As the new college football season begins, recruiters will soon begin targeting top high school seniors with their college football recruiting ads, but this season may be one of the most controversial because of the announcement that some teams are now using the names and photographs of players in their recruiting ads.
The ratings for Week 3 of the 2017 college football season were released on Wednesday, and there was nothing on the schedule that really stood out. The battle of the unbeatens in UCF-USC and Boise State-Hawaii were the highlights of the week, while the rest of the slate of games was a bit of a snooze.
With the opportunity for college athletes to earn their name, image and brand recognition fast approaching, football programs are diligently working with creative agencies and implementing strategies that will help them stand out among recruits on the field.
We saw an arms race with facilities, gyms, t-shirts, pictures and shoes to see who could convince recruits to choose their school. The next competition will almost certainly be about names, image and likeness, with schools actively promoting what sets their skills apart from others.
Marketing has always been very important at the university, says Spencer Harris, director of human resources at USC. It doesn’t matter if I evaluate the right players if we can’t get them. The recruiting process is about the player choosing you. So we’ve invested a lot in this area to support our players at the highest level and develop their brands, and it’s a huge recruiting tool.
Football programs have their own marketing and branding teams for name, image and appearance. Some work with agencies like INFLCR, Opendorse and J1S to execute the strategy and help with the logistics associated with sponsorship deals and cash flow for the athletes.
For example, USC has set up its own creative lab called BLVD Studios, which trains student-athletes in branding, provides a comprehensive content tracking platform with statistics, and helps with branding and storytelling. The studio will help create content for student-athletes, including logos, photos, videos and podcasts.
Our idea is that everyone wants a part of the NIL – every student-athlete across the country, regardless of sport or position, Harris said. Everyone will want to make a deal with an endorser. So the question is, how do you differentiate yourself from your peers across the country so they choose you? How do you stand out?
This is a new recruiting discourse, and the race to find the best opportunities and unique circumstances to maximize their value has already begun.
Not all institutions will have to change their attitude towards recruiters under NIL, but here are some institutions that are trying to use the new rules to attract potential students who want to benefit from NIL. We have chosen these four schools because they illustrate different approaches in different situations, from the big city to simply playing in the city.
It won’t be hard for the Trojans to use their location – the heart of Los Angeles – to their advantage. Having studios, entertainment facilities, media, marketing agencies and everything else within walking distance of campus is a huge advantage, and the staff takes that into account when making plans for its student-athletes.
I talk about LeBron (James) all the time. Why did LeBron come here (to Los Angeles) for this final stop? Harris said. He was already on the mountain building the brand, but he still wanted to see it explode off the field.
According to recruiting director Spencer Harris, USC plans to use its downtown Los Angeles location and resources to its advantage when it comes to recruiting players in the era of name, image and likeness. AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
USC’s argument is that the Governor of California signed the Fair Pay Act during James’ HBO show, showing the importance of the law to California and Los Angeles.
According to Harris, the team believes student-athletes need three things to succeed at NLI: Performance on the field, a stage and platform to grow, and the support of the athletics department.
USC invests in its staff, in its own creative team, and in working with outside agencies to fully support athletes. She has also embraced the atmosphere around her and the idea that her student-athletes not only can, but must thrive in Los Angeles, and that it is the role of the athletics department to help them build that brand.
We need to be the best at this, so we’re trying to stay ahead of the curve and be as forward-thinking, creative and adaptable as possible when it becomes a reality, Harris said.
That’s why we recruit all over the country.
Georgia Tech may not have the best profile, but the staff believes it has the resources to maximize the value of its student-athletes.
Head Coach Jeff Collins is an advocate for individual student brand development and name, image and reputation benefits. In fact, it’s rare that Collins doesn’t wear a Waffle House mug or some restaurant brand, and he passes that attitude on to his players.
Like USC, Georgia Tech wants to use its location to its advantage. The staff is considering using some of Atlanta’s Fortune 500 companies to help student-athletes get sponsorships.
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Some of these companies may have players with big name Alabama or other schools, but Georgia Tech believes location gives its players an advantage. The athletics department already has relationships with companies such as Delta, TNT, Accenture and NASA, as some of the Yellow Vests’ players have interned there.
Like USC, Georgia Tech also uses the LeBron James analogy, but in a different way. Employees compare James to soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo: Ronaldo has more followers on social media than James, but James makes more money on social media because he contributes more often to product placements and branded content.
Georgia Tech’s staff teaches players how to maximize their engagement with social media and take advantage of opportunities, even if they’re not at a school like Alabama or Clemson. These schools sell themselves to Georgia Tech by having the biggest fan bases. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean their players have the most followers on social media.
The Yellow Vests believe that a presence, commitment and alumni base with influential executives and other businessmen will produce more LeBrons than Ronaldo.
Lincoln, Nebraska is not Los Angeles, but the Huskers coaches see an advantage.
Nebraska has no major professional sports teams, so college athletes are a big draw. This is of great interest to student-athletes from Nebraska and the opportunities they may receive from local businesses and corporations in the state and surrounding areas.
With no other competitors in the sports market, the Nebraska staff can tout its student-athletes as if they were a professional sports team. Local ads, commercials and everything in between are all options for businesses looking to add a recognizable face to their marketing repertoire.
Not every NIL agreement needs to be national in scope. If Nebraska can create a well-structured and valuable local source of opportunity, it can create a miniature gold mine for its players.
The product on the field needs to be improved to maximize this value and the program needs star players to generate interest, but the resources are there and companies have the opportunity to get involved.
The Sooners are in a unique position because they can combine aspects of different programs. The local appeal is great, but because of what coach Lincoln Riley and his staff have created, there is also national appeal.
Locally, the Oklahoma City Thunder are the only major sports team to attract attention through sponsorship. Suners can benefit from the popularity of its students across the state and in neighboring countries.
Quarterbacks can be bought, and Oklahoma has no shortage of quarterbacks coming through its doors. Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray won the Heisman and were selected first overall in the NFL Draft. Jalen Harts has changed and played at a high level. There’s a lot of noise around Spencer Rattler right now. Their combined successes can be of interest to brands looking for faces to promote their products, as well as to convince recruits to become the next in line.
The quarterback and explosive offense will resonate at every level, and Riley’s commitment to branding – he’s used the Jordan brand and lobbied Oklahoma’s creative team – will only help the program maximize its value.
We realized early on how much the game has changed in terms of maximizing impact and staying ahead of the curve in branding and technology, Riley said in a statement in December. This has been a priority for us for several years, and we have deployed resources and achieved results that have brought national attention to our program and our players. We now hope to be able to help our players gain exposure in new ways, and we will continue to think ahead and provide resources to do that at the highest level.
The athletics department has launched a program called The Foundry, which will be a step-by-step program that includes personal brand development, entrepreneurship, finance and fiscal management. The department has also partnered with Culture Wins, an agency that has worked with other sports organizations to develop high-performing leaders and teams.
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