After months of buzz about brand building, social media and NIL education and preparation, companies are gearing up for actual deals with college athletes as changes near. With laws in at least five states set to go into effect on July 1 and the potential for NCAA action at the end of the month, software company INFLCR has struck a deal with digital endorsement deals marketplace OpenSponsorship to create a direct path for its college athlete users to connect with brands and potential marketing partners.
“This is a pretty sports-focused marketplace that’s had success and worked with some really big brands,” INFLCR founder and CEO Jim Cavale said in an interview. “We’re excited about exposing them to our network of tens of thousands of student athletes from all of our institutions and bringing them into college compliantly.”
OpenSponsorship’s two-way marketplace is currently open to brands, on a membership plan basis, and professional athletes on a commission basis. Signing up is free, but OpenSponsorship takes a 20% cut from the athlete side on cash deals done on its platform. Having worked with 15,000 brands including Verizon, Gillette and Levi’s (creating more than 9,000 endorsement deals to date), OpenSponsorship facilitated more than $2.2 million in deals for athletes on its platform in the last year. The marketplace’s network currently includes more than 7,000 professional athletes.
On the collegiate side, athletes with INFLCR accounts through their universities will have access to OpenSponsorship in the INFLCR app. However, INFLCR, which has existing relationships with more than 100 athletic departments, will not directly facilitate any athlete-brand deals. Instead, OpenSponsorship will handle that side of the business on its outside marketplace, where athlete profiles will be visible to brands searching for influencers.
“With more than 460,000 NCAA student-athletes who will ultimately be eligible for sponsorship deals under NIL rules, we are excited to establish our platform as the premier marketplace for brands and athletes,” said Ishveen Anand, OpenSponsorship founder and CEO. “[Our] network … includes national, regional and local brands—all with a lot of interest in the college space.”
Transactions done through the OpenSponsorship marketplace will be automatically reported back to an athlete’s school in real-time through INFLCR’s Compliance Exchange function. With automated reporting, INFLCR can provide immediate transparency and aid partner schools’ compliance without any involvement in the transaction. It’s a similar integration to INFLCR’s arrangement with video-sharing company Cameo, which includes the same automatic reporting feature and access to Cameo within the INFLCR app without direct deal involvement.
INFLCR will also ramp up its in-app education to include insights on what brands look for when choosing brand ambassadors.
INFLCR believes this arrangement will create a separation that allows them to avoid what Cavale articulates as a clear conflict of interest for the company: taking money from schools while also helping facilitate transactions for the athletes at the same institutions.
No money will change hands between INFLCR and OpenSponsorship at any point in the deal, as INFLCR intentionally steers clear of athlete NIL payments. Cavale said INFLCR’s role in the partnership is “strictly educational,” giving athletes easy access to NIL opportunities in the same vein as the Cameo deal.
“We’re helping student athletes learn about these online marketplaces that pro athletes and celebrities have already been transacting with for years, and then our integration allows us to automate the reporting of those transactions back to INFLCR for compliance,” Cavale said. “We’ve chosen to not have any transactional relationship with these platforms, and we’re not making money off of student athlete transactions in any way.”
The company remains focused on institutional revenue directly from colleges.
This is not the first time INFLCR has expressed concerns over conflicts of interest given its existing college business relationships. Formerly a finalist for the NCAA’s third party NIL administrator role, the software company withdrew its bid due to the “clear” conflicts of interest it saw in serving as both a partner for certain athletic departments and as an overseer of all NIL deals at the NCAA level.