Since name, image, and likeness changes happened on July 1, 2021, Illinois Soccer Sophomore Sydney Stephens has spent time developing her brand.
Illinois Athletics began their partnership with Opendorse in (year), and ever since have been investing in the space by hiring people like NIL Director Kam Cox to help student-athletes understand the do’s and don’ts of the ever-changing NIL era.
Stephens shared, “Opendorse was there for me from day one. It was the platform I was automatically introduced to, and I didn’t have to go seek it out, which was great. In my opinion, it’s the best platform to connect with companies that want to work with you.”
As an athlete in an Olympic sport, Stephens knew that NIL deals weren’t going to appear out of thin air and she’d have to take a more proactive approach compared to her peers participating in sports like football and basketball.
“I’m somebody who doesn’t have a hundred thousand followers because I don’t make the touchdown pass to win the game. So for me, brand deals weren’t going to fall in my lap all of the sudden.” Stephens went on to say, “It wasn’t like I was going to start and then all these people are going to contact me. It was more about the brand-building aspect of this, and that was one thing that Kam Cox really honed in on when he started NIL education for female athletes”
Stephens was determined to play the NIL long-game. She understood that it wasn’t just about making money now, but building relationships that would last for life after the playing days are over.
Opendorse makes it easy for athletes like Stephens to connect with brands. She said Opendorse is a lot like LinkedIn.
“It’s great for getting connected to other companies and for them to seek you out as well. I think that part is nice because there is a lot of work that’s done on the student-athlete side of things, but we’re not always seeking out opportunities. We’re doing a lot of other work [school and sport] and we do try to go seek out opportunities, but it’s really nice when one just pops up on Opendorse and you get to be like, ‘I need groceries for the week, let me go do this.’”
Once Stephens started getting deals in the $50 to $100 range, she quickly began growing her brand and leveling up her NIL efforts and has begun partnering with national-level brands like Champs Sports and Meta. It didn’t happen overnight, but something she’s been able to build upon since July 2021. Since July 2021, Stephens has experienced 30%+ follower growth on Instagram.
“There’s a lot of lessons I’ve learned that are going to help me in my future,” Stephens said. “How to have professional relationships, how to communicate with professionals, how to contracts work, how to know that I’m getting into a good thing, and how to know how to work with companies to benefit them.”
Relationship building and networking is a key focus for athletes and the brands they work with.
“My corporate skills have been affected immensely because I’m getting in these conversations and having to do things like email back and forth with people from companies. How to simply connect and network has been extremely important.”
Outside of professional development, NIL has provided Stephens with personal development opportunities.
“There’s definitely been a creative side of me that has been exercised that would not have been if NIL weren’t a thing.” Stephens continues on to share, “NIL has allowed me to have an identity in other things adjacent to my sport, which helps my mental health. If my identity can be all these things and I can feel successful, then I can feel good about what I’m doing in my sport as well.”
It will be exciting to see how Stephens continues to grow her brand and tap into NIL throughout her collegiate soccer career. If you want to pitch Sydney a NIL opportunity, check out her Opendorse profile.