This week, we continue our conversation with Vantage Management Group’s Sammy Spina, who has a unique perspective on name, image and likeness due to his extensive work in the space. He also heads a popular sports management course called Breaking Into Sports that has helped many young people get a foothold in the industry. I asked him the answers to three questions I get most often from agents on how to achieve NIL success, and here are his responses.

What’s the best mix between “self-generated” income (apparel and branded merchandise) and sponsored income (appearances, endorsements and social media)? 

I will use the famous lawyer answer here: “it depends.” Social media following is probably the main driving force behind self-generated income, but not every athlete will have the requisite number of followers to really build a strong presence. My goal has always been to generate the most money and/or best-case scenario for my clients without causing them to do too much work. Obviously, his school and his sport come first; NIL is a byproduct of that success. As a result, I would say most of my athlete NIL deals have come from sponsored income, and I have done very little “self-generated income” for my clients because it typically takes more time, effort, and energy.

One thing to keep in mind with self-generated income is that everyone wants to start their own clothing line! If that’s your goal, make sure you do something different that does more than simply having your client’s name on a T-shirt. Create a story, vision, movement, or charitable donation to help drive more customers for recurring revenue. No “story” usually means no legitimate self-generated income. There has to be something that separates your client from all the other student-athletes out there.

What’s the minimum number of social media followers one needs to make money in NIL? And does it matter which platform? 

Instagram and TikTok are the two driving forces behind most social media influencers, probably because they’re visual platforms. I wouldn’t say there is a minimum number of followers, because I have been able to secure paid social media and personal appearance deals for clients who have fewer than 2,000 followers; despite their limited followings, respectively, each was were paid more than $1,000 per opportunity.  Of course, it certainly helps when you have a strong following and, even more importantly, strong engagement! Remember, the most important factor is showing companies why such an appearance makes sense! What is unique about this deal that will generate headlines for the company and for the athlete?

I have seen a shift to LinkedIn as well, which also helps your athlete clients showcase their unique partnerships to business professionals in industries across the world. However, LinkedIn is still in its growing phase, so it’s easier to use other platforms (like TikTok) to gain exposure on posts that align with your audiences’ interests.

How much of NIL income is totally dependent on a player’s school? Geographic location? Position he plays?

A lot of it. It has been a lot more difficult to generate significant dollars and deals in smaller towns – such as Stillwater, OK where the majority of businesses are family-owned – than, say, in a larger city like Pittsburgh. Don’t get me wrong: fans and business owners will always want to support their college athletes. However, not every school is equal in that regard.

Quarterbacks will almost always make the most money. That is a given. However, there are opportunities for everyone. You have to get creative and you have to work! For example, I took an offensive lineman with fewer than 5,000 Instagram followers and got him paid appearances (without signing autographs), a custom suit deal, a restaurant deal, a meal prep company endorsement and other deals. I even got him an appearance as an ambassador for a cruise ship. I give this example to showcase the importance of relationships, how to be creative and how to show the value and impact your client will bring to the company.