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These College Students Founded an Agency to Tap Into the Exploding NIL Industry

Two Syracuse University students are tapping into the athlete influencer wave through their upstart agency, Slice Sports Management. After struggling to land sports internships, Brandon Gilbert and Jacob Tilem launched the name, image, and likeness (NIL) marketing firm in 2023.

Slice represents college athletes, pairing them with brand sponsors for endorsement deals distributed primarily through social media. Rather than exclusively signing top recruits, the founders focus on athletes adept at cultivating engaged followings on platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube. Slice’s strategies include sustained brand partnerships over one-off posts to build credibility.

The young entrepreneurs have scaled their email outreach efforts. Despite facing challenges like brand conflicts and competition from established agencies, Brandon and Jacob see massive opportunities in NIL’s expansion.

Taking a ‘Slice’ of the NIL Cake

Brandon didn’t envision starting a business when he enrolled at Syracuse to study sports management. But after getting rejected from every internship he applied for, he started to get paranoid about his resume.

That’s when he connected with a classmate, Jacob, on a class project they won. “I knew we had a good working relationship,” Brandon says. With few connections in the sports industry, the pair saw an emerging opportunity—athlete influencer marketing driven by new NIL rules allowing college athletes to profit from their brands. “We just co-founded it, and we threw ourselves into the fire. And it’s been a lot of fun so far,” Brandon says of their decision to launch Slice.

Jacob explains the agency’s focus: “Slice is an NIL marketing agency. We represent athletes and help them navigate the landscape of NIL, which is getting them deals, like endorsement deals.” He adds, “Most of the work is through social media, and we pair our athletes up with brands with which we see synergies.”

The founders quickly adapted their approach after initially targeting top recruits. “What we saw over time was it doesn’t necessarily matter so much about how good you are,” Brandon says. “It’s about your social media following, how engaged your audience is, and how frequently you post.”

Slice manages the marketing outreach and content creation for the athlete influencers they represent. “We do email outreach for our athletes. We’re constantly connecting with new brands,” Jacob says. “We also help with our athletes’ social media…creating content calendars.”

Standing Out in the NIL Arena

Jacob believes every athlete deserves access to the resources available through NIL rules. “We’re looking for opportunities to work with athletes,” he says. “We are looking to sign them as their primary agents, but we do not need to be their only agents or source of getting NIL deals.”

Slice takes a unique approach by offering non-exclusive contracts. “We just ask that they put our email in their bio and do a collaboration post on Instagram,” Jacob explains. “We’re not looking to lock in these athletes.”

The founders’ youthful hunger drives their outreach approach. “Brandon and I spend our work day sitting in front of our computers sending out 60 to 120 emails to brands,” Jacob reveals. They’ve scaled by bringing on a team of interns, with around 10 focused on email outreach. “Signing with Slice is giving yourself the ability to throw brands at young, hungry, motivated college students just to email and attack,” Jacob states, sharing his belief that they “could get any athlete in touch with any brand they want to work with.”

When evaluating potential athlete partners, Slice looks at influencer status and long-term potential. “For athlete influencers, it’s anyone with a lot of followers, good engagement, and constantly posting,” Jacob says. For higher-level athletes, we look at their age—we want to grow with them from a young age through going professional.”

Handling the shifting NIL scene requires constant adaptation. “NIL gives college athletes the ability to monetize themselves and their brand,” Jacob explains. “We assist them in doing so, holding their hand through negotiations and content creation.”

He points to recent policy changes as an example: “It’s become a thing where if a sponsor works with an athlete’s school, the athlete can wear the logo. Once that came out, we started prioritizing sponsors of the schools our athletes attend.” The founders remain nimble to leverage fresh NIL opportunities. “It’s all about adapting and paying attention to the new updates because there’s news every day,” Jacob notes.

Conquering the Tracks, One Hurdle at a Time

Jacob acknowledges there are challenges in their line of work. “There’s definitely a lot of potential conflict of interest with brands,” he says, pointing to gambling sponsors as a prime example that is off-limits for college athletes.

“It’s tough to differentiate certain brands you may not realize are a conflict, whether it’s something they’ve done in the past or that may not represent the university or athlete well,” the athlete marketer explains. Slice has had to turn down some smaller sportsbook companies looking to partner with their college athlete clients.

Another hurdle is Slice’s youth and relatively new status. “We’re young college students, and some athletes we reach out to are getting inquiries from full-service sports agencies,” Jacob says. “It’s tough to compete with them sometimes.”

However, he also sees NIL as a massive opportunity, “great for anyone just to throw themselves into the fire,” adding that “once you understand how to do brand outreach, get on calls, and negotiate deals, it gets easy to build credibility, leading to more athletes and brands coming your way.”

Campaign Success: VKTRY Insoles and Otto Landrum

Jacob has shared details on a successful NIL activation Slice managed for “Hi Mom” viral star Otto Landrum and brand VKTRY Insoles:

“VKTRY wanted to give Otto a trial run, so we really wanted to impress them hard for that first video to get opportunities for more work together,” Jacob says. “We took a road trip to Boston, planned this crazy video, and got the original videographer who filmed Otto’s viral clip.”

The coordinated video shoot paid off, generating 224,000 views on Landrum’s Instagram. “VKTRY was super impressed with how well the video turned out and its performance,” Jacob reveals. “Otto got extended for another three months because the brand was so happy with the results, garnering over 300,000 total views.”

Emerging Trends in Athlete Influencer Marketing

Brandon sees YouTube as an underutilized platform with major potential for athletes. “Not a lot of athletes think about starting a YouTube channel,” he says. “They download Instagram and TikTok for short-form content.”

However, Brandon points out that some athletes already have YouTube channels with tens of thousands of subscribers and create long-form videos. “They’re making day-in-the-life videos, challenges with friends—engaging content over 10 minutes.”

He believes maintaining an active YouTube presence can help athletes differentiate themselves. “If everyone has 100K Instagram and TikTok followers, having a 50K subscriber YouTube channel is a leg up. It shows other skills like video editing and more of their character as a creator.” Brandon also sees longer YouTube videos as a better platform for authentic brand integration compared to 15-second TikToks.

Positive Reviews for Slice Approach

Jacob reports their athlete clients have been overwhelmingly satisfied with the NIL opportunities Slice has provided. “The feedback has been great,” he affirmed. “We’re getting athletes things they wouldn’t have without us, whether free products from favorite brands, paid endorsements, or long-term deals.”

Jacob notes audiences also respond better to enduring athlete-brand partnerships versus one-off posts. “With longer deals, comments shift from ‘Get that money’ to people saying ‘That product seems cool, I should try it.'”

By focusing on sustained brand relationships, Slice helps athletes build more credibility and resonance with followers. Jacob explains, “It establishes more of a connection between the athlete and brand.”

Willing to Bet on the Creator Economy Thriving

Both Brandon and Jacob are bullish on the creator economy and the opportunities it presents for athletes and aspiring professionals. “We live in a digital age. Everything is posted online,” Jacob states. “For athletes, it’s super important to build that personal brand and put yourself out there. You have nothing to lose by posting as much as you can.”

He encourages even bench players on struggling teams to embrace content creation. “People are interested in an athlete’s day in life, what they eat, their workout routines. If you’re not throwing yourself into that, you’re missing an opportunity.”

Brandon echoes the importance of athletes maintaining an active online presence. “I’m a big believer that in such a digital world, you post everything and make a brand for yourself. Once you do that, it’s only easier to get more clients and brands reaching out.”

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

As they prepare for their final year at Syracuse University, the co-founders reflected on Slice Sports Management’s journey and the invaluable experience it provided.

“NIL is a great place to start for anyone wanting to work in sports,” Jacob says. “It’s such a new industry with so many holes. If you look hard enough, you can find ways to capitalize and make a name for yourself like we did with Slice.”

For Brandon, the most rewarding part was the impact on their friend group. “We lived with nine sport management major friends, and we were able to put all of them on Slice. They signed athletes, got deals, made names for themselves, landed crazy internships.”

“Whatever happens with Slice, the bottom line is it got our names out in the sports industry,” he adds. “We established something founded out of a frat house with guys who want to be successful. The most rewarding part has been working with friends, making strides together.”

Cecilia Carloni, Interview Manager at Influence Weekly and writer for NetInfluencer. Coming from beautiful Argentina, Ceci has spent years chatting with big names in the influencer world, making friends and learning insider info along the way. When she’s not deep in interviews or writing, she's enjoying life with her two daughters. Ceci’s stories give a peek behind the curtain of influencer life, sharing the real and interesting tales from her many conversations with movers and shakers in the space.

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