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NBC Sports Athlete Direct NIL program hopes to create influencer ‘Mega Network’

Notre Dame
Photo credit: Notre Dame Athletics

For more than 30 years, NBC Sports has become synonymous with Notre Dame football.

Now, NBCUniversal is opening the doors to athletes across America to take advantage of NIL benefits, with the introduction of the NBC Sports Athlete Direct NIL pilot program.

Damon Phillips, NBC Sports Group’s senior vice president of strategic initiatives, said that the program is looking to provide for both athletes and advertisers, particularly those with not a huge following on social media to be noticed.

Phillips said in an interview with creating a large scale influencer network utilizing a variety of athletes big and small will be huge in the long run.

“There are smaller audiences but they’re highly engaged audiences… if we can aggregate athletes from across the country — and maybe they only have 2,000 followers or they have 3,000 followers — now you’re talking about a national Gen Z influencer network that’s highly engaged. And that’s what advertisers want,” Phillips said.

The acquisition of money for promotion is nothing new. In the first year of NIL, nearly two-thirds of NIL activity were based around social media promotion.

What sets NBC Sports Group apart is their goal to custom fit athletes to brands. With a large-scale network in place, NBC Sports Group will hand select athletes to promote products and services, ones they personally utilize, to provide a greater return on investment to their clients, while also selling other marketing metrics through NBC such as television advertising.

Athletes will receive up to $100 for every promotion — $70 for a social media post (Twitter, Instagram, TikTok), $20 for a post via story, and $10 for providing analytics on posts.

The pilot program launched in April at Notre Dame, Vanderbilt and Temple, and has already showed positive signs.

An NBC television event, MLB Sunday Leadoff, is a presentation of the MLB via streaming platform Peacock. The NIL pilot program enlisted students in the market to promote the game via social media. Phillips said the athletes used for the promotion are “authentic fans of the teams.”

There is still a ways to go, but Phillips is confident that athletes will latch onto NBC not just for name recognition, but for learning experience. He used a key word: curiosity.

“They want to get better. They want to know how things work. Best practices are a big piece of this. Going back to NBC Sports, we have experts in social media. We have experts in marketing and brand. We’re trying to make sure that we can bring these best practices to student-athletes and that’s important,” Phillips said. “But it all starts with curiosity. Again, the best NIL programs are going to be learning experiences for student-athletes and so we’re hoping we can be a part of that process.”