Brand Ambassador Program to assist Fighting Illini student-athletes in building personal brands

Brand Ambassadors
More than 30 student athletes and student brand ambassadors, including 21 advertising students, are part of a new Brand Ambassador Program on campus.


A select group of students from the University of Illinois College of Media will be paired with individual Fighting Illini student-athletes as a part of the new Brand Ambassador Program, a project of the Hub for Brand Innovation and Advertising Technology and the Charles H. Sandage Department of Advertising.

"There is no question that many Illini student-athletes are among the most high-profile brands in the State of Illinois," said Dr. Mike Yao, professor of digital media and head of the Charles H. Sandage Department of Advertising in the College of Media. "We could not be more excited for our outstanding students to grow alongside student-athletes and local businesses with whom they share the Illinois experience. Today's personal branding opportunities are limitless, and I look forward to seeing the results."

The Brand Ambassador Program requires a rigorous application process and provides students with a passion for brand marketing and social media with hands-on training to become effective, creative, and positive brand managers. Fighting Illini student-athletes along with Visit Champaign County, the City of Urbana, the Champaign Community Economic Development Corporation, and other organizations will be paired with individual brand ambassadors in order to establish and better develop their personal brand strategies.

Last year's changes to state law and NCAA policy allow student-athletes to monetize their name, image, and likeness (NIL), and this shift has created an incentive for student-athletes to increase their social media presences as they begin to play a prominent role in the marketing efforts of both regional and national corporations. Opendorse, a leading NIL technology platform, projects that the student-athlete NIL market could reach $1 billion annually, with a significant majority of NIL activity leveraging student-athletes' social media presences.

NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships individual qualifier Mia Takekawa is one student-athlete who will benefit from this new initiative.

"It's amazing to consider that I will have a personal social media expert," Takekawa said. "I'm always wondering how to increase my online presence, and I'm excited to see how this helps elevate my profile to get more NIL deals."

The Brand Ambassador Program operates in parallel with the INFLUENCE Program, the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics educational approach to NIL, which emphasizes brand and strategy development along with business and financial concepts.

"The University of Illinois has some of the finest advertising students in the nation, and I am delighted that our student-athletes will get the benefit of this new program," said Josh Whitman, director of Athletics. "I am grateful to the College of Media, Dr. Yao, and the many others who worked to include our student-athletes in this new endeavor."

The Brand Ambassador Program will begin at the start of the Fall 2022 semester. The program currently has 21 advertising students and serves 10 student-athlete brands (two of whom are Media majors) and brands in the community. 

View original press release from DIA.