Strategies For Athletes In Negotiating NIL Agreements


Not every college athlete can afford an attorney to negotiate and review their NIL contracts. In NIL deals, college athletes often find themselves at the whim of the company offering them a contract. This company typically not only holds the leverage in the negotiation, but has access to lawyers and contract templates. Thus, it is critical that college athletes have negotiation knowledge. The below provides some strategies for athletes in negotiating NIL agreements.

Know your value. A great starting point in negotiating is understanding your value. One way to do this is to compare and contrast yourself to the brand’s existing athlete partners. Here are some factors you can consider:

How does your social media following, reach and engagement compare to the brand’s existing partners? To this end, focus not only on the numbers, but the people and demographics in your audience. Be sure to highlight for the brand the unique, beneficial channels they will be able to reach by aligning with you.

What are the brand’s core values? How do you uniquely align with those core values? Can you bring any ideas to the table related to how you can showcase the synergy between your core values? How can you do this in a way that is authentic to your existing audience, such that they will be incentivized to engage with the brand?

Does the brand have clear goals that it seeks to achieve through an NIL deal? Examples of goals brands may want to achieve through an NIL deal include, but are not limited to: gaining exposure amongst college students and members of Generation Z, positioning their brand as a product loved by athletes, or increasing overall sales of their product. What ideas can your brainstorm to show the brand partnering with you presents a great method to achieve their goals?

The factors above help you build a case for why a brand should not only partner with you, but pay you more.

Related to pay, when it comes to knowing your value, you also must consider the cost of your time. In the negotiation process, work to identify the deliverables the brand seeks from you. For instance, will you be required to make appearances? Sign autographs? Create content? Participate in an advertisement campaign? Work to quantify the number of hours the respective activities sought from you will take you to complete. As you get started in NIL, set a target price for an hour of your work. Make sure the contract valuation offered by the company aligns with your hourly rate for the work you will be required to produce under the deal.

Finally, be sure to factor in ancillary costs. Examples of ancillary costs include things like:

  • Who will pay for your transportation to and from required activities?
  • Who will pay for the tools, items or equipment you need to curate content?
  • If you need to mail items to the company, who will pay for postage fees?
  • If trading cards you autographed get lost in the mail, who will pay the replacement fee for the lost cards?

Understand the other side’s intentions. Always research the other side before entering into a negotiation. Why do they want to do business with you? Why do you want to do business with them? Have they done a deal like this before? What are their expectations of you? You should research the brand just like you research your opponents on the court, field, or pitch. While they could turn into a beloved teammate in your NIL portfolio, they are opponents at first and you must always watch film on your opponents to understand their strengths and weaknesses.

Remember your longterm vision. While it’s important to consider what the other side might want from a deal with you, you also must remember your longterm vision. Work to figure out your own personal core values, mission and vision before entering into an NIL deal. That way, you can compare the values, mission and vision of a potential brand partner against yours to see if they align. What are your goals when it comes to your NIL brand? What story do you seek to tell through brand partnerships? Are you able to tell this story through this deal?

For instance, if social justice is important to you, consider whether it also is to your prospective partner. If it isn’t, how might entering into a deal with them negatively impact your longterm vision? Partnering with brands that don’t align with your desired image could do longterm damage to your reputation and thwart potential deals in the future. Don’t sacrifice your longterm brand for a short term payout. Keep your eyes on the longterm vision you have set for your life and personal brand.

Ask clarifying questions. Never assume you understand what the other side means or vice versa. Ask questions to ensure that both sides fully understand what the agreement means and the responsibilities of each party. Do not leave room for ambiguities, because it is much harder to correct them after the contract is signed. To avoid ambiguities, remember that before, during, and after the negotiation process, clarifying questions are your best friend! Don’t feel intimated when you want to ask a question. It will show the other side you care about the deal and want to provide the best possible value for them. It also shows that you respect yourself and your work.

Understand that it’s ok to walk away. Not all money is good money. Some deals aren’t meant for you or aren’t in the best interests of either party. If a deal doesn’t align with your value or longterm vision, you should consider walking away. Additionally, if ambiguities exist after negotiating, it is also realistic to walk away.

Beyond these points, you should know that before a contract is signed, you can walk away for any–or no–reason. Just be sure that if and when you do walk away, you do it professionally. Walking away now doesn’t mean there isn’t a chance of entering into a deal with the company in the future. So, do your best to stay within good graces of the entities you come into contact with. A respectable brand will understand if you ultimately decide to walk away and not take it personally. If a brand pressures you into doing a deal, that could something is askew. Thus, you should think twice before entering into a deal with them.

At the end of the day, you should feel empowered to be your own advocate, but also know you are never alone when negotiating a deal or reviewing a contract. There are many free resources and services available to athletes and students alike when it comes to reviewing and negotiating contracts. Asking for help is a sign of strength and not weakness, so be sure to build your NIL team with confidence and clarity.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only.  

Alex Sinatra


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