Vantage Management Group’s Sammy Spina got certified as an NFLPA contract advisor in 2017, but he wasn’t your typical aspiring sports professional. As told in the interview I did with him in June 2018 for the Rising Contract Advisors Newsletter, the story of his success includes total resolve and iron will. Hear it in his own words at this link (I highly recommend it). His background also includes a deep well of experience in sports marketing, so when the NIL era kicked off about a year ago, it was a natural fit for him.

Sam has since begun working with young people who aim to follow in his footsteps — more on that in the coming weeks — and he’s got a lot to say about how he’s supplemented his traditional NFL agent work with his endorsement and marketing talents. This week, I asked him to help out by providing a few words of wisdom for agents young and old who want to take advantage of the new name, image and likeness rules. I expected 500 words, but he gave me almost 1,500.

One of the questions I asked him was this: The most common question I get from agents is, where do I start? What would you tell them?

Here’s how he responded:

Start with relationships. The common misconception is that NIL is brand new. That’s false! NIL is simply a way to phrase “athlete marketing” as it relates to college athletes in the NCAA who have eligibility remaining. I have had success in this realm because I have a marketing background and lean heavily on those relationships and approaches to put my clients in the best opportunity for success.

If I had to provide a step-by-step guideline as to “how to start” – I suggest the following:

  • Look: Find student-athletes that you have relationships with and offer to help with finding endorsement opportunities.
  • Be transparent: Report and acknowledge this new working relationship to the school’s compliance department. Seek the school’s guidance on next steps.
  • Set reasonable expectations for your clients!: We all read headlines and believe that all college athletes are making millions of dollars. Well, the student-athletes see these same headlines. Thus, make sure you set reasonable expectations for your clients and explain how, according to your research, not many athletes actually make large sums of money. The majority of deals are product exchanges for social media or small payments for services.
  • Understand your client: Remind yourself that not every athlete is marketable. There are several factors to marketability, but in essence, it comes down to supply, demand, return on investment, and how much of an impact you can make to increase the local and national exposure for a company.
  • Is it the right deal?: Additionally, you must always ask yourself: what does this deal do for my client? Does it help? If so, in what ways? What are some negative implications that could occur if we enter into this deal?
  • Get creative!: Think outside of the box. One of my favorite deals is the one we did for Kenny Pickett when he was at the University of Pittsburgh last year, partnering him with a fancy restaurant in Pittsburgh to treat his offensive linemen to weekly dinners. The partnership received national attention because it was innovative and different. It was Kenny using NIL to help his teammates before helping himself.
  • Develop business: Don’t be afraid to cold-call and cold email once you have a unique idea. Show companies that you have something so unique that it is bound to help generate exposure for their brand. Since most college athletes don’t have a million Instagram followers, you need to rely on media exposure to increase the company’s visibility. Once you do one or two, then you have a proof of concept to take to other companies.
  • Think before signing: Make sure the deals make sense for your client. Don’t just accept something to say you did it! Make sure that it is beneficial for your client. You cannot be afraid to say the word, “no.”
  • Do your research!: Know the community, know the fanbase, meet the collective. What does the fanbase enjoy? What are some major sponsors in the area for local events, team functions, etc.? Who are notable alumni that own companies and may want to help out? Utilize the knowledge that you generate to create a best-case-scenario for your clients.

This is just a taste of the advice Sammy provided. He also touched on the balance between merchandising and endorsements, appearances and paid posts; the mistakes not to make; the minimum number of social media followers to make a client viable financially; how much school, geographic location and position play in NIL (and how to exploit each or work around them if your client’s situation is not favorable); and plenty more. If you enjoyed Peter Schoenthal’s excellent presentation on NIL a few weeks back, stay tuned in the coming weeks as we continue giving Sammy the floor. Check out more of Sammy’s work here.

Also, as always, make sure you’re reading our newsletter, the Friday Wrap, which comes out later today. Register for it here