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Brand Marketing and the Fair Pay to Play Act

AJ Green and Donald De La Haye get suspended

Headlines like this may soon be a thing of the past

September 30, 2019 will be the date that changed NCAA athletics forever. Maybe. Or Not. Who knows at this point?

That’s the date California passed the Fair Pay to Play Act. California’s Senate Bill 206 made it the first state to mandate deep reforms over how college athletes are compensated for their efforts. Right now, the NCAA rules bar players from hiring agents or receiving compensation from outside sources related to their sport. But the Fair Pay for Play Act would change that. College athletes wouldn’t be paid by the school as employees, but they would be allowed to earn money related to their “name, likeness, or image.” That obviously opens the door to everything from paid endorsement deals to social media “influencer” relationships.

Travis Knobbe, who also happens to be an attorney and a sportswriter has started a series of blog posts on this topic over at the Last Word on College Football. In those posts, he’s covering issues like who is going to pay the athletes, recruiting, transfers, and competitive balance. Those are fundamental issues that will be discussed ad nauseam among dozens of teams of lawyers and NCAA officials over the next 13 months (the NCAA Board of Governors has set a deadline of January 2021 to modify its rules to permit student-athletes to benefit from the “use of their name, image and likeness in a manner consistent with the collegiate model.”).

No matter what happens between now and then, there are also going to be some fundamental PR, communications, and marketing issues that need to be ironed out. And colleges and universities are incredibly naive if they think this is only going to impact a small % of their student-athletes. This isn’t just about the Tuas and the Zions of the world. It’s for the Ohashis and the Tituses too.

Think about the junior four-star football recruit from a small town in the middle of nowhere who hasn’t quite lived up to his potential. He may be a third-stringer now at his university, but he’s still one of the biggest names to ever graduate from his high school. You mean to tell me there’s not a car dealership in his hometown who would gladly give him a free car to drive around town in exchange for using his face in their ads?

As a PR and communications professional has worked with everyone from local small businesses to big global brands, my head is spinning with the possibilities that exist not only for the student-athletes, their schools, and the NCAA, but for brands, big and small.

  • Oregon’s ties to Nike are well-established. The obvious conclusion is that close school-brand relationships like this could become even more popular. But what about smaller-scale partnerships? “George Foreman Grills, the official grill of the LSU Tigers.” Or “the Southwest Airlines locker room at the University of Texas.”
  • As a brand, is it better to sponsor the school or the individual athlete? What’s Zion Williamson without the Duke logo? Still a mega star. But would you know who Kenny Pickett is without the Pitt jersey? If you’re a brand looking to partner with a student athlete, are you more interested in the person or the school he or she plays for?
  • Remember what you were like in college? Now think about how a brand paying you thousands of dollars would feel about those photos of you at that fraternity party at 2am appearing on Instagram. These are college athletes acting like college kids. As a brand, are you comfortable entrusting your reputation to an 18-year-old college kid? The rewards are high, but the risks may be even higher.
  • Brands are going to fall all over themselves trying to get to the star athletes. But the real opportunity for brands lie further down the depth chart. Established stars like Baker Mayfield, JJ Watt, and Scottie Pippen were all walk-ons in college who worked their butts off and became huge household names commanding millions in endorsement deals. A brand could have signed them for beer money when they were freshmen. Could brands sign dozens of these players to four year contracts in the hopes that one or two strike it big?
  • What if as a brand, you could personally keep a player at your preferred school for an extra year? Every year, you read about a player who left college chasing a payday only to not get drafted. They’ve now burned their college eligibility and don’t have a team. They’re worse off than they were before. Now, what if you got wind that the best player on your favorite team may be entering the draft early because they wanted to get paid? Maybe you decide to make college worth his while and give him a five or six figure endorsement deal if he stays in school another year.
  • From energy drinks to beauty products to Amazon, brands have infiltrated college campuses via “social media influencers.” Due to NCAA rules, student-athletes have been unable to participate in this trend, but pending the outcome of the Fair Pay to Play Act, these doors will be opened to them too. How long do you think it would take Head & Shoulders to reach out to Trevor Lawrence and his 393,000 Instagram followers?
  • What about the athlete from a second or third tier sport who rockets to viral fame? Had this law been in place last year, we would have seen Katelyn Ohashi’s face everywhere, from leotards to toothpaste to beauty products. But what does that do to her teammates? To the school? NCAA football and basketball teams are much more prepared to handle stars that get the media attention (and soon, the endorsements). How would that play on a gymnastics team? Or a field hockey team? Brands have the potential to create rifts within the very teams they’re purportedly interested in helping.

At the end of the day, no one knows how this is going to play out. It could be the end of collegiate sports as we know it. Or maybe nothing really changes. The NCAA did, after all, did drop this nugget into its announcement – “in a manner consistent with the collegiate model.” What does that mean? No one knows. But it’s going to be a very interesting 13 months, potentially followed by a 21st century gold rush as brands, schools, and athletes navigate an entirely new era of college sports.

If you’re a collegiate student-athlete or college administrator, I’d love to talk more with you about this. What are you telling your student-athletes about this? What rumors are you hearing? What questions do you have? Hit me up on Twitter at @sradick or Travis (@travisknobbe) and let’s talk.

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Bringing Social Media to Your Organization – a Playbook

I’m giving a presentation, “New Media to Reach New Markets” at the California Association for Coordinated Transportation’s (CalACT) Annual Conference & Expo on November 6 out in Monterey, CA. I’ll be giving a presentation followed by a panel discussion on how social media is changing public transportation. My other panelists will be speaking about how they’re already using social media and showcasing some of their success stories. Because I’ll be the only one there NOT representing a transit organization, I wanted to think of something that I could discuss with the conference attendees that they could actually use.  One of the things that I both like and dislike about conferences is that you’re exposed to so many new ideas, but more often than not, you’re left to your own devices to figure out how you can actually do similar things once you get back to the office.  So, I’ve decided to focus my presentation on how to get your organization started in social media.

Every organization is different, but after doing it myself (the terms “social media” and “Booz Allen” were never found in the same sentence three years ago) and after seeing many successful (and many more unsuccessful) implementations of social media initiatives, several common features emerged. If you decide that you want to be the social media change agent within your organization and start blogging, creating and editing wikis, uploading videos to YouTube, etc., here’s my nine step playbook:

  1. Read Voraciously – You’re not a social media expert. Guess what – no one is. Social media as an industry is changing rapidly – new tools, new resources, and new methods are always emerging. The best that you can hope for is to build a solid fundamental knowledge of the principles of social media and use the tools and relationships that you’ve built to stay on top of the latest trends. Start by understanding what social media/new media/Web 2.0 is.  Read the ClueTrain Manifesto, Wikinomics, Groundswell, Now is Gone. Bookmark the blogs on my blogroll found to the right. Read the blogs that you find on those blogs’ blogrolls.
  2. Play with Everything – Don’t try to talk to your leadership about the need to create a Twitter account if you don’t have one. You have to understand how these social media tools work, not only from a technical (which button does what), but more importantly, from a cultural perspective. Yeah, you can regurgitate what you read, but it’s much more powerful if you can show how you’ve actually used these tools and what they’ve done for you.
  3. Commit – At this point, you will have to decide how far you want to take this idea of yours. Chances are good that all of your social media ambitions will take a back seat to your actual job. When I first started Booz Allen’s social media practice, I used to say that I worked 9am-5pm at my client site, and then 5pm-9pm on building our social media capability.
  4. Be a Champion – I also like to call this one “Be Annoying.” You have to talk the talk too. If there’s an All-hands meeting coming up, ask to give a presentation on social media. Lunch with the boss? Bring one of the above books and float some of your ideas. Have a new hire coming on-board? Direct him to your del.icio.us bookmarks instead of sending him an email. People will get annoyed with you – they’ll start calling you the “crazy wiki guy” (that’s me), or they might start asking if you ever tired of talking about social media. The answer, of course, is NO! More often than not, leaders are intrigued by passion. I had one of our VPs email me ask me to help him start a blog – he said to me, “I don’t really get why I should do this, but you’re obviously very passionate about it so I think I should at least give it a try.”
  5. Get Leadership Buy-in – Find someone, anyone, above you who can be your advocate. Start small by getting that person to buy in to what you’re trying to do. From there, branch out and start briefing other leaders on what you want to do. It’s a hell of a lot easier to convince that manager from Legal to start blogging if you can point to your manager who is already experiencing success with it.
  6. Take Risks – Sometimes it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission. If you wait for review/approval of absolutely everyone, you’ll never get anything done. This is why Step 4 is so important. Get the support of your manager, and start taking some small risks. This goes hand-in-hand with Step 2 as well. Chances are, there will be some sort of policy against using some of these tools – you’re going to pick and choose your spots where you take a risk in using them. This step is a lot easier if you’ve got the top cover.
  7. Integrate – Every failed social media initiative that I’ve seen had one thing in common – they were’t completely integrated into the organization’s existing strategies. The absolute worst thing that I’ve seen is one public affairs office that had NO idea that their organization even had a YouTube page. No matter how cool you and your boss think Twitter is, unless you can show how that’s going to help accomplish your org’s communications, engagement, and/or customer service goals, it will fail. This is why I HATE when people ask me to do a social media strategy. That doesn’t work – you don’t start a blog or a YouTube account just for the hell of it. Show how it can help enhance your organizational strategy.
  8. Get Others Involved – Once you’ve started to gain some traction with your social media initiatives, start identifying champions in other parts of your organization. Get Legal, IT, Public Affairs, training, etc. involved. Understand that you can only do so much yourself. Behind the most successful social media implementations are very diverse people from IT, public affairs, internal communications, training, etc. Don’t be afraid to let some things go and realize that social media can’t be “owned” by any one part of an organization. Over the long-term, you’ll be more successful if you can bring these other people on board.
  9. It’s About People – This last one isn’t really a step in the process inasmuch a mantra to remember as you’re going through the other steps. The tools of social media can and always will, change. The fundamental principles you read about in step one won’t. Remember not to get too caught up in the technical nature of some of these tools and forget that the reason these tools exist is to connect your organization to your stakeholders in a new way.  Social media is about building and maintaining relationships, and that’s only done by connecting people to people, not by playing with the latest and coolest tools.

There are dozens of other sub-steps involved with each of these, depending on your particular organization and environment. However, I did want to keep these high level enough so that they could apply across a wide variety of organizations.  What other steps would you include in your “playbook?”

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