Build Your Own Brand Squad

For decades, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) prohibited student-athletes from monetizing their name, image, and likeness. But recent pressure from state legislatures forced the NCAA to reconsider its regulations; and on July 1, 2021, student-athletes in the United States gained the right to profit from the commercial use of their name, image, and likeness, or NIL. 

Now, student-athletes may monetize social media promotions, licensing rights, personal appearances, merchandise, sports camps, and more. Universities across the country are considering how they might support their athletes in this new, exciting landscape. So, how can schools help their student-athletes make the most of these new opportunities? That’s where Dr. Maribeth Kuzmeski, professor of marketing at Oklahoma State University, comes into the conversation. 

Dr. Kuzmeski is on the leading edge of NIL branding. Not only did she author Stukent’s “Name, Image & Likeness” courseware and simulation, but she also started the Brand Squad at Oklahoma State University. The Brand Squad is a select group of marketing students who are trained and certified to assist OSU student-athletes with their NIL efforts. 

We sat down with Dr. Kuzmeski to learn about her best practices, strategies, and tips to build a Brand Squad at your own university.

Getting Started

In 2021, the OSU Spears School of Business asked Dr. Kuzmeski to develop a course to teach student-athletes how to capitalize on NIL opportunities. The university’s athletic department wanted NIL activities to be successful — well-organized NIL efforts benefit student-athletes’ careers and attract prospective students to the university, too.

When considering how to implement NIL training for student-athletes at OSU, Dr. Kuzmeski knew one thing for sure: Many student-athletes wouldn’t have the time to manage their NIL efforts. Between academics, athletic training, physical therapy, and other activities, some student-athletes would need support to help their NIL efforts flourish. 

Support that Dr. Kuzmeski, as an advisor to the OSU Marketing Club, knew she was in a unique position to provide.

Building the Brand Squad Roster

To assist student-athletes with this task, Dr. Kuzmeski turned to the OSU Marketing Club. She was pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm of her students’ responses.

“I couldn’t stop the flood of [marketing students] coming in,” Dr. Kuzmeski said. “They wanted to do this! … They were interested in helping out our student-athletes with name, image, and likeness.”

And just like that, the Brand Squad was born.

Coaching the Team

To ensure that OSU student-athletes received top-notch marketing and branding assistance — and to ensure that students complied with current NCAA regulations — Dr. Kuzmeski created two mandatory training courses for all Brand Squad members.

The first? NIL Compliance Training. Dr. Kuzmeski’s NIL compliance training covers the domestic, international, and NCAA policies that govern student-athlete NIL activities. This training ensures that Brand Squad members are aware of what they can and cannot do while assisting student-athletes. 

Additionally, all Brand Squad members are required to sign a nondisclosure agreement that protects student-athletes’ personal information.  

Next, Dr. Kuzmeski requires all Brand Squad members to go through compulsory Brand Training. In this course, Brand Squad members learn how to build and evaluate NIL brands, define a student-athlete’s target audiences, write marketing plans, create a media kit, and much more.

Dr. Kuzmeski’s full brand training is available in Stukent’s “Name, Image & Likeness: Personal Branding Strategies for Student-athletes” courseware. You can get free instructor access to this courseware by visiting our website.

Putting the Brand Squad in Play

When an OSU student-athlete opts into the Brand Squad, Dr. Kuzmeski matches them with an appropriate Brand Squad member who meets that student-athlete’s needs. She considers the student-athlete’s current NIL strengths and weaknesses, as well as what that athlete wants to achieve with their NIL efforts. 

“We had a Brand Squad athlete that wanted to do a podcast,” Dr. Kuzmeski says. “So we partnered them with [a Brand Squad member] who had done podcasts before.” Not only do student-athletes get the support they need, but Brand Squad members develop their skill sets, build their résumés, and get to work on a project that is truly on the industry’s cutting edge.

Once partnered, Brand Squad members typically perform a full brand audit of a student-athlete’s social media profiles. “You’ve got to look at the engagement rates,” Dr. Kuzmeski says. “How are the [student-athletes] standing right now? Do we need to clean up their social media?” The Brand Squad helps student-athletes focus their social media presence and be ready to go “prime time” as a brand.

Next, the Brand Squad may work with a student-athlete to develop a media kit and logo. While not every student-athlete opts into these services, the media kit displays a student-athlete’s biography, athletic achievements, engagement rates, followers, and more. Logos can be added to merchandise, too, which is an exciting prospect for many student-athletes. 

Once media kits and logos are designed, the Brand Squad helps student-athletes design SMART goals for their NIL endeavors. SWOT analyses are conducted if a student-athlete’s brand is emergent or in development; these analyses help Brand Squad members define the direction of a student-athlete’s social media presence. 

The Brand Squad also helps students develop entrepreneurial opportunity maps, audience builders, NIL pitches, communications calendars, and one-page marketing plans. In short, it provides incredible branding services to OSU student-athletes … all for free!

Huddle Up!

Once a week, Dr. Kuzmeski brings the Brand Squad members together for weekly “huddles” that allow the members to report on their activities, celebrate accomplishments, share ideas, and overcome challenges together. These weekly huddles also feature training sessions, such as presentations from industry experts, local business leaders, and more. Brand Squad members learn to create better, more engaging videos, design eye-catching logos, produce podcasts, and other viable marketing skills. 

This weekly huddle helps Dr. Kuzmeski stay in touch with her Brand Squad students, but it also provides the necessary training members need for success.

Off the Field: Brand Squad Initiatives

Behind the scenes, the Brand Squad also works to develop its brand — they want local businesses to know “what the Brand Squad is doing, about Oklahoma State athletics, and about what the NIL rules are,” Dr. Kuzmeski says. 

“We reach out to businesses,” she continues, “and we walk them through what they would need to do if they were interested [in partnering with an OSU student-athlete].” Dr. Kuzmeski sends students to speak at the Chamber of Commerce and other local business events, too. Developing these relationships is key to the success of the Brand Squad’s student-athletes and members.

To recruit OSU student-athletes and marketing students, the Brand Squad relies on word-of-mouth and social media marketing. Brand Squad members pass business cards to student-athletes in their classes, create podcasts that talk about their work with student-athletes, host live events, and more. The OSU Brand Squad has also started fundraising efforts, too, which would allow them to purchase better equipment, host additional events, and invest in more training.

Dr. Kuzmeski has created an impactful, powerful program with the OSU Brand Squad — one that not only helps student-athletes build their NIL brands, but also helps marketing students hone their skills, build dazzling résumés, and do work that transforms lives. Using her template, you can build your own Brand Squad at your university and help your student-athletes make the most of their NIL opportunities.

“Build Your Own ‘Brand Squad’ with Dr. Maribeth Kuzmeski” was a one-day event held on March 11, 2022. This Stukent webinar focused on actionable tips and tools for marketing educators and athletic departments interested in building their student-athletes’ NIL opportunities. You can access the entire webinar from the webinar homepage.

To learn more about Stukent’s revolutionary courseware and simulations, or to get free instructor access to our NIL branding products, visit our website.

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