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How NCAA athletes changed the sport influencer game

By: Viral Nation | 4 mins read |
NIL, short for Name, Image, Likeness, gives college athletes the ability to profit off their NIL through endorsements and sponsorships, much like professional athletes. From 6-figure campaigns down to in-kind product deals, brands across the globe have leaned into these untapped platforms not only for brand awareness and conversion, but also to financially support the standard college student. NCAA sporting events have been extremely popular for many years and many of these athletes have gained a strong fan base supporting them. People don't just watch their favorite teams on the small screen anymore, they fill stadiums and buy all types of swag to support their favorite college sports teams. With all this in mind, college athletes can be more effective influencers than some prominent stars because of their authenticity, passion and inspiration to younger generations (you want these people to represent your brand) and for their high public exposure. Let’s dive deeper into why NCAA athletes make the best influencers:

High public exposure

The high level of public exposure athletes are presented with automatically sets them apart from the average influencer. Each collegiate team can participate in 25-35 games per season, depending on the team's level and tournament participation. This number of appearances gives an athlete greater levels of exposure, especially since college sports fans will watch these games on TV or even attend in person. Think about how social media influencers are expected to post every day to be noticed and engage their audience. The same rule applies to college athlete influencers. They need to make consistent public appearances — physically or virtually — to promote the collaborating brands better.  College athletes have an advantage over other influencers because of the high turnouts in their games. Certain events even garner bigger attention than usual, like March Madness in NCAA men's basketball - one of the biggest sporting events within a calendar year. Your brand exposure comes first, so why not partner with an influencer that already has high levels of exposure to boost traffic, engagement and awareness of your products. These athletes also have an advantage of growing a huge following of loyal fans, another huge positive for your brand.


Authenticity is one of the main reasons why most consumers trust influencers - maintaining that is key for the success of the brand and for the influencer themselves. Unlike many famous professional athletes who lead Hollywood-style lives, people find the lives of NCAA athletes to be more relatable because parts of their lives are relatively normal. They still go to school, have to juggle busy schedules and maintain social relationships. Keeping all this in mind, it’s no surprise that NCAA athletes tend to choose brands they feel passionate about and stay away from brands they feel no connection with. These influencers actually engage with their audience and create intriguing content, leading to a greater fan base and automatically increasing loyalty. This tight-knit community of followers has resulted in a higher return on investment than typical influencers for brands. The content NCAA athletes put on their social media platform tends to have a more authentic appeal than other influencers. They regularly share posts about practices, the game day's behind the scenes and even when they’re on the road travelling to away games. They aren’t perfectly curated or edited thoroughly - authenticity remains at the forefront. When brands request to collaborate with college athletes, ideally, they should be able to maintain this authentic look. This is one of their main selling points since brands and users admire authenticity over anything else.

Unique personality of a college athlete inspires younger generations

The passion and persistence a college athlete must have to make it far within their sport are two massive traits that set them apart from typical influencers. Their behaviours and attitudes inspire their fans and followers - who are often Gen Z’s. Add this to their authenticity factor we just spoke about and you have an ideal influencer to represent your brand. We all know by now that Gen Z’s put authenticity, passion and being real above anything else these days. Gone are the times of spending countless hours editing social media posts, they want the real deal. So, an athlete being passionate about something really speaks to this audience. It can be quite inspirational and encourage young people to follow a similar path. These athletes are brand storytellers and tell your story in a way that captures your audiences’ attention and inspires them along the way. A community focused personality is something Gen Z loves to follow as well - an individual that gives back to their community and really cares about social problems. Many athletes are well-known in their community and often spend a lot of time with younger generations or charities. I’m sure you’ve seen athletes participating in charity events to raise money for a good cause. Not only does this showcase how much they care, but it also encourages their audience to participate as well. Authentic content is essential to humanize the brand, drive awareness and increase conversions, all while deeply connecting with your target audience. 

Localized Targeting

Contrary to popular belief, working with the mega influencers isn’t the only type of influencer that will benefit your brand. The power of working with micro-influencers - NCAA athletes - gives you the great opportunity of localized targeting. In simple terms, localized targeting is marketing your product to people that are local to your brand, even though you may be a globally recognized brand. Some brands struggle with entering a specific market scope. Leveraging a NCAA athlete as an influencer allows you to bypass this barrier as they tend to have small but tight-knit communities of followers. This makes their followers more receptive to your brand's message, increases your brand awareness and conversions.  Their fans also usually share similar demographics with the athletes, like ages and perhaps ethnicities. They often live or grow up in the same city as the athlete and can easily relate to them in that regard as well. These similarities create a massive loyal fan base and one that is unmatched by your typical influencer. The NIL ruling offers new opportunities not only for NCAA athletes but also for brands. With more than 500,000 active college athletes, brands have a large pool to choose from. Whether you are a small or medium-sized brand, you can benefit from the new regulation as it enables you to afford effective influencers at lower costs. The combination of high public exposure, authentic content that speaks effectively to Gen Z’s, and localized targeting provides you with great reasons to collaborate with an NCAA influencer.
_About the author
Viral Nation

Viral Nation is a new media innovation group that powers the social ecosystem through integrated solutions that align strategy, talent, media, and technology. As pioneers in the influencer space, Viral Nation is comprised of a full-service creative agency, a creator and athlete-influencer representation agency, and a technology division creating modern marketing solutions for the social media age.