Champs Sports: NIL for the Next Generation

  • Champs Sports engaged 40+ student-athletes 
  • Earned 10M+ total impressions 
  • Received positive media coverage in Forbes, AdAge, Adweek, ESPN, LA Times, Modern Retail, Sports Illustrated, The Athletic, and more.  

Read on to understand the brand’s unique approach and results for all 6 campaigns.

The apparel giant has long looked to athletes to inspire the next generation by fueling a shared passion for self-expression. Even before NIL, Champs worked with Opendorse to build partnerships with pro athletes. 

Once athletes at the college level were finally able to monetize their name, image and likeness (NIL), the brand became one of the first companies in the market to pitch opportunities to student-athletes across the country. In 2022, Champs continued its athlete-driven marketing efforts, completing six campaigns involving student-athletes using Opendorse. 

Jerry Cionci, Sr. Manager of Social Media for Champs Sports shared, “As the NIL craze started to take off, Champs Sports needed a reliable agency to help manage outreach, and identify quality talent. We had the goal of being a market leader with diverse NIL partnerships on a consistent basis, to collaborate on unique content.   

“Opendorse helped identify talent, negotiate rates and communicate deliverables to ensure Champs Sports was putting best foot forward in this space.” Cionci added, “As the year went on, with the success of the content’s engagement, additional Champs Sports brand partners invested into NIL content programs to better story tell and differentiate content. We love the quality and range of talent Opendorse brings, and value them as a partner.”  

Game on Air

Champs Sports kicked off 2022 with its Air Max campaign, aimed at increasing brand awareness by celebrating the iconic Nike Air Max shoe. Five athletes representing a variety of sports and schools received two outfits each with an ask to create a mix of photo and video content. The media was then approved by the brand and published to Instagram and TikTok. The effort included 22 posts and earned 780K+ impressions. 

Athletes in this campaign: 

+ Anthony Hamilton Jr., Formerly Clemson/Chicago State Basketball & Track and Field 

+ Braden Galloway, Clemson Football 

+ DeMarvion Overshown, Texas Football 

+ Jaden Owens, Baylor Basketball 

+ Blaze Ingram, Youth Football 

Champs Sports trusted the creative freedom of the athletes involved.  

Anthony Hamilton Jr. shared, “One thing about Champs that I don’t forget is that they made it really easy for me. From a talent perspective, the hardest thing is to get a brand on the same page with your ideas. A lot of brands like to take full control and sometimes it doesn’t match up with the creator’s platforms, but Champs was really open to letting it be organic to my audience. I feel like that’s one of the most important things when working with brands and doing social posts.” 

He added, “I feel like my biggest thing with brands – I like having a family-type relationship. With Champs, I had multiple conversations. They were always open to talk to me and had great feedback. They were just really dope and easy to work with.”

Women’s History Month

Eight female student-athletes were featured to bring awareness to Women’s History month. These athletes were also gifted two outfits and were asked to create content celebrating women’s sports. 25 social posts were published, earning 876K+ impressions from the following athletes:  

+ Margzetta Frazier, UCLA Gymnastics 

+ Sydney Parrish, Indiana Basketball 

+ Shae Anderson, UCLA Track and Field 

+ Chelsey Cole, Maryland Track and Field 

+ Chrissy Carr, Arkansas Basketball 

+ Julianna Tornetta, Princeton Field Hockey 

+ Lauren Burke, Texas Softball 

+ Sayeh Sharelo, Fitness Influencer 

Champs Sports was smart and posted reels as collaborative posts between Champs Sports and the athletes on Instagram to help athletes like track and field standout, Shae Anderson reach an audience 2X larger than her 36.7K following. 

Global Running Day

The success of its initial campaigns lead Champs Sports to continue its connection with student-athletes. The brand partnered with four track and field standouts for Global Running Day on June 1, 2022 to market their line of running gear to relevant audiences. 

Champs Sports gifted participating athletes; Micah Williams (Oregon), Anthony Hamilton Jr.(Formerly Clemson), Shae Anderson (UCLA), and Chelsey Cole (Maryland) a head-to-toe running outfit, which the athletes modeled during a warm-up and run for videos posted to their own social channels as well as Champs Sports’ channels. Each athlete shared an Instagram Reel, reaching an audience of 161K with a 102% view rate (views/followers) – well above the industry benchmark of 25%.

We spoke with Micah Williams to learn more about how the NIL partnership helped him as an athlete on-and-off the track. He shared that “It was a really good opportunity for me because it was my first big deal,” adding that after he posted his followers were hyping him up, “People were liking it [the video posted] and engaging on it. It was pretty cool how what I made was that good.” 

Williams went on to share that the Global Running Day deal with Champs opened more opportunities and has set him up for long-term NIL success, “It [the Global Running Day post] was really successful on my page. Now, I could show it to other companies and other people that if they were to do the same thing, it’d be pretty successful as well.” 

Women Win

Champs Sports has been a massive supporter of women’s sports in the NIL era. The brand took it a step further with the Women Win campaign. The effort celebrated people, organizations, and communities in fitness who advocate for positive change in women’s sports. It also worked to drive attention to brands Champs Sports sells – UGG, Brooks, and Converse – in the back-to-school conversation. The campaign included partnerships with nine female athletes across schools and sports: 

+ Paisley Johnson Harding, BYU Basketball 

+ Shaylee Gonzalez, Texas Basketball 

+ Anna Camden, Penn State Basketball 

+ Chelsey Cole, Maryland Track and Field 

+ Marlee Smith, Arizona State Wrestling 

+ Margzetta Frazier, UCLA Gymnastics 

+ Emily Cole, Duke Cross Country 

+ Lauren Burke, Texas Softball 

+ Mary Iakopo, Texas Softball 

Similar to previous campaigns, athletes received an outfit to model and create content with. It included 18 posts across Instagram and TikTok. Videos posted as reels were shared collaboratively with Champs Sports Women’s channel which helped these posts reach an audience of 400K+. 

Anna Camden shared her experience from working with Champs and the content creation process, “Working with Champs was honestly one of my easiest deals that I’ve done this year. It was really fluid. I felt like they were super organized and excited to work with me as an athlete.” 

Doing deals hasn’t just set Camden to earn compensation; it’s taught her real-world business skills in the process. “Champs is setting up student-athletes for a lot of success and experience in the business world, which we otherwise wouldn’t receive. Pocketing some money has been amazing and super fun, but I think everything that I’ve learned in terms of business knowledge, negotiations, contracts, taxes, and everything in between has been so beneficial. Those are things that I’m going to carry with me for the rest of my life.” 

@annacamden

Hopping on the hot girl walk trend with my new favorite fit💗 @Champs Sports #womenwin #ad

♬ Lo-fi hip hop – NAO-K

Celebrating the Holidays

To kick off the holiday season, Champs Sports turned to six athletes to promote Champion brand apparel. Athletes received Champion hoodies and other gear to create content for Instagram posts, reels, and stories. Six athletes participated in this campaign:  

+ Baby Gronk, Youth Football 

+ Cameron Ward, Washington State Football

+ Lexi Ellis, Oregon Track and Field,

+ Armando Bacot, North Carolina Basketball

+ Alexa Hendricks, Louisville Volleyball 

+ Chase Griffin, UCLA Football

In total, the athletes generated 530K+ impressions and 19+ posts and created a wealth of unique content. 

UNC basketball star Armando Bacot raved about the support Champs Sports provided while allowing him creative flexibility, stating that, “working with Champs Sports was an amazing experience. They really let me take the content in my own direction and took the time to provide me with a ton of good guidelines and examples. My favorite part was being free to create something organic to me and go through a day in my life. They were so responsive throughout the process, approved everything quickly, gave me freedom, and always accommodated my schedule.” 

Working with a national brand like Champs Sports is something many athletes dream of. Bacot shared what the NIL partnership meant to him, “It made a big impact on me. I am so thankful for the opportunity to partner with blue-chip brands like Champs and learn how to deliver content that drives value for my partners. I continue to learn with every deal I do, and this deal helped further my understanding of what is important to brands in the retail space.” 

Champs Sports has played a role in setting its athlete partners up for success when the jersey eventually comes off. Bacot shared his outlook on the importance of NIL and what deals mean to him, “NIL has set me up for success in so many ways. I have been able to use NIL not only to make some short-term money, but also to raise money for charities, meet incredible people, and start investing and saving. NIL is important because it has given me a head start on the rest of my life. I have learned so much about business these past 18 months, and met people who will be mentors and partners for the rest of my life. I also want to just give a shout-out to Opendorse. You all have brought me so many amazing deals and exposed me to so many great partners, so thank you.” 

Meta Empower Program

Champs Sports expanded its reach late in 2022 to partner with athletes participating in the Meta Empower 2.0 program. The program includes a cohort of female student-athletes receiving NIL education, mentorship, and career coaching. 14 student-athletes from across 6 sports participated in this campaign: 

+ Francesca Belibi, Stanford Basketball 

+ Sitori Tanin, Loyola Chicago Basketball 

+ Kelly Richardson, Georgetown Rowing 

+ Alex Jean Glover, SMU Volleyball 

+ Sydney Stephens, Illinois Soccer 

+ Cami Wilson, Oregon Acrobatics & Tumbling

+ Corey Friedenbach, San Diego State Track and Field 

+ Hannah Barber, Alabama Basketball 

+ Hasna-Kaarina Badji, Rhode Island Track and Field 

+ Laila Phelia, Michigan Basketball 

+ Olivia Sekany, Washington Soccer 

+ Sierra Brooks, Michigan Gymnastics 

+ Zoe Schweitzer, Ohio State Gymnastics 

+ Emily Cole, Duke Track and Cross Country 

The campaign aimed for a variety of athletes to promote Champs Sports and brands customers could shop during the holiday season. Like previous campaigns, athletes received products and compensation for content creation and social media posts. In total, 45 posts were published and reached an aggregate audience of 6.9M+, reaching an audience 15X larger than the 461K+ total followers the athletes participating had. 

Alex Jean Glover, a graduate student-athlete and volleyball player at SMU, shared her experience working with Champs Sports and how learning through the Meta Empower Program has made an impact. As someone who enjoys content creation, Glover wanted to capitalize. “Champs is such a huge, well-known brand. So of course, when I saw that notification from Opendorse saying Champs wants to work with you on their winter campaign, it was a no brainer for sure. 

“My favorite part of the content creation process was being challenged,” Glover shared. “I didn’t want to make the same content for Champs that I do for another clothing brand, and it helps me learn more about myself. How can I add my brand to theirs, so where the people who are following me, or the people who are going to see the video, find value in both of us.”

“It’s going to help me when I graduate,” she added. “I found out through NIL that content creation is one of my big passions and I would love to have the opportunity to work with athletes trying to do the same thing that I’m doing, even after I’m far removed from it and not a volleyball athlete anymore.” 

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