Athletes have been impacting the influencer industry long before the term influencer came to life. Michael Jordan pioneered how athletes who achieve greatness and success on the court can transcend to celebrities and global icons. Jordan’s success created a blueprint that many athletes continue to follow today, locking in massive endorsements from leading brands like Nike. Athletes today like Christiano Ronaldo have earned $50 million from endorsements alone  andSerena Williams has leveraged her personal brand to create a commercial brand, Serena – focusing on a mission of inclusion. 

Celebrity athletes have become so much more than just players on the field or drivers on a track. Athletes like Lewis Hamilton  become role models, trendsetters, activists and social moguls, inspiring all those who look up to them to follow in their footsteps. Part of becoming successful as an athlete is building your brand. Athletes across all levels of fame and success are designing their brand and showcasing it to the world via social media. Unlike typical Instagram influencers as of late, athletes garner their following through their performance offline and capture an audience based on their skill and craft, resulting in a very strong opportunity for marketers to reach audiences in a new and unique way. 

Brands activating celebrity athletes to create content on social media is not a novel concept. We have even seen more brands go down-funnel and engage with professional athletes in endorsements. CLIF has a page dedicated to featuring the athletes they work with, with recognizable names like Megan Rapinoe and less recognizable though still notable athletes like rock climbers, triathletes, and surfers.

Why has this level of endorsement stopped at the professional athletes? This is in part owed to the fact that previously the NCAA has been able to restrict college and university athletes from engaging in sponsorships or endorsements. From these local heroes to the All-Americans, student-athletes have some of the most loyal and engaged audiences. Brands and organizations have not had an opportunity to build a relationship with these athletes and create marketing campaigns as they do with the Jordans, Christianos and Serenas, to tap into these audiences. 

However, on July 1st, the NCAA adopted an interim policy “suspending NCAA name, image and likeness (NIL) rules for all incoming and current student-athletes in all sports”. The policy ensures that no athlete will be ruled ineligible if they monetize their NIL. 

We can draw a parallel between student-athletes and how micro influencers have shaped the influencer marketing industry. The rise of the micro influencer within the creator economy accelerated the influencer industry, allowing more ‘everyday’ people to become creators with photo and video technology in their pocket. These creators with smaller audiences were able to deliver authentic content to highly engaged followings at very cost efficient relationships for brands. NIL legislation is unlocking the micro influencer equivalent in the athlete world, giving rise to the next evolution of Athlete influencers, with “micro-influencer Athletes”. 

Student-athletes have already begun adding their contact information to their bios and posting about being open to collaborations, signaling a quick shift in response to the rule changes. They are now able to hire specific marketing or talent agencies to represent their brand collaboration interests – just like creators and influencers have since the rise of the bloggers. Texas Tech is even offering a course to athletes on building personal brands.

Marketers can expand the cost efficiency seen with micro influencers over to these “micro” athletes. There is a substantial opportunity to tap into new audiences with authentic and meaningful content, coming from athletes who have passionate fans on and off the turf. 

If you’re interested in expanding and diversifying your next influencer campaign, the brief you have already drafted and the incentive budget you allocated for creators with athletes, get in touch with us at Mavrck.