NBC Sports is running a NIL pilot program focused on lower-profile athletes

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In the year since the NCAA allowed college athletes to monetize their name, image and likeness (NIL), a handful of stars — including Alabama quarterback Bryce Young and U-Conn. point guard Paige Bukers — signed deals reportedly worth around seven figures. At the other end of the NIL spectrum are athletes like Riley McGowan, a forward on the Temple women’s lacrosse team who recently won $100 for using her Instagram account to promote a Phillies-Nationals telecast on the Peacock.

McGowan’s opportunity was arranged through Athlete Direct, an NIL market launched in April as a pilot program by NBC Sports at Temple as well as Notre Dame and Vanderbilt. The platform, which connects NBC Sports advertisers with athletes, was developed from conversations between network representatives and school presidents, athletic directors, compliance officers, head coaches and parents after the NCAA Division I Board of Directors approved new NIL rules.

“Inclusion is a big part of what we want to do,” Damon Phillips, senior vice president of strategic initiatives for NBC Sports, said in a phone interview. “A lot of the deals you see are for that top 1 percent. What we focus on is the other 99 percent. We think there is an opportunity to make deals with these student-athletes.”

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The schools in the pilot program were not randomly selected. NBC Sports has a longstanding relationship with Notre Dame, broadcasting Fighting Irish football games for 31 years. Temple made sense because NBC has a local affiliate, a regional sports network and a Telemundo station in Philadelphia. Officials at Vanderbilt, Phillips said, shared what he called NBC Sports’ vision for approaching the NIL “in a responsible way.” In addition to being notified of offers, athletes who sign up for the Athlete Direct platform gain access to personal financial resources from CNBC.

Athlete Direct’s first offering arrived last month — a tune-up campaign for MLB’s weekly Sunday morning broadcast on NBC-owned Peacock. To complete the promotion, participating athletes had to share a post and story on Instagram before the June 19 game between the Phillies and the Nationals, with specific information included for tracking purposes. Given the match, athletes from the Philadelphia and D.C. areas were targeted first, but the offer, which was limited to 75 participants, was open to anyone.

McGowan, who is from the Philadelphia suburb of Souderton, Pennsylvania, received an email and DM on Instagram about the promotion and decided it was a good fit.

“I was born and raised here, so the Phillies are a team I’ve always rooted for,” McGowan said. “I think if it was two random teams or I didn’t like watching sports, it would be weird to post, so I wouldn’t.”

NBC Sports provided some suggested captions and graphics for athletes to post. McGowan was one of the few participants who used a personal photo – of himself as a kid at a Reading Phillies game – so it “didn’t look so robotic”. She said she was paid $70 for her Instagram post, $20 for her story, and another $10 for providing a screenshot of the analysis of her posts.

McGowan, who is elderly, said the NIL rules have made it easier for her to grow her brand and personal training business.

“It was like walking on eggshells with what I was allowed to post before,” she said. “I couldn’t post any pictures of me in Temple gear because it would make me ineligible. It was hard to promote myself and grow what I was trying to do when I wasn’t allowed to do many things. … I know $100 doesn’t sound like a ton, but it’s definitely something.”

Among the other athletes who participated in the pilot campaign were Temple volleyball player and track and field athlete Jaaliyah Evans, Vanderbilt football teammates Brayden Bapst and Justin Ball, Notre Dame tennis player Matt Che and Notre Dame basketball alumnus and former Gonzaga College standout High Prentice Hub. Then there was Notre Dame pitcher Gary Peacock, who, in addition to sharing a name with the streaming service he was paid to promote while his team was in the College World Series, also happened to be a huge Phillies fan.

NBC Sports plans to add more schools in the fall and offer additional ways for athletes to monetize their social media accounts through partnerships with local and national brands, including by promoting discount codes for NBC-owned products such as GolfPass and GolfNow.

“One of the goals here is to reach a younger audience and build a Gen Z network of student-athletes,” Phillips said. “We’re learning from the pilot and our goal is to rocket fuel that into the fall and be able to reach student-athletes from all schools.”

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