For decades, college athletes have not been allowed to monetize their talents, despite being some of the most well-known and influential individuals on their respective campuses. This prohibition was put in place by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the governing body for college sports, to maintain the amateur status of college athletes. With controversy soaring around this decision, the NCAA eventually changed its stance on the matter, allowing athletes to monetize their skills through endorsements, sponsorships, and other deals.
This change has paved the way for companies to connect brands with college athletes and facilitate mutually beneficial partnerships. Of all of these companies, Los Angeles-based Inked Sports has become one of the major players in leveling the playing field for college athletes. Through its influencer marketing and management platform, thousands of young athletes can now access NCAA-compliant micro-influencer deals.
Founded in 2021 by Tyler Shooshani while still a junior studying Business Administration at the University of Southern California, Inked Sports became one of the first movers when the NCAA relaxed its rules that summer. Today, the company is widely recognized for its success in disrupting what has become an expensive, saturated, and secretive industry with innovative and lucrative strategies. While the average company reports engagement rates of 4.84%, Inked Sports’ influencers report an average rate of over 18%.
“During my time at USC and as a Manager of the USC Football team, I became passionate about raising awareness of the inequities in college athletics while simultaneously falling in love with digital marketing,” Said Tyler in an interview with Grit Daily. “There are 480,000 college athletes every year who fit this criteria and again are ignored by traditional forms of sponsorship management.”
By opting not to ignore these athletes, Inked Sports has already grown to a network of 10,000+ athletes and closed more than 135 deals, generating over $13,000 in sponsorship revenue for them. However, the team believes that this success is still the beginning as there is plenty of space to grow, which is why it is aiming to reach a 20,000 athlete network and 50 brand partners by the end of the year.
With this goal in mind, the company started this year by closing an important sponsorship deal with Lusso Cloud, a luxury slip-on sneakers and slippers manufacturer known as the home of “comfort nirvana”. The deal saw many female college athletes from across institutions like the University of Southern California and the University of Utah help build the manufacturer’s first-ever micro-influencer network.
“Working with these female athletes was so much easier compared to other influencers we’ve worked with in the past,” says Lusso Cloud’s VP of Strategic Marketing Allison Duda “The posts were better, more timely, well-engaged, and felt super authentic.”
The deal’s first campaign was designed to build awareness and affinity towards the brand, especially among Gen-Z and millennials. By the end of the campaign, the team had reached over 8000 unique accounts with more than 80% of impressions being generated among the desired audience. This success is already paving the way for many other college athletes to find revenue streams by simply downloading the app and applying to become an inked athlete.
“Working with Inked Sports was not only simple and efficient but incredibly personable,” Added Allison. “ Tyler and his team have really figured out how to make activations easy and enjoyable for brands and college athletes.”
With the number of student-athletes reaching a new record in 2022 by surpassing the 520,000 mark, platforms like the one offered by Inked Sports will only grow in demand. By creating opportunities for thousands of student-athletes to monetize their talents, not only will the company empower and support them but also create a more equitable future in the world of college sports… Something that has been missing for quite some time.
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