Building a Brand: Student Athletes Discuss NIL Partnerships
Student athletes with NIL deals detail how they have navigated the process.
On June 30, 2021, the NCAA instituted its interim Name, Image and Likeness policy, which allowed college athletes to profit from a brand leveraging their name, image and likeness for marketing and promotion. Since then, hundreds of thousands of NCAA student athletes across the country have signed profitable brand deals, including some student athletes at Dartmouth. While the Ivy League strictly prohibits sports-based scholarships as a member league, they are still forced to comply with the NCAA’s NIL policy.
Although Dartmouth is relatively small, with an undergraduate enrollment of just over 4,400 students, the school’s D1 and Ivy League status make it a target for national brands that rely on name recognition. Over the past two and a half years, Dartmouth’s brand-savvy athletes have adapted to the new NIL climate.
Alaana Panu ’25, an outfielder for the women’s softball team, entered Dartmouth with “an ambition to do brand deals.”
With a strong interest in pursuing social media and marketing as a career post-college, Panu feels that doing brand deals as a student-athletes is a “package deal,” helping her grow her personal and professional brand and profit off her athletic success.
Panu has worked with IWON Organics, a healthy snacks company, and started a student ambassador partnership with Aquaphor earlier this year.
“I have about 5,000 followers on Tiktok and 5,000 on Instagram, and over a few years, I’ve worked on what I post and how often, which has definitely helped with my deals,” Panu said.
Quarterback Jackson Proctor ’24 said his experience with NIL deals started by reaching out to companies with products he’s enjoyed for much of his life. He has less of an interest in marketing as a profession but wants to support products he personally uses.
Proctor started a deal with Body Armor, a drink he has enjoyed since middle school, in late 2022 after reaching out to the company. After his Body Armor deal, TYR Sports — an athletic apparel company — and LVLA — a lifestyle clothing brand that often sells items with positive mentality quotes — reached out to him about deals. Proctor said he really enjoys his partnership with LVLA.
“I love being able to get LVLA’s [wrist] bands for a bunch of my friends … they’re really helpful for motivation in times of need,” Proctor said. “Working with products I genuinely liked before the deal makes promoting them a lot easier.”
Another popular avenue of promotion for student athletes is becoming a Barstool Athlete, according to Proctor. College athletes sign up online, and once they are approved by the company, athletes are given a free T-shirt and are required to include “Barstool Athlete” in all social media bios. In return, being a Barstool Athlete grants them access to TwoYay, a platform that connects companies to student athletes. While becoming a Barstool Athlete itself doesn’t make students money, it increases their visibility for brand deals.
“As a Barstool athlete, the TwoYay platform allows companies to reach out to different athletes,” Proctor said. “Being at an Ivy League school is an avenue some companies definitely want to pursue, so they reach out on TwoYay.”
Once athletes establish some deals through TwoYay, independent negotiations for deals are easier to come by. Proctor mentioned he has another deal in the athletic recovery space forthcoming, this time coordinated through Instagram DM.
Proctor’s teammate, Macklin Ayers ’24, has had similar experiences through a partnership with his hometown personal trainer, called Explosive Sports Performance, a portable recovery device company called Firefly Recovery Technology and Powerade. However, despite his success, he emphasized the difficulty of doing these deals at a small, rural school like Dartmouth.
“[Doing NIL deals] at Dartmouth is a little different because there are not as many local opportunities as there are at other [universities],” Ayers said. “Dartmouth prides itself on our small, tight-knit community. I love that. It just means when it comes to NIL, athletes need to seek opportunities outside of that, especially larger scale ones.”
In addition to Dartmouth’s rural location and small size, its status as a member of the Ivy League means athletes have to contend with specific Ivy League regulations, such the requirement that athletes report their deals to their respective schools’ compliance offices. These can be different compared to schools that are part of the Power 5 leagues — the five most prominent athletic conferences in the league — that may be recruiting athletes largely on a NIL basis, according to Proctor. The lack of athletic attention compared to schools in the Power 5 conferences may also mean less marketing potential for athletes.
However, no matter the case, some student athletes have found ways to successfully overcome these challenges, though each approached their deals from slightly different angles. Each of them also progressed to securing partnerships with national-facing brands.
Proctor also stressed how much his coaches and the College’s compliance team have helped facilitate these deals.
“The coaches are very helpful in making sure we are following rules and guidelines,” Ayers said. “Also, we can run our deals through compliance before signing, which ensures all rules [are] being followed.”
Although these three athletes are a part of this initial wave of Dartmouth NIL deals, there is certainly more to come, as long as these deals remain permissible by the NCAA. Ayers, Panu and Proctor all had advice and enthusiasm for helping fellow student athletes at Dartmouth negotiate deals of their own.
“Reach out to companies that you may think won’t reach back, and you might be surprised,” Panu said.
Proctor emphasized the upside of participating in NIL deals as a student.
“I think these deals will help me down the road because I’ve been in contact with these different companies,” Proctor said. “The more you put yourself out there, the more benefits you’ll get back.”
For Ayers, as NIL continues to grow, and players receive larger incentives, he wants to make sure younger players understand the commitments they’re making.
“Recently, especially with all of [University] of Utah’s scholarship football players getting new trucks to lease, NIL deals are gaining traction and media attention,” Ayers said. “As players here ask me about it, I help them whenever I can. My best advice is to know what you are signing up for before agreeing. Many [deals] are straightforward, but not all.”
As brands sign more collegiate athletes and the NIL policy continues into its third year, there will undoubtedly be new challenges and expectations to navigate. For athletes here at Dartmouth, the opportunities to collaborate, receive free products and earn a commission may continue to grow. So the question remains: how will they take advantage of them?