How College Athletic Departments Can Support Athletes in Building NIL Value – and Stand Out When Recruiting

Read how college athletic departments can help athletes build their personal brands for NIL deals and recruiting — helped by some surprising sources.

Athlete with mobile phone on bench, demonstrating athletic department support for NIL

The dust has barely settled on the new NCAA rules on Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) in college sports, but many school athletics departments are already playing catchup to support their athletes’ NIL ambitious brand-building goals. 

With this rapidly shifting landscape, schools have had little time to plan on how they can recruit and retain the most talented players while maintaining a neutral stance on NIL and adhering to their own state and conference laws. Student-athletes, on the other hand, are ready to move quickly on their aims for NIL sponsorship deals. This is a balancing act — athletic departments must remain in compliance, with restrictions on direct pay to play and even advising on potential sponsorship agreements or sourcing those agreements. 

For the athletes jockeying for those lucrative — and in some cases, life-changing — endorsements, NIL is now a solo competitive sport in itself. And that battle isn’t being waged on the track, gridiron, court or pitch. It’s playing out where both local and global sponsors are trying to reach consumer audiences these days: on social media and other digital channels. These are now the center of aspiration, fandom, sports content viewing and cultural influence.

Regardless of the state, conference, school or sport, one winning element will cut across all sectors and enable athletic departments to attract the most promising athletes: 

Athletic departments can directly support student-athlete NIL goals by helping them build their personal brands on social media — through large volumes of compelling digital media featuring them. 

Amassing original content inventories from a number of sources is the straight-line way schools can help more student-athletes as they develop their public profiles in pursuit of NIL sponsorship deals. At the same time, the colleges and universities can stockpile media for their own digital marketing channels to help raise interest among future recruits. 

Building a personal brand with content is THE thing that makes an athlete stand out when not on the field or court. And, it’s a major factor in leveraging NIL and gaining the attention of sponsors.

These sponsors are looking for influential digital brand ambassadors and endorsers with high visibility, positive public profiles, and large, dedicated social followings. They want to promote their products and organizations and be associated with people that stand out. They’re willing to pay handsomely for such partnerships because talented athletes can single-handedly do more to attract and emotionally engage target audiences than thousands of advertising messages ever could.

So, athletic departments can support NIL, and athletic directors know digital brand building for student-athletes is critical for today’s athletes and for recruiting next year’s rosters. Athletic departments can support NIL aspirations in a few different ways — without actually touching endorsements or risking non-compliance. The centerpiece of those efforts is providing high-quality photos and videos featuring each athlete doing their thing.

Only schools that demonstrate this level of brand-building support for student-athletes will stand out while recruiting. These athletes are savvy and know social media power is NIL power. And with a large cache of star-making social and digital photos and videos in hand, an athlete will optimize their earnings power. 

Game over. 

Recruiting college athletes to play means athletic directors need to understand the value of NIL

Stellar Athlete Photos & Videos Will Define Successful Athletic Programs in the NIL Era

When colleges and universities give their amateurs personalized, high-quality photos and videos, they weave a self-perpetuating web of support. This is true for large and small schools, stars and rising athletic talent, and revenue and non-revenue athletic programs. Players who develop their personal brands and public social profiles with this exciting content alongside their athletic accomplishments become a magnet for sponsors who want to connect with more followers. These popular social media personalities help the athletic department gain an edge in recruiting other student-athletes who aspire to the same goals.

The new players are happier and more dedicated, knowing the school is similarly assisting them in fulfilling their dreams on the field and off. With some education and coaching on building a great social profile and great content to post regularly, student-athletes will find more income opportunities without the direct help of the school, no matter how long their athletic careers extend beyond campus. 

“Part of K-State’s commitment to supporting student-athlete success includes equipping each one to build a personal brand, which contributes to elevating the K-State brand. Partnering with Greenfly will extend our reach beyond team accounts and will ultimately help us tell better stories.”

Jay Moline, Director of Social Media and Digital Engagement, Kansas State University

Even more compelling is that the schools that do provide athletes with digital media actually elevate their own brand at the same time. Their athletes are implicitly endorsing the school and the athletics program while they’re out building their personal brand and interacting with fans. That attracts new recruits and also new donors, partners and supporters. That brand amplification means more awareness without advertising and a path to more long-term revenue.

Athletic programs are also building valuable digital media inventories to use for their own purposes — this content is not just helpful for athletes. The teams can use short-form media captured at games and training for all types of current and future promotions, sharing with fans, season ticket holders and alumni, and for top D1 schools, TV broadcasters.

Digital content is the fuel that keeps all this moving.

College Athletes Want More Digital Media

It takes a continuous flow of digital media and consistent posting for athletes to build their brands and stand out on social media. And, they can’t have their social feeds filled only with sponsored posts. Consumers see right through this direct advertising and engage with it less than great organic content.

Athletes should maintain a ratio of at least six to eight authentic posts for every sponsored post to keep overall engagement rates up. These authentic posts can be original photos and videos about their special winning moments, training regimens, lives off the field, causes they support, and anything ‘behind the scenes’ that gives their followers an intimate glimpse into their life. The slices of real authentic character that fans and followers lean into and care about on social channels.

NIL expands and levels the content playing field by opening up opportunities for players beyond flagship revenue sports teams. Non-revenue and Olympic sports athletes can also build well-known personal brands and attract valuable sponsorship deals through content. This is because social media popularity is not dictated by the stature of a team or position in a roster. Up-and-coming athletes are often more socially savvy and have larger followings than star players. And smaller niche sports are often more attractive to particular sponsors than prominent revenue teams. 

So, on top of day-to-day responsibilities, athletic departments need to be thinking about sourcing large volumes of high-quality photos and videos. Athletes across their full sports team rosters are now demanding this media for their social profiles. 

If you’re an athletic director struggling to figure out how to gather all this content and stay ahead of other institutions, read on. You may be surprised to know that the most resonant athlete media on social channels is quite easy to amass. And the sources for this content are already all around you.

Student athletes want to make money with NIL and be influencers for brands

6 Ways To Collect Awesome Content for Your Student-Athletes and Stay NIL Compliant

Content collection is quick and easy today with some basic creativity and technology to help manage it all. Every athletic department has access to at least six sources that are already prime content factories, generating media you’re probably not leveraging to full effect. 

Photographers and Videographers

Of course, your teams are using professional lensmen and women to capture all the in-game highlights for flagship home events. But perhaps your digital staff or freelancers are handling on-site coverage for many sports and events on the road. Are you getting the most gameday content you can —  across multiple events and sports team seasons at once — in the most efficient way?

Make sure you’re automating the collection and organization of the masses of media your photo and video teams are shooting and uploading on the fly, or the media you may be receiving from sources like Getty Images or Photoshelter. With efficient, integrated content workflows in place, you can make life easier for all your photographers, collect more original gameplay moments in real-time, and more easily find the best shots for social and digital channels. 

And the best part: Your athletes can get the social content they most want — of themselves and their teammates — before they hit the bench. 

Student Content Creators 

Beyond your pros focused on capturing the action on the field, take a page from pro sports’ live content correspondent programs. Think about enlisting student content creators — or expanding your existing pool of creators — to take photos and videos from their unique perspectives around the stadium or arena. They can capture candid gameday moments or record tailgate interviews with their friends, student groups, mascots or other team and venue support personnel about their favorite players.

Help your athletes access all the fun sideline bits they normally don’t get to witness from the field, which can help further enhance their own gameday narratives. 

There’s a whole world of activity surrounding a competition that offers captivating stories about your athletes, school, fans and community. Don’t let your athletes miss out on the magic. 

Fans and Ticket Holders

There’s nothing like being in the middle of the fan section celebrating a championship, hard-fought win or amazing play. Let your ticket-holders in the seats and fans watching at home share their perspectives. Solicit their photo and video stories of your athletes and teams in the moment, or gather special player greetings from student and faculty groups, which the athletes can share on their accounts. Technology such as Greenly +Engage enables schools to collect this user-generated content with ease, without the need for staff to manage submissions manually. 

Your teams can embed custom-branded pages onto your website or fan-facing athletics department mobile app, collect their emotion-filled content quickly, and get it out to your athletes for their social media profiles just as fast. 

Athletic Department Staff

Your creative services coordinator, graduate assistant coaches or traveling staff can provide close-up photo and video perspectives of your athletes during training and team gatherings. Tap into your archives and enhance their stories even more. Include clips of your athletes as they evolve during their collegiate careers. Your team can also create custom gameday graphics and editable graphics templates for each player across your athletic teams, including their cumulative season stats and fun facts for their followers.

Team recruiters are likely among the first points of contact your school will have with an athlete, even for your non-revenue sports. Ask them to provide a large selection of video and photo snapshots of player recruiting trips, campus tours and visits to your stadium or arena, and interactions with current players for their Stories and feeds.  

You can give all this fresh media to athletes as they share the excitement of being at your college or university and boost their images on social media simultaneously.

Boosters, Donors and Alumni

Your biggest financial supporters can also provide a wealth of content from virtual and in-person athletic department events on campus. Meet and greets with notable alumni are ideal moments to share your school’s legacy with your athletes and their networks. Gather stories from alumni at your games, such as their favorite experiences at the school or winning moments. Pair these with greetings to your current and future athletes for powerful narratives to fill their social profiles. 

Remember that your NIL athletes will become school alumni themselves one day, bringing fresh content opportunities for future generations. 


Finally, your athletes’ exclusive first-person narratives of their times off the field — training, exploring campus, traveling to games and hanging out with their teammates — are brand-building gold. Help them co-create their own media that showcases their academic experiences as well as their athleticism, and give them the tools to manage that media in one centralized location — versus searching through text and email chains. Kansas State University is one example of a school empowering its athletes to become storytellers through content. 

An athlete’s family and friends also sit at excellent vantage points to capture content from games, off-season activities and other events. They can put their personal spin on their favorite player for their social highlights.

Athletic departments can make it easy for student athletes to grow social media followings

Athletic Departments Must Support NIL Goals

Start By Building Valuable Digital Media Inventory

For all these sources, college athletic departments are turning to advanced, automated technology to collect, organize, manage and distribute digital media directly to athletes, and ensuring they remain neutral on NIL and athlete endorsements. Taking valuable staff time or hiring more staff to oversee these activities manually is no longer a feasible option for most athletic departments.

Greenfly’s digital media flow management platform makes it incredibly easy for athletic departments to harness the power of digital media to support their athletes. With Greenfly software, athletic departments can automate and manage digital media content aggregation and remotely direct video and photo capture with all advocate groups to get it to athletes fast. We’ve helped organizations of all sizes collect and distribute digital media and activate advocates around the stories that matter to them and their followers.  

In this new era of sports, college athletic departments can (and actually must) support their players with content as they compete for NIL sponsorship dollars. It’s the only way for schools to stand apart in the race for the best athletes of today and tomorrow. 

If you’re exploring ways to give your athletes brand-building media this season to support their NIL goals, get in touch with our team of experts.

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