A segment of the population that was previously locked out of the marketing world is now open for business thanks to the NCAA’s name, image, and likeness (NIL) policy. And college athletes are a particularly appealing demographic to credit unions, according to a group of panelists Tuesday at the 2023 CUNA Marketing & Business Development Council Conference in Orlando.
“College athletics is a staple for sponsorship with credit unions,” says Solly Fulp, executive vice president at LEARFIELD, a multimedia rights and sponsorship rights company that represents 180 universities and has 164 credit union partnerships. “Credit unions are deeply rooted in philanthropy, storytelling, and financial wellness. We have thousands of partnerships across the country, and credit unions seem to get it best.”
While colleges and credit unions have had fruitful partnerships for years, the possibilities grew significantly during the summer of 2021, when the Division I Board of Directors approved a policy that allowed all NCAA student-athletes to be compensated for their NIL—something that had never been legal for amateur athletes.
Many student-athletes are signing spokesperson deals with companies, using their influence within the community and their university’s alumni base. The space has exploded over the last two years. Opendorse, an NIL deals platform, projects businesses will spend $1.14 billion on athlete deals in 2023, while 74% of student-athletes have received an NIL deal from a brand and the average Division I athlete compensation is $4,141.
The engagement is there, according to Opendorse Vice President of Channel Partnerships Erika Gunerman, who says that 80% of consumers make purchases based on influencer recommendations and 65% of people discover new brands through an influencer at least once a week.
“Athletes tend to see close to 2.5% the engagement rate traditional influencers see,” Gunerman says. “They can be a really powerful vehicle for a brand partner.”
Athletes have stories to tell, so where do credit unions fit in?
“NIL is the ultimate storytelling opportunity, and I think credit unions are the best storytellers out there,” Fulp says.
So, where do credit unions start? Look at local universities to see if their mission and values align with eh credit union.
“Credit unions and universities are both deeply engrained in the community. These universities are thought leaders in their marketplace, so you can take a brand and attach it to a university in a meaningful way,” says Owen Shull, executive vice president at ISE Properties.
If credit unions find a university that aligns with their mission, values, and purpose, they can scroll through possible student-athlete influencers on websites like Opendorse, or they can reach out to the university—or the university’s NIL partner—to find the best path forward for both sides.
LEARFIELD senior manager of business development Susie Taylor, the liaison between Summit Credit Union and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says the formula for a successful partnership is brand awareness plus storytelling equals fan engagement.
“Universities value a partner in the community,” she says. “We love partners who really want to be integrated into game day. Student-athletes are a really important demographic because 18- to 24-year-olds are very difficult to reach in traditional media.”
The student-athletes can also get more out of an NIL deal than financial compensation. Summit has partnered with several UW-Madison student-athletes who serve as spokespeople for the $4.9 billion asset credit union in Cottage Grove, Wis. In return, the athletes also meet with financial coaches and get real-world experience in the business world.
Finally, everyone in the college athletics marketing space is aware that it’s in its infancy. However, Fulp says, “Naming rights and NIL are not going away. It’s just starting, and I think you’re in the best position to take advantage of it.”