Everyone is talking about NIL and how to get ready for NIL. Changes are here, but what does that mean for you as a college athlete? It means you now have the opportunity to monetize your name, image and likeness. Endorsement deals, camps and clinics, paid autograph sessions and more are now on the table, depending on your state's laws and/or your college institutions guidelines.
Disclaimer: AthletesForProfit.com has partnered with some great companies which feature products that help our readers achieve their goals of monetizing their brands and taking advantage of NIL. Our website features affiliate links for these companies, and we may receive commissions at no additional cost to you if you choose to purchase. This helps support our free resources for athletes. Before taking actions related to NIL that could affect your collegiate eligibility, know that you are responsible for your actions, including consulting with your institution's compliance department or with legal counsel. Check out our full disclaimer here.
What many college athletes – especially those that do not attend name-brand programs – are wondering is how to get ready for NIL. Here are five things every athlete can–and should–do to prepare your brand and your business.
1. Register a domain name and get your website ready.
What’s a domain name, you ask? It’s the address of your website, or the URL people type into a browser to visit your website. It’s not the website itself, but the address to it, just like your street address to your home. It directs people to your website, which you should also set up. A domain name and website will also (you guessed it), make you more searchable.
To go along with your domain, you'll want to create a website. Think of it as a personal website or portfolio to show brands or prospective partners who you are and what you’re about. So much of NIL is tied to your personal brand, and this is a place beyond social media for you to tell your own story and showcase that brand. Getting a domain name and a website set up is easier than it might seem.
You can buy the domain and the website from two different companies (Namecheap, GoDaddy, Domain.com, and others allow you to search and secure available domains), but it’s even easier to use services that allow you to do both at once such as Bluehost, Wix, or Squarespace. Those give you a free domain for a year upon signup, but you can also register additional domains through their service. More on how to do all that in just a bit!
Check out some website/domain name examples for current professional athletes as a reference.
LeBron James. This is a great example. His website – LebronJames.com – acts as a central hub for him to include information about LeBron as an athlete, a philanthropist and a businessman–complete with businesses he owns (like his media company), investments he’s made, endorsement deals he’s done, companies he works with and more. It shows prospective partners who he is, what he’s done and includes links to his social media accounts.
Tom Brady. If the Super Bowl rings aren't enough, Brady has built up a huge business with his “TB12” lifestyle brand.
Brady is the owner of TomBrady.com, but that simply redirects to his Facebook page. He has multiple websites related to “TB12” from a business and charity standpoint. Those are TB12Sports.com, TB12Meals.com, and TB12Foundation.com. Brady is one of the foremost examples of an athlete monetizing his brand.
Patrick Mahomes. One of pro sports' brightest young stars has two primary websites. PatrickMahomes.com is actually billed as primarily an apparel store, while Mahomes' charity foundation is at 15andthemahomies.com, a clever play on his jersey number and name.
Here are some helpful tips for choosing a domain name.
A. This has to be said first: don't cheap out on purchasing an actual “dot com” domain name. You pay for what you get with domain names and web hosting. Free versions will have you looking something like AthletesForProfit.WixSite.com instead of AthletesForProfit.com, your website will be very limited in function, and it will have ads all over it.
B. Choose more than one domain name. Start with trying your first and last name, like LeBron James did with his website. Yours may be taken already, particularly if you have a more common name.
C. If you’re going to set up a business, you could also create a name for your company and use that. Using the same LeBron example, if he owned a company called LeBron Basketball Camps, LLC, he could do something like lebronbasketballcamps.com. A good rule of thumb is to try and make it simple, short and easy to remember.
D. If you want to include your jersey number in one of your domain names, keep in mind that you're not guaranteed to keep that jersey number from high school to college, from college to pros. If you nab one just in case, that's fine! Your jersey number can definitely end up being part of your brand.
E. If you're a collegiate athlete, it's probably smart to stay away from using the name of your institution or school mascot in your domain at this point. Current NIL laws are going to restrict the usage of school logos, marks, and names of colleges when it comes to things like autograph signings and other monetary opportunities for student-athletes. That's OK, though – you actually have more flexibility by keeping the brand focus on you.
F. There are bunches of options for the extension (i.e. something like .com, .net, org) that you choose, but whatever name you pick, try to stick with a .com domain name since that’s the most common and recognizable.
G. You may not be ready to actually launch your website yet, and that's OK. Before you make an actual website live, you'll likely want to run things through compliance or legal counsel or have a very good understanding of any restrictions on the website's content. You still need to make sure you secure your domain name(s) for the future to ensure that you own your brand and keep your business options open. Here's the cool thing: even if you don't ultimately become a collegiate or professional athlete, you can always use your domain name in the future for other business or personal ventures!
Here are the best domain and website services for athletes looking to take advantage of NIL.
BLUEHOST – Includes a free domain name for the first year. Has the most affordable long-term entry point – your price can be as low as three-bucks a month on average over a three year term. Bluehost allows you to host WordPress-style sites, which gives you (or whoever builds your site) the most long-term flexibility to build your website and add functionalities. l If you're not ready to launch right away, you'll still have your domain and your web hosting secured and ready to go for when the time is right.
WIX – Includes a free domain for the first year. Has lots of templates and a smaller learning curve if you're building your own website, so it's good for beginners. You'll find that it's less customizable in terms of third-party integrations, and you can start accumulating higher costs if you do things like add an online store to your site.
SQUARESPACE – Packages also include a free domain for the first year. Similar to Wix in that it's a drag-and-drop, user friendly website editor. It's slightly more pricy than Wix, and there are some of the same limitations in terms of long-term customizations.
Registering a domain name, or multiple domain names, should be the first thing you do as a student-athlete to get ready for the name, image, and likeness era. Keep in mind that if you register a domain (or domains) through services like GoDaddy, NameCheap.com, or Domain.com, that you will need to transfer those to another service (unless you use their hosting) once you're ready to have your website built.
2. Maximize your social media.
This is the most basic, but arguably the most important, step. Athletes, regardless of school or sport, can use social media to build an audience, one that’s hopefully authentic to who the athlete is both on and off the field, and to get ready for NIL. Speaking of audience – international soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo has 284 MILLION followers on Instagram!
Here are a few things you can do to either build your social media following or help it grow on channels such as Instagram and Twitter.
A. Make a bio. Let people know who you are. Plus, it also makes you easier to find. A few words about where you go to school, what sport you play, or even other things you like to do will go a long way in helping your profile pop up. They should reflect who you are and what your page is going to showcase. For example, your bio could read: “Penn State Lacrosse #0” or “@UCLA softball, national champion. I like to pitch.” If you want to add more context, something like “Wichita State Shocker, wannabe chef on the side” or “@georgiafootball LB. Representing ATL always,” would also work. All add value to your profiles by including key search words, and some even tell a little bit more about you right away. Tagging school or team accounts also helps establish credibility and is never a bad idea, but bios are all a matter of personal preference.
B. Be active on social, and not just when it comes to posts. Instagram stories, for example, are a great, more casual way to create fun content for your fans. Engage with other people’s content, too!
C. Post regularly. Don’t force content, but make sure you do find a posting cadence so your show up in your followers feeds on a regular basis. The more they see you, the more they’ll pay attention. Making sure the content is authentic to who you are is also key to engagement. Don’t be afraid to show who you are off the field, either. Brands want to know who they’re working with, and that includes the whole athlete. Be human! Be yourself! Tell your story! You’ll have a much more engaged audience as a result, which is always appealing to brands.
D. Add your name to all your profiles. Fans can’t follow you if they can’t find you! Make sure your first and last name are attached to your social media accounts–even if it’s in your username already, but especially if it doesn’t include it. For example: Kevin Durant’s username on Instagram is easymoneysniper. Nowhere on his account does it say Kevin Durant or even KD. If a new fan is trying to find him on Instagram, a search for ‘Kevin Durant’ comes up dry. KD already has a massive audience, so it’s not as big of a deal, but for an athlete trying to build a brand and bring in new followers, you need to be find-able! The more places your name is in your profile, the more searchable you are on social media and the internet more broadly.
3. Set up a bank account.
If you don’t have one already, make sure you get ready for NIL by having a checking account set up so you can get paid. If you’re thinking about running camps or clinics or doing something that might require investing in resources, a credit card might also be needed.
A great option for business banking is Novo, which is free to use and has an easy-to-use mobile app. You will need to have your business registered (i.e. an LLC, which we'll go into later in this space) in order to get use Novo's service.
There are other excellent checking account options that may not require registration of an LLC right off the bat, and you should definitely look over multiple options.
NerdWallet is a great resource to utilize when it comes to comparing checking accounts. Some of the things you need to look for when assessing your choices are whether or not the bank requires minimum balances, charges monthly fees, and what annual percentage yield the account carries.
4. Do your research on business entities and on your tax obligations.
It's a good idea to set up an LLC (limited liability corporation) at some point, so making sure you understand what different business entities do and offer (in terms of things like liability protection) in advance will be helpful. You’re also most likely going to have to pay taxes on any income earned, though not everyone is required to file income tax returns each year. If your total income for the year is below certain thresholds, you could be exempt from federal taxes, but all of that is based on how much you make, how you made it, your age and things like whether or not someone else, like a parent or guardian, claims you as a dependent on their tax returns. Either way, it’s important to know what might be legally required based on the income you make.
Consult with a certified public accountant (CPA) and/or check out resources like LegalZoom for setting up an LLC.
5. Connect with your athletic department’s compliance office.
Finally, before you do your first social media endorsement deal or host your first camp or sign your first paid autograph, make sure you know who’s going to be monitoring it all for your school so you can maintain compliance and not risk using your eligibility. Every athletic department is going to be impacted by NIL, and every one is likely going to have to have someone on staff specializing in it as a result. Make sure you find that person and know exactly what steps you have to take to keep yourself and your school out of NCAA trouble.
Your state and school will have rules about “disclosure”, meaning that you'll need to inform them (usually through an application provided by your institution) of any deals you strike at a certain time. Check with your program and make sure you're following these procedures.
If you're still in high school, keep things simple for now. Start out by registering your domain name or getting your website service situated, and wait for college. Do not capitalize on NIL profits at this time if you're still in high school; many states (and high school athletic organizations) are explicitly prohibiting high school student-athletes from taking advantage of NIL laws.
Any questions? Drop us a line: info(at)athletesforprofit.com!