sending reminders; implementing clear (and, in some cases, constant) communication; using approved apparel (no major brands); having a plan; knowing how to work with agents; and accounting for student-athlete fees.

“Working with agents is probably the worst part of the experience,” Twiggs Dyer said. “I don’t believe you have to pay a lot of money to work with certain student-athletes.”

One attendee, who has executed successful NIL campaigns for her bank, shared that it’s been “a terrific experience.” Her bank, which has a sports and entertainment division, opened a lot of new accounts recently because of a partnership with a Vanderbilt football player. It’s proven to be a win/win: As brand ambassadors, starring in banks’ marketing improves athletes’ personal brands while also increasing the reach of the bank’s brand. With 73 percent of people finding posts from personal accounts more persuasive than posts from brand accounts, content from athletes’ personal accounts gets better interaction (reach, impressions and engagements) than brand posts. She also recommended shorter deals—from six months to a year. And advised against four-year deals.

For banks venturing into the NIL space, here are four key takeaways:

  1. Find student-athletes in your home markets.
  2. Include female student-athletes.
  3. Consider long-term relationships with your student-athletes.
  4. View these as sponsorships instead of advertising.

Khalil Garriott is executive editor of the ABA Banking Journal and vice president for creative content and copywriting strategy at ABA.

RELATED CONTENT: Find out how one bank has been successful using NIL.


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