What the NIL Summit Taught Margot Lawn About Branding and Life
In the brave new world of college athletics, opportunities for student-athletes to earn money from their name, image and likeness have been the talk of the NCAA since the summer of 2021. For Margot Lawn, a fifth-year field hockey forward for Maryland, the introduction of a revolutionary NIL policy presented a golden opportunity to live out her dreams of playing collegiate field hockey while partnering with brands that represent her values.
“My initial reaction was a little of curiosity, just because of the fact that it was a brand new space for all athletes,” Lawn said. “It was something that was talked about for years, and then for it to finally happen, I was like, ‘Okay, how do I get into this, but how do I do it in a sense that it's okay with who I'm being sponsored by and making sure it's okay with University of Maryland?’”
Nearly two years after the introduction of NIL legislation, Lawn had the opportunity to learn about the ins and outs of how to maximize her name, image and likeness at the second-ever NIL Summit. Inspired by other annual networking events, hundreds of student-athletes like Lawn converged on the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, GA, hoping to harness the power of the business opportunities through a multitude of speaker sessions and events.
Lawn was selected by Grayson Wagner, the Director of Name, Image and Likeness Services for Maryland, to be the representative for all of the Terps’ athletic programs at the summit after the developments she had made with NIL during the first two years of its existence.
“I looked (the NIL Summit) up online, and I was kind of nervous because they didn't tell me I was going with anybody else or anything of that nature,” Lawn said. “But at the same time I was like why not? This is something that is new and people need to learn about. So I went for it and I had an absolute blast.”
The Pasadena, MD native had a wealth of experience entering the conference that ran from June 3-5 through a variety of companies, with some businesses having a national reach while others serving as small businesses looking to gain some traction in the NIL world.
Lawn found a great deal of success on the NIL website platform Opendorse. After Maryland’s staff had set up a page for her to connect with brands, she set up a profile that allowed her to share her story and interests with prospective partners.
As a result of having a strong presence on Opendorse, Lawn earned an NIL deal with the JDH field hockey equipment manufacturer to become a sponsored athlete. She had grown up loving the brand, and the company’s founder, Australian field hockey great Jamie Dwyer, was her favorite player growing up. As a result of her deal, Lawn was granted access by Maryland to play with a different stick than the rest of the team and she had the opportunity to see how the company makes its sticks.
“Honestly, being able to work with like my idol from field hockey was probably the best thing that could ever have happened out of this NIL deal,” Lawn said.
Through a mix of NIL requests through Opendorse, direct messages on social media and through face-to-face meetings, Lawn entered the NIL Summit with an assortment of brand deals from JDH to Spotify podcasts to Project Repat, a company that repurposed her old field hockey camp shirts and jerseys into a quilt. But at the gathering, Lawn learned about more than just how to lock down endorsement deals.
Lawn had chances to speak with brand representatives from companies such as Meta, Intuit Turbotax and Lululemon, where she was able to provide insight into how companies could properly work with student-athletes to create NIL opportunities for all sports.
“You get to talk to the CEOs and the bigwigs of these corporations and explain to them why they should be helping student athletes in this space,” Lawn said. “What I thought was really cool is that when we were there, I talked to the CEO of Meta, and he asked, ‘What do female athletes see more of?’ and I said, ‘We just need more representation in general.’”
Along with promoting women’s athletics at the NIL Summit, Lawn felt a greater purpose at the conference when she realized she was one of just two field hockey players out of the 500-plus student-athletes.
During an after party event, Lawn connected with companies and other student-athletes, where she had the chance to put the game of field hockey on display. She showed clips of her and her teammates on the Maryland field hockey social media pages, helping people to understand a sport that’s been a core component of her life since she was four years old.
“One of my biggest things personally is that I want to be able to grow the game in a light that it was given to me,” Lawn said. “It’s something as simple as meeting a girl who owns a good food Instagram account that’s really popular, and we were just swapping pre-run snacks with me and then she was asking about field hockey. Then the other day she sent me an Instagram DM because a clip of me playing field hockey came up and she was like, ‘Oh my gosh, here you are.’ And while she's not going to play the sport, it's expanding the sport to another light.”
Lawn’s commitment to growing the game of field hockey reflects her NIL philosophy of favoring deals with smaller companies that she hopes to help through her platform as a student-athlete.
“I feel like NIL has given me such a great space to stand and talk about things that are important to me,” Lawn said. “And I’d much rather do the small-owned business like the mom-and-pop shops. Don't get me wrong, I would love to do a deal with a corporation like Under Armour, but I know that it's got a bigger impact on their lives, and it just means more to me to help out a small-owned business and get them to grow their brand.”
Lawn also attended speaker events from business leaders, innovators in NIL and other current-student athletes throughout the weekend. Some of her favorite speakers included UAB head football coach Trent Dilfer and former NFL star quarterback Michael Vick, who were panelists who spoke about how to transition branding as a student-athlete to other roles as an employee, coach or parent.
A key takeaway Lawn left Atlanta with was understanding her story and her “best failure.” The theme of understanding the best failure in her life was confusing when Lawn arrived for the weekend, but by the time Lawn left the conference on Monday, she understood that companies were looking to hear her unique story and how she persisted to love the game of field hockey even more.
“They were like you need to tell your story, you need to have a goal and act on it,” Lawn said. “I wrote a note underneath that and it said, ‘Treat it like you did as a kid.’ So for these brands, they wanted you to be just as excited to play hockey at the Division I level that you were when you first picked up the stick. It was just like finding what your best failure was, spinning it positively and admitting, ‘This wasn't the best thing for me, but I'm better now and this is why I want your company to help me take that even next step further on my personal progress.’”
As she enters her fifth and final season of playing collegiate field hockey, Lawn is nearing the end of her student-athlete journey and hopes to use her bachelor’s degree in kinesiology to attend school to become a physical therapist. With the transition out of college athletics, Lawn hopes to take what she’s learned through her career as a college field hockey player and apply it to the next phase of her life.
At the NIL Summit, Lawn’s main theme of the weekend in thinking about her life after her last season is that no matter where life takes her, she wants to rely on her values and stay true to who she is throughout all of the impending changes.
“I think the number one thing I learned was just branding yourself, but then backing yourself and your values for the company that's really important to me is honesty and like hard work,” Lawn said. “And yes, that can be something that I work on as an athlete and as a student of the game, but I can also translate that into my professional life, and then into my life as a coach or a partner or a mom or whatever it may be. Establishing my core values there and not letting outside influence alter my viewpoints and like my personal values is something that stuck with me. Every single panel said if this is something that you care about, care about it wholeheartedly, don't care about it just 50%. That was something that was like, ‘My playing days might be over soon, but I can still care about this in a way that I can apply it to whatever next is in my life.’”