Local teams invest early.
At least that's what NHL's Florida Panthers are doing with Hurricanes QB D'Eriq King.
Last week, they signed the Canes QB with intent to develop a merchandise collection, unique art, in addition to branded content
Why it matters: Professional teams are looking locally for athlete influencers, as the fanbase can be caught earlier and ticket/merchandise sales are captured. The Miami Hurricanes are a big enough name that when you see someone like King at a NHL game, you recognize him.
Take advantage of being a first mover
Case in point: Using a FOOTBALL star to help bring hockey spectators
It's an odd move for sure, but Miami doesn't exactly have a great hockey team that can bring outside fans to the stadium.
The move by the Panthers is a great acquisition of attention of fans that otherwise wouldn't know about the NHL team.
What’s the point of all this? Athletes can leverage the resources larger teams might have (concessions, merchandise, etc) to market their own custom products. Testing out new products like a burger recipe or shoe design can help with later deals both during and after college is over.
Pay attention to smaller deals that offer co-branding opportunities. You can leverage their resources to be creative, experiment, and validate your own products without spending your own money.
Also - reach out to professional teams outside your sport. The main draw of you a face for the brand is to bring a new audience to them. Be like King and work locally to bring more sales, as well as more deal flow, to your area.