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New NIL Platform Aims to “Level the Playing Field” for HBCU Athletes

SponsorPro, a free digital marketplace founded by HBCU athlete Rayquan Smith, aims to connect student-athletes with brands for endorsement deals, potentially leveling the playing field in the world of name, image, and likeness (NIL) partnerships and providing visibility and opportunities for HBCU athletes to bridge the gap with their PWI counterparts.

Rayquan Smith, a former collegiate running back who enrolled at Norfolk State University in 2019, is largely credited as being one of the first HBCU collegiate athletes to legally receive NIL profits. (Photo courtesy of Meghan Andrews)

The November launch of the NIL platform, SponsorPro, founded by an HBCU dual-sport athlete was created to give athletes direct access to brands looking to partner with student-athletes nationwide.

If successful, this could bring truth to the idea that the 2021 implementation of name, image and likeness (NIL) guidelines would provide equal opportunities to student-athletes across the NCAA.

The platform was founded by Virginia State University running back Rayquan Smith, who has been crowned the “King of NIL” with over 80 deals inked between his time at Norfolk State University and Virginia State.

According to their communications team, SponsorPro is a free digital marketplace that connects student-athletes to brands and businesses for endorsement deals.

“My ultimate goal is everyone knows what SponsorPro is. I want people to look at it as the platform that helps athletes get brand deals… I want athletes to go on podcasts and credit SponsorPro for their branding success,” Smith said.

Platforms like this could be a revolutionary advent for HBCU athletes, because of the diminished visibility they have access to when compared to their PWI counterparts. Network deals, team social media, and boosters contribute to the discrepancy that has existed in the branding space, according to AP News.

“My platform will help level the playing field,” Smith said. “Other schools overshadow HBCU athletes on a national scale, this one will feature and target HBCUs.”

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During his time at Norfolk State, Smith recognized a lack of focus and education dedicated to branding for student-athletes. Knowing that there was an opportunity to profit off of his likeness, Smith began to market himself to brands nationwide, en route to securing his first deal with Smart Cups.

From that point, Smith began to post more consistently and continued reaching out to brands using a format that included an introduction and expressed his interest in partnership. Currently having amassed 26,000 Instagram followers and a reported 86 NIL deals, Smith has gained expertise that he hopes to share with student-athletes.

Through SponsorPro, brands looking to partner with ambassadors will be made visible to athletes in that market pursuing deals, and the parties can connect directly – eliminating the barrier of visibility.

When speaking about how students can make the most of their likeness in order to build value, Smith had one piece of advice, “Don’t be scared to post. Posts are 90 percent of what brands are looking at. Be yourself, be consistent, and be unique… post, post, post.”

Access and education are the most prominent barriers between capable ambassadors and brands, said Howard University sophomore and student-athlete Kobe Hutson. 

“NIL has always been something that has interested me. I haven’t really tapped into that space because I just never knew where to start,” Hutson said. “Having direct access to these brands could really change the game, and hopefully I can get into that.”

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Copy edited by Kayla Smernoff

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