The National Basketball Players Association is the latest professional players association to help its athletes better monetize their social media. The NBPA has signed up for OpenSponsorship’s new Athlytics platform, a new data and analytics proposition. This follows the Major League Baseball Players Association’s partnership with Influential earlier this year.
OpenSponsorship is a sponsorship technology platform backed by Serena Williams and David Blitzer that helps brands connect with its network of more than 12,000 top athlete influencers, teams and events around the world.
“We’ve been developing this proposition behind the scenes for some time,” said Ishveen Jolly, founder and CEO of OpenSponsorship. “As a business, we’re always looking for growth opportunities and given the strength of our technology platform and level of athlete data we have accumulated, the Athlytics tool is an exciting next step. We’re thrilled that the NBPA is putting it to use and excited to see the benefits it will offer them in the coming months.”
Mark Rejtig, senior vice president of brand partnerships at THINK450, the revenue-generating arm of the NBPA, says he’s excited about the data analytics Athlytics will offer NBA players and partners.
“OpenSponsorship’s depth of understanding and data analysis capabilities are second-to-none. Tapping into their best-in-breed tech enables THINK450 to deliver on our promise of providing critical intelligence that can be used to craft authentic allyships with our members that propel brands to the forefront of culture. We’re excited to bring these benefits to our players and partners and to see what the future holds.”
Jolly says having the partnership at the players association level gives brands advantages, including access to archival footage, intellectual property usage and the ability to use more than one player in an ad.
“It’s great that we are an avenue for brands who want to work directly with an athlete, as well as brands who choose to go via the PA. Ultimately, we all want the same thing which is to get more sponsorship dollars into the hands of the athletes, and ideally spread the funds across the other 95% of athletes who often don’t get as much deal flow but are more affordable.”
The Impact of Name, Image and Likeness at the Collegiate Level on Professional Athletes
The timing of both the MLBPA and NBPA signing partnerships this year to provide greater support to their athletes when it comes to social media and brand partnerships begs the question of whether the advent of NIL at the collegiate level has impacted the pros.
Jolly says college athletes being able to monetize their NIL has had both positive and negative impacts on professional athletes.
A top concern for Jolly is the proliferation of college athletes signing with agents may ultimately have a negative impact on professional athletes.
“We may see agencies spending more time on a college athletes versus their existing roster of pro athletes outside of the top 5%.”
Jolly believes there is pressure on agents to deliver results for college athletes in order to get them to sign later on for representation as they go pro.
Agent Michael Raymond of Raymond Representation, who works with both pro and college athletes, brought up a separate point that plays in athletes’ favor as they transition from college to pro.
“Many of these college athletes will become pros and I think the brands that built great relationships with the athletes in college will want to stay on board as they keep growing. That will definitely increase opportunities for pros that go all in with NIL while in college and more importantly build up a huge social media following while doing so.”
College Athletes Inspiring Professional Athletes to Monetize
However, Jolly sees more positives than negatives. He thinks professional athletes are getting new ideas and inspiration from college athletes.
“I see that retired athletes, or individual sport athletes who rely more on sponsorship, may get ideas from college athletes on new ways to monetize such as starting their own merch lines, doing watch parties and other more entrepreneurial activities that rely less on traditional sponsorship.”
Raymond said something similar when asked if seeing college athletes monetize their NIL has affected professional athletes.
“In my opinion, I think every athlete can build his own NIL or personal brand. Whether it is working on social media campaigns, doing local charity work, collaborating with local businesses, or even doing more speaking engagements and events there is a market and opportunity for every athlete. NIL has given all of these pro athletes some amazing ideas and potential opportunities they probably wouldn’t have thought of before pre NIL era.”
He went on to say that professional athletes haven’t typically taken advantage of promotional opportunities, but now college athletes are opening their eyes to the possibilities.
“If you look at the pro marketing side you typically only see 10-20 guys in each league taking full advantage of NIL and brand building. Now you might see even the less known pro athletes engage in interesting and exciting opportunities like I mentioned above and be able to utilize platforms like Influential and OpenSponsorship to find deals and opportunities that might not be as lucrative as a shoe deal or endorsement but still exciting for them. Most people see NIL as brand deals specific but there is a lot of opportunity in this space and ways to contribute.”
To Jolly’s point that college athletes are showing professional athletes non-traditional opportunities, Raymond points to two of his own clients.
“NIL gives professional athletes the opportunity to look beyond the traditional endorsement deal and see what some of these amazing college athletes are doing. For example, Emily Cole writing her own book or Talitha Diggs speaking at Law Schools to educate on Diversity and Inclusion and what it means to be a potential Olympian.” (Disclosure: I host a podcast with Emily Cole.)
Pat Curran, the namesake behind Curran Media who works with both pro and college athletes, says he hasn’t noticed many pros adjusting their social media strategies yet, although some have posted about wanting “NIL deals.”
“What should happen is the realization that a billion dollar industry started overnight and many of them could be building their own businesses through this shift in the athlete economy. What we’ve tried to instill in our pros is to understand the importance of building out a community & audience that is invested in you the person, not just the athlete.
“We can’t help them perform better on the court or field, but we can help them be better on this other half of their business. They’ve got more eyes, more connections, more cache, and more potential opportunities than college athletes. If they can understand the mindset behind why brands are investing in college athletes, and correlate that into them, they can be doing this on a much higher level financially.”
Increased Interest from Brands at the Pro Level
Brands too are inspired by what’s happening at the collegiate level. Jolly says logically you might think increased interest in working with college athletes might decrease opportunities for the pros, but he doesn’t think that’s the case.
“I actually think that the media, and more companies talking about the power of the athlete and promoting athletes as influencers, is a good thing to grow the pie. Many times they also hit a different audience whether local, age, demographics etc.”
“The increase in athletes in college athletes from brands, from our perspective, has only helped pros. We’ve had brands reach out about college athletes we work with and have been able to loop in some of our pros too and vice versa. Ideally they see the benefits of working with an athlete or face of a city, and want to do more with other college athletes and pros too.”
Agent Brandon Curran (no relation to Pat Curran) of Player’s Punch, who focuses on basketball athletes, says there is some increased competition, but for now the advantage still falls to professional athletes.
“It definitely increases the competition since brands now can select from high school juniors or seniors, college freshman, and [NBA] rookies for a similar range of opportunities. There are still a good amount of brands who are uncomfortable with the idea of NIL and professional athletes represent a safer bet but that is definitely changing.”
Zach Rubin, senior vice president of consulting at VaynerSports says partnerships with companies like OpenSponsorship can create more opportunities for both athletes and brands.
“NIL has reinforced the importance of off-field brand building. In the past, on-field success was the main driver of an athlete’s marketability. Today, digital and social platforms have democratized athlete marketing opportunities. If both professional athletes and emerging athletes are using the tools at their disposal to build their brands, that is a good thing for companies who are interested in sports marketing and working with talent. It creates more opportunities for national, regional and local partnerships and campaigns.”
There’s no reason to believe that both professional and intercollegiate athletes can’t be successful simultaneously though.
“NIL has made professional athletes really hone in on their narrative and what truly makes them unique in terms of their passions. Brands want athletes with stories that connect to their brands and authentic narratives that will generate earned media,” said [Brandon] Curran. “College NIL presents a very interesting backdrop for brands as many people can relate to those quintessential college moments like the cafeteria, classes, the quad, etc. I want to see more brands utilize this fun backdrop.”
Research from Nielsen Sports shows sponsorship spend in sports has increased in 2022, rising to 21.3% of total marketing budget, compared to 19% last year.