1. The Mercedes Benz EQS Brand Ambassador Program

To get the word out about its new EQS electric vehicle, Mercedes Benz engaged college athletes for a variety of promotional activities including meet and greets.

The deal is notable for taking a different approach than a traditional advertising or social media campaign.

Photo of Mac May posing in front of new Mercedes Benz EQS

To date, the deal has featured deals with star athletes including UCLA’s Mac May, St. John’s Julian Champagnie and Jeff Sims.

2. The Degree Breaking Limits Program

With a reported $5 million earmarked for the program, Degree partnered with 19 athletes in 2021—each of which was individually selected for their personal story of overcoming adversity.

The program is intended to inspire and support those encountering barriers to overcome what’s holding them back with the help of role models (like college athletes), tools, and resources.

Tweet from Degree announcing initial NIL athlete roster
Image Source: Degree

3. The $1.4 Million GT Sports Marketing Deal With Quinn Ewers

The #1 high school prospect in the country, QB Quinn Ewers, skipped his senior year of high school and enrolled early at Ohio State in order to cash in on NIL deals. 

His largest deal was for $1.4 million over three years to provide autographs for GT Sports Marketing.

Tweet announcing Quinn Ewers GT Sports Marketing Deal for $1.4 million

This massive deal is particularly noteworthy because it was signed before Ewers ever stepped foot on the field as an Ohio State player.

4. The WWE Next in Line Program

Beyond its high-profile deal with Gable Stevenson (below), World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) also launched its Next in Line program with an initial roster of 15 athletes.

WWE collage of Next in Line NIL Athletes
Image Source: WWE

The program provides access to the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, as well as resources for brand building, media training, communications, live events and more. 

And once the program is finished, athletes may get the opportunity to secure a WWE contract.

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5. Paige Bueckers, First College Athlete For Gatorade

Gatorade is synonymous with sports and has been endorsed by elite pro athletes like Serena Williams, Dwayne Wade, and Lionel Messi. 

On November 29, 2021, Paige Bueckers joined their ranks and became the first-ever college athlete to be signed by Gatorade for an endorsement deal.

Paige Bueckers wearing Gatorade jacket
Image Source: Nick DePaula

6. Dr. Pepper’s Fansville Ad Featuring D.J. Uiagalelei

Most notable for its speed to market, Dr. Pepper released a commercial featuring D.J. Uiagalelei less than 60 days after NIL rules went into effect.

7. The McKenzie Milton NFT

Released just five days after the NIL rules took effect, McKenzie Milton’s NFT was one of the first to hit the market. 

McKenzie Milton digital trading card

College player NFTs are being viewed as the ultimate rookie cards for future pro players and will likely become staples of the NIL industry.

8. The Gable Stevenson WWE Contract (Plus Training Facility)

University of Minnesota senior and Olympic gold medalist Gable Stevenson signed a NIL deal with the WWE that allows him to defend his national title while training for his pro career.

Tweet from Gable Stevenson announcing WWE partnership

9. Kool-Aid And Ga’Quincy ‘Kool-Aid’ McKinstry

In an obvious—but still clever move—Kool-Aid signed a deal with Alabama’s Ga’Quincy ‘Kool-Aid’ McKinstry. 

Ga’Quincy ‘Kool-Aid’ McKinstry tweet announcing Kool-Aid partnership deal

The deal was noteworthy due to the massive amount of earned media value the brand was able to generate by being early to the NIL game and the simplicity of the approach.

10. Kayvon Thibodeaux’s Cryptocurrency for Good

Oregon superstar Kayvon Thibodeaux made NIL history as the first college athlete to create his own cryptocurrency, which he calls $JREAM.

The cryptocurrency is used to fund The JREAM Foundation—a non-profit that aims to educate, mentor, empower and instill confidence into underprivileged youth.

Ticker screenshot from rally featuring $JREAM token
Image Source: rally

11. The MaximBet Statewide Deal for Female Athletes

Even though most states still prohibit deals with companies that are involved with gambling, sports-betting company MaximBet found an exception in the state of Colorado. 

The company offered a NIL deal to every female athlete in Colorado, across all three NCAA divisions.

Tweet from MaximBet announcing Colorado NIL deal
Image Source: MaximBet

12. Rival QBs Milton and King Co-Found Dreamfield

Florida State QB McKenzie Milton and Miami QB D’Eriq King became business partners off the field when co-founding the NIL deal-making platform Dreamfield.

The platform connects athletes to companies for marketing and business opportunities while also handling contracts, payments, and compliance.

McKenzie Milton and D'Eriq King NFTs
Image Source: Decrypt

Looking to 2022

The NIL space is still new and these are standout campaigns from just the first six months. Expect this list to be much larger in 2022.

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