The effort allows any eligible student athlete at an Adidas-partnered NCAA Division I university to become a paid affiliate brand ambassador, according to a company press release emailed to Retail Dive. The athletics retailer says the network is the first "wide-sweeping, equitable and inclusive" NIL program.
Adidas is rolling out the program in four phases, starting with its partners at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and the Power-5 Conference this fall. It will scale to all Adidas-partnered schools by April 2023. In rolling out an expansive NIL network, Adidas is touting the impact the effort will have on inclusivity and equality in the athletics space.
Adidas is launching the effort ahead of the 50th anniversary of Title IX, a piece of legislation that prohibits sex-based discrimination in educational programs that receive federal funding and has greatly impacted college sports. "Open to all eligible student-athletes regardless of their gender, the Adidas NIL network embodies our belief that sport has the power to change lives by upskilling athletes and giving them the ability to begin to experience an entrepreneurial path that will carry them beyond their college years," Jim Murphy, Adidas NCAA program lead, said in a statement. "This is not just a first-of-its kind program for the brand and industry, it goes much wider by unlocking opportunities in business and life that will enable them as student-athletes to maximize their NIL, opening the doors to future possibilities.
In announcing the program, Adidas cited long-standing partners Billie Jean King and Candace Parker as supporters of the effort. King, a women's tennis star, is known for breaking barriers in the sport, including defeating men's tennis player Bobby Riggs in a televised match in 1973. Parker, a WNBA star, is releasing a documentary on Title IX in early April, dubbed "Title IX: 37 Words That Changed America."
Adidas is also hoping to create visibility around the Title IX anniversary during March Madness by giving partner teams "More is Possible" T-shirts to wear, which also include direct quotes from Title IX legislation. These efforts are an extension of an ongoing campaign, "Impossible is Nothing," which emphasizes inclusivity, accessibility and equality.
The option to partner with college athletes is still relatively new, but brands are beginning to take advantage of the ruling to sign high-profile college athletes to marketing deals. Nike in December named its first college athlete sponsorship in Reilyn Turner, a sophomore on UCLA's women's soccer team. Dollar Shave Club just this month signed Gonzaga basketball star Drew Timme to a deal as a "chin-fluencer" for the brand. The NIL network Adidas is creating, however, is a more expansive effort.