Unilever’s Degree Deodorant has hit the ground running on the first day officially sanctioned for college athlete “name image and likeness” (NIL) endorsement deals. The brand is launching a $5 million, five-year commitment to spread some wealth among a variety of men's and women's sports and athletes beyond the biggest names.
“This moment represents a tremendous opportunity to set the precedent for working with college athletes in a meaningful and thoughtful way,” said Rob Master, VP of media and digital engagement at Unilever North America in a statement. “It’s not just about the star players or top draft picks. We want to amplify the voices and stories of athletes across the spectrum of college sports who have dedicated their lives to their sport and inspired others through their stories.”
The NCAA had long barred athletes from making money off their name, image and likeness. But the organization eased its amateurism rules in the face of pressure from multiple states, which began passing legislation allowing athletes to profit. The NCAA formally adopted the policy change on Wednesday.
The change is expected to set off a flurry of brand deals possibly totaling many millions of dollars, but the situation also introduces some uncertainty as schools and players must navigate a patchwork of laws and regulations. The NCAA's move is considered an interim policy until federal legislation or new NCAA rules are adopted, according to the NCAA.
Unilever's strategy gives an early indication of how one major marketer will proceed.
The first group in Degree’s “Breaking Limits” team will be a diverse group of college athletes from a range of sports to be unveiled on the brand’s Instagram page. Chiara Grillo, senior marketing manager of Degree, calls the effort “an opportunity to further champion the stories of how college athletes have overcome personal and societal challenges and how they encourage others to keep moving to break their own limits.”
The brand will also launch a public search for the next group of college athletes to earn spots on their its roster, letting fans nominate college athletes in NIL states using the #BreakingLimits hashtag with accompanying stories on social media.
To comply with state and NCAA NIL rules, Unilever is working with athlete marketing platform Opendorse, which manages booking and payments between brands and athletes, “in mintues, not months,” the company said.