Creative casting across dozens of colleges has empowered student-athletes to headline a new campaign for some of Reebok’s most iconic models.
When Kenny McIntosh and the Georgia Bulldogs won the College Football Playoff last month, the star running back donned the school’s staple red uniform, with no less than 16 visible hits of Nike Swoosh branding across his jersey, pants, helmet, gloves, socks and cleats. Even the play card holder around his waist featured a subtle Swoosh.
In exchange for the brand visibility, Georgia nets around $40 million in total from the Swoosh in cash and product value during their decade-long deal. With their current 10-year deal set to expire soon, the next one should be exponentially more lucrative.
Luckily for McIntosh, for the last 18 months, he’s been free to cash in on his star power, too, even by representing Nike’s competitors across his own social media pages.
With the help of the Postgame platform, an agency specifically geared towards connecting collegiate athletes with brands for paid promotional NIL campaigns, McIntosh and more than 30 other players from a variety of sports and colleges recently repped Reebok in a full campaign activation.
“Reebok was reintroducing the Question, the Answer and the Classics, and they wanted to get some big-time college athletes wearing the shoes and taking a look back at Allen Iverson to represent it,” Postgame founder Bill Jula told Boardroom.
Postgame touts around 60,000 athlete users from more than 350 colleges. Those players integrate their Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter pages to the platform to track metrics like followers, impressions, and engagement.
Tallied from a total of more than 20,000 pieces of content created and shared, the platform founded in Florida has delivered over 100 million combined views across social media for its brand partners since launching.
Postgame works by sending student-athletes alerts when brands have campaigns that might fit their interests. The players can then opt in or out, and create content in support of a given launch that they want to participate in.
Of the 34 total players included in the Reebok campaign, which has run through December and January, with Foot Locker and Champs serving as the retail partner, not a single athlete wears Reebok on their respective game days. That’s because Reebok has gone away from school-wide sponsorship deals in the last decade, while still staying right in the mix of sneaker culture with ongoing retro launches and re-releases of the industry’s second-greatest brand archive from the 1990s.
Of the players incorporated into the campaign, twenty competed at Nike schools, another eight played for Jordan branded college programs, while a handful of others attended Under Armour universities and one lone athlete wore Adidas on the gridiron. There’s already another upcoming Reebok campaign powered by Postgame in the works that will feature 25 more athletes opting in.
The Postgame Approach
The NIL landscape not only represents a new era of how brands approach marketing rollouts and campaign launches, but also in how they determine longtime industry benchmarks like ROI, total impressions, and impact.
Rather than signing pro players to traditional long-term endorsement deals, brands are seeing more of a return on a wider-cast effort that splashes partner posts across dozens of well-followed younger athlete pages on Instagram or TikTok. The collegiate athletes are closer in age to a target audience of middle and high schoolers, the thinking goes, while also having a command of crafting content for their own social media pages.
“Our approach is that we offer campaigns at scale,” Jula said. “Brands might be worried about spending their entire budget on one athlete. They can accomplish more visibility and exposure by getting 100 athletes, and get 10X the total views on it.”
With participating players from powerhouse football programs like star wide receiver Isaiah Bond at Nike school Alabama, college basketball’s third-leading scorer Jordan “Jelly” Walker at UA-sponsored UAB, UNC hooper Alyssa Ustby and Olympian and Florida track star Taylor Manson, the platform has been able to bridge a blend of top stars, along with athletes who’ve shown an ability to deliver creative content.
“We want to deliver a campaign that the brands themselves would’ve had a difficult time doing,” Jula said. “Dealing with so many athletes at one time and negotiating real rates is difficult.”
As Jula points out, for a recent Crocs campaign that featured 550 athletes, Postgame established rates per post, outlined expectations for assets and timelines, and then delivered an aligned campaign of player posts across social media.
“We had five athletes in particular that people may not have heard of that created great content and got 230,000 views on Instagram,” he said. “A six-figure type player would basically get the same visibility.”
Creating Compelling Content
The wide-reaching approach to campaigns has created a lane for some athletes to rise above the rest with their creativity.
Take “E.Diamondz,” or Erin Brown, for example. The transfer is newly listed on the official track and field roster page of Grand Canyon University. Rather than mention his sprinting prowess on his Instagram bio, the 5’10” runner specifies that he’s an “Entrepreneur 💻🤵🏽”
On his own “The Erin Brown” Linktree bio page, the header declaration is even more bold:
“The Greatest Creator The Internet Has Ever Seen”
Creator of a running form style he dubs “The Spider,” the sprinter also sells his own merch shirts with the phrase, “Let The Clock Talk.”
While not a household name like a UConn hooper or a Georgia star running back, Brown’s inclusion in the Reebok and Postgame campaign represents how NIL can elevate athletes from lesser-known programs.
“It was a great experience that allowed me to express my creative skills,” Brown said. “Something that I feel that separates me from most NIL athletes.”
From the top of a parking garage, Brown showcased the white and baby blue Reebok Questions, which Allen Iverson once wore during his Denver days.
The four-photo album production was all his own doing. A follow-up video showed him wearing both the Question and an all-white pair of the Reebok Classic. Postgame will often entrust the student-athletes to execute their imagery and content, with the athlete either capturing the assets themselves, or enlisting a friend with photo or video skills. In rare cases, Postgame will send a crew out to a priority athlete to ensure a level of quality.
“The creative freedom with me being able to create freely with no limitations is a huge plus,” Brown added of the campaign process. “I also enjoy the pressure of a due date for videos that I make, to allow my creative juices to flow rapidly.”
Another athlete that stood out in the campaign was Gabe Taylor, younger brother of late Washington safety Sean Taylor. Clad in his maroon and gold No. 21 uniform, Taylor was also laced in the clean and classic black, white, and gold Answer 1 Retro, as part of his integration into the Reebok campaign.
While the standard participation format entails athletes earning money in exchange for their posts on social media, Postgame has also worked with brands that want to incorporate the created content into their own brand pages and advertising materials.
“Sometimes a post might perform really well and the metrics were strong,” Jula said. “A lot of times, it’s the quality of the content, that the brand is looking to re-license and extend the life of by using in their own paid media content. They’re always looking for good content, and a lot of athletes are getting picked up again and again.”
There’s a straightforward way that athletes can best utilize the platform and establish themselves as strong partners for brands.
“Your metrics are your metrics,” Jula said. “Your engagement rates will be what they’re going to be. But what you can really control is creating some really high-quality content, go above and beyond with what we’re asking for, and then be reliable and timely with the process.”
In the first year, athletes that’ve shown consistency and reliability in production have seen their deals grow in volume. On the back end, there’s even a portal header named “Top Athletes Creating Awesome Content” to help brands identify players that might be a fit as a standout creator.
“Brands are definitely looking at these campaigns as a way to identify future brand ambassadors,” Jula explained. “Some of the brands we’ve worked with, they’ve done two or three campaigns with us that might run for 60 days and involve 50-100 athletes. From each of those campaigns, oftentimes they’re asking us to go back to some of those same athletes to incorporate them into future campaigns.”
While it’s now commonplace for top amateur athletes to have official representation at the college and even high school level, as Jula reveals, around 95% of the athletes using the Postgame platform are opting into a brand campaign on their own.
That leaves around 5% with agents. Postgame recently hired a Director of Athlete Relations to help facilitate any conversations, negotiations, and activations with higher level representatives or larger agency teams that manage an athlete.
Postgame & The NIL Landscape Ahead
Just 18 months in, the overall Name, Image and Likeness space still carries a wild west feel at times. As Jula has noticed, two divisions of deal formats have evolved since NIL first came into effect last July 1.
“There’s the true spirit of NIL, which is what we’re doing. Whether you’re a low-level athlete or a high-level athlete there is a rate that a brand will be willing to pay,” he said. “And then, there’s collectives and pay-for-play NIL. No brand would ever really spend that amount for what the ROI would actually be. That’s a collective or a booster that wants to see his or her team win. That’s a whole other thing.”
When million-dollar deals do get leaked or announced, they’re typically in tandem with a school securing a prospective athlete’s signing. Within the rules, that’s technically in play, and also a refreshing element of simple open market demand that allows for the true superstar prospects to monetize the starting point of their college careers.
As Jula sees it, rather than splashing money through a collective at an athlete and then leaving them to create and execute content, schools could offer more resources for the athletes looking to build their digital imprints.
“If I was a school, I would lend out our marketing team in the athletic department to help athletes with creating their content,” he added. “If I was bringing recruits in, you used to show them the stadium, the locker room and the weight room. I would walk them right into a video production room, and say, ‘This is where you’re going to make money.’ I would make that the focus of a recruiting trip now.”
As the landscape continues to evolve, inventive athletes have been able to generate five or even six figures a year.
“Over the last year and a half, the quality of the content has dramatically improved, across the board,” Jula said. “These athletes are seeing each other create content for NIL campaigns, and the bar just keeps getting raised. That’s part of why the brands keep coming back. They’re getting a library of great content.”
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