This year’s March Madness will be a learning moment for brands navigating new rules allowing players to profit off their name, image and likeness via brand endorsement deals.
Some marketers already have deals in place, including Dollar Shave Club, which partnered with Gonzaga star Drew Timme, who announced it on Instagram this week. More real-time marketing opportunities could come as players gain sudden fame, which tends to happen during the three-week tourney. But striking in-the-moment deals might be harder than it seems, marketing industry experts caution.
“Many universities and coaches will likely step in to help corral and control outreach during the tournament to keep players focused,” Rebecca Camhi, director of client services at Sway Group, an influencer marketing agency, stated in an email. “I don't anticipate too many deals happening while a team is still active in the tournament, unless the university is poised to set their players up for success at the start, such as someone at the school being dedicated to handling incoming requests.”
Ryan Detert, CEO of influencer platform Influential, adds that brands and players may also not want to worry about the back-and-forth of content revisions in between games.
However, brands will still be on their toes during the tournament to identify partnership opportunities when the games are over—including tapping multiple players, possible NFTs, and even thinking about how a partnership could grow if a player heads to the NBA.
The NCAA’s Name, Image, Likeness (NIL) policy went into effect in July of last year, allowing college athletes to use their name, image, and likeness for brand partnerships, something that had been prohibited under the organization's amateurism rules. While brands and athletes have had time to get their feet wet, there is still a lot to navigate since NIL laws vary by state and university. But any headaches may be worth the payoff to connect with the loyal followings of college teams.