Brand-Led Recruiting Has Arrived in College Football

The era of marketability in college recruiting is here. 

Early last week, the NCAA announced their support of recommendations that would allow college athletes to earn money from their name, image and likeness. What came next inevitably will be remembered as the match that lit the brand-led recruitment fire. 


Recruiting in college athletics is a tough business. Standing out to a recruit and his or her family among a sea of other programs who are offering similar opportunities and experiences is not easy. Georgia Tech, West Virginia and Nebraska leap-frogged competitors recently in announcing the availability of brand-building opportunities for their student-athletes. While speculation continues as to how name, image and likeness reforms will take-hold, college athletic programs that appear to prioritize student-athlete earning potential will have the edge in recruiting the next Zion Willamson, Trevor Lawrence or Sabrina Ionescu to their rosters. 

Geoff Collins, head football coach of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, is bringing “brand” to the forefront of his rebuilding efforts. Coach Collins and the Yellow Jackets enlisted the help of creative agency J1S–a partnership they’re hoping will attract new elite recruits by tapping into Atlanta’s burgeoning culture scene fit with sports, music and entertainment. The pair’s first campaign dubbed FOR The 404, a tribute to Atlanta’s area-code, goes live this fall to kick off the start of college football. 

In addition to adding J1S to the rebuilding team, Collins also brought on brand-consultant Jeremy Darlow, former head of football and baseball marketing at Adidas and author of Brands Win Championships and Athletes Are Brands Too. Darlow will work with the team to help strengthen its image, as well as work with their student-athletes to grow their own personal brands in preparation for off-field marketing opportunities. Darlow has also inked a deal with West Virginia University to launch its ‘5th-Quarter Program’. The program is designed to be a tool for the Mountaineers in schooling athletes on character building, leadership and career development, social responsibility and other areas as part of their personal brand building processes. 

“Today, more than at any other point in history, athletes have the opportunity to build personal brands that transcend the sports they play,” Darlow said. “Thanks to the exposure and influence offered by social media, these young men and women can now control their own brand destiny.”


Photo Credit: NU Athletics 

In the same vein, the University of Nebraska announced last month its “Ready Now” program in partnership with Opendorse, a social publishing platform that works with major sports leagues and brands including Pepsi and EA Sports. The program will advise Nebraska student-athletes on how to build and position personal brands on social media to best court marketing dollars from brands.