CHAMPAIGN — Once college athletes could profit off their name, image and likeness, University of Illinois sophomore soccer player Kennedy Berschel didn’t want to be stuck on the sidelines.
Nearly three months after the midfielder scored her first goal for her school squad — during a weekend match against Iowa — she made another nimble play: securing a partnership with a popular online soccer brand.
Berschel is now an ambassador — officially a “Ladyballer” — for the lifestyle brand SoccerGrlProbs, which boasts more than 360,000 followers on Instagram and 170,000 on Twitter.
The company, founded by three college soccer teammates, shares daily memes and messages primarily for soccer players and female athletes, along with their merchandise — Nike-partnered apparel, goalie gloves, everything else the sport requires.
“As soon as I found out that NIL would go into effect, I decided to advocate for myself and reach out to them specifically,” Berschel said. “They promote female athletes and uplift them, and put a good amount of comedy into the soccer world.”
She followed the email link on the brand’s Insta page and made her pitch: A Division I soccer player with a good social media following who aligns with the brand’s values.
The company got back to her within a few days, and Berschel shared more: how she overcame two anterior cruciate ligament tears and got back on the field. How she balances rigorous coursework in mechanical engineering with her athletic endeavors.
“When I offered my insights, they liked it a lot,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting to get a response so quickly just leading myself through it.”
Her efforts were rewarded with her very own discount code: KENNEDYB15, where users can get 15 percent off any merchandise they order from SoccerGrlProbs.
Berschel’s also going to post branded blog entries and pictures with company gear. In exchange, the company will repost her and grow her social media following, while sending free products to her doorstep.
Her pair of Ladyballer shorts and a Nike dri-fit top will arrive any day now, Berschel said.
“I’d like to credit myself with educating myself before anything,” she said. “(NIL) offers an equal chance for every athlete in collegiate athletics to be rewarded for their sport, which has become a full-time job in addition to their academic agenda.”
Berschel watched student webinars from athletic director Josh Whitman and spoke with Illini NIL coordinator Kam Cox to learn everything in “layman’s terms.”
She’s in an interesting spot: With so many NIL narratives springing from revenue sports, Berschel represents how a non-revenue athlete can succeed in this new arena, with a little bit of initiative.
“There’s a lot of hesitation with NIL because there’s so much room for error when it comes to making deals now,” she said. “Educating yourself from the words of other athletes is going to break that barrier.”
Her advice for interested businesses?
Look beyond just the biggest-buck ballgames. Students from smaller sports may have stories to tell and products to sell.
“I believe for athletes from non-revenue sports a lot of the passion and drive is heightened, because every day they are fighting to keep their sport alive,” Berschel said.