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Duke to start using analytics to implement a more effective NIL strategy

Eric Prisbellby:Eric Prisbell10/26/21


As high school prospects continue to assess the nascent NIL era, they won’t have to rely solely on anecdotal evidence anymore while trying to determine the marketing value of a potential college program.

Nielsen, the company synonymous with television ratings and data intelligence, has developed the Nielsen Impact Score, a new marketing value index that compares programs across the nation in three key categories: national exposure, local market impact and social media engagement. 

The Duke men’s basketball program, one of the most recognizable brands in college sports, is the first college program to use the NIS service. Duke will be provided its overall NIS score as well as all the granular data and insights related to the three key categories — in addition to all the data in the database for the other schools they compete against for five-star recruits. Coaches can use this data to show recruits where Duke compares favorably to other schools, including, for instance, how its metrics stack up against its rival down the road in Chapel Hill. The data also can be instructive for school officials looking to further bolster the marketability and exposure of the Duke brand.

For schools nationwide, these analytics are increasingly important as athletic departments look for a quantitative way to assess their marketing value, present program marketability insights to recruits and implement a more effective NIL strategy overall. The data also figures to be instructive to prospects who are trying to determine the program best positioned to spotlight their individual brands.

“I really hope that it helps schools tell a story around how they can be a great marketing platform,” Jon Stainer, managing director of Nielsen Sports in the Americas, told On3. “It helps the potential athletes understand not just that the school is good for their on-court performance but that the school could be great for their off-field performance as well. I hope the athlete would come away thinking, ‘These guys know their business. They understand the value of NIL.’ That is going to be top of mind for a lot of athletes these days.”

While Stainer declined to disclose which men’s basketball program ranks first in its overall NIS score, he said the top 15 currently includes five ACC schools, four Big Ten schools and three from the SEC. 

Nielsen plans to expand beyond basketball

For programs that subscribe to the service, the scores and data are initially available for nearly 100 Division I men’s basketball programs — including all schools from the ACC, AAC, Big 12, Big East, Pac-12 and SEC. Nielsen plans to roll out scores across more sports as well.

Nielsen is actively in discussions with more college basketball programs about signing up for the service. The model includes access to the platform and rankings for schools. A supplementary service provides more granular insights, data and analytics to assist with the recruiting process. Stainer declined to disclose the cost of a subscription but said “it’s a small fraction in relation to their recruitment budget.”

The rollout of the NIS platform was 18 months in the making. With the dawning of NIL on the horizon, Nielsen’s staff contemplated the metrics their clients say are important in determining how many dollars to spend on sports sponsorship and marketing investments. That led to focusing on the three tenets that the overall score entails.

In quantifying national exposure, the company looks at Nielsen TV ratings, including three-year average per game viewership and three-year total viewership figures. For local market impact, they wanted to quantify the value of the program within the local community. Through Nielsen Scarborough, which provides local market research data, they aimed to understand what fans are consuming in what markets. And since most NIL deals involve social media promotion, Nielsen examined each program’s social media engagement. It looked at a program’s social media profile across platforms in terms of followers and engagement, including interaction rates.

“We believe and we understand all the investment decisions that are made in media around sports marketing, around sponsorship and commercial partnerships, they all need to start with the audience and having a forensic understanding of the audience,” Stainer said. “So we bring two big proprietary data sets to the table with the TV ratings data set, but then also the consumer research in Scarborough, and then we use our analytical skills that bring that together to create an index.”

Nielsen also offers an advisory service, helping programs craft a message and narrative for their presentations to recruits.

Having Duke as client is significant

Now that the NIL era is here, the industry is beginning to acquire a growing sample of the number and the types of NIL activity by athletes in particular programs. When asked if that type of data will at some point be incorporated as a category, Stainer said, “There’s a lot of opportunity to start extending the service and extending the data.” But everyone realizes it’s still early, both in the NIL era as well as for schools realizing the value of the data. 

Securing Duke as the first men’s basketball program to sign on to the service is significant. The Blue Devils have won five national titles since 1991, and they have been a nimble program, evolving on major fronts to adjust as times change. Coach Mike Krzyzewski embraced the one-and-done era in the past decade, leading to a national title in 2015. Now the program, which will be turned over to Jon Scheyer once Krzyzewski retires after this season, is at the front of the pack of the NIL era, looking for the most valuable data sets to spotlight to recruits and to further enhance the program’s brand.

Stainer characterized conversations with Duke as “fruitful, productive and open.” It was clear, he said, that Duke understood the value of the marketing program and identified that it was missing independent, verified data to support its narrative. 

“I think of it sort of like an NIL-like currency, marketing currency,” he said. “So you can see the average index is 100. If you see 140 in this area, then you are 40 percent better than the average. And you can see the index of all of the other schools. The data doesn’t lie.”