When Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) legislation passed in Illinois in May 2021, McCormick third-year and field hockey player Lila Slattery dreamed of partnering with Dunkin’. At home in Maryland, she frequented the New England-based coffee chain, ordering her go-to large iced coffee with caramel syrup and almond milk.
She was so excited by the prospect of a partnership that she decided to contact the brand herself about ambassador opportunities in fall 2021, but she never heard back. A year later, Dunkin’ made it up to her by offering the entire Northwestern field hockey program a NIL deal in October 2022. The field hockey program’s deal, which included paid social media promotion and gift card giveaways at a National Girls and Women in Sports Day event, ran from November 2022 through February 2023.
“We had just gotten back from practice, and all of us were in the locker room,” Slattery says. “Somebody read [the email] out loud and was like, ‘Guys, Dunkin’ wants to partner with our team.’ I was like, ‘Shut up. No they don’t.’ I was in awe.”
NIL deals have skyrocketed nationally since legislation first allowed such partnerships. Many deals, nationally and at Northwestern, have centered around individual players –– like graduate student and lacrosse player Izzy Scane’s partnership with Gait Lacrosse and SESP third-year and field hockey player Maddie Zimmer’s deal with STX.
A team-wide deal sponsoring all players, like Dunkin’s agreement with field hockey, is especially unique. The chain officially launched its NIL program in December 2022, sponsoring 23 individual student athletes across the country in addition to the entire Northwestern field hockey program.
When Dunkin’ reached out to Northwestern, the company sought four field hockey players to be its primary ambassadors. Slattery, Zimmer, Communication fourth-year Alia Marshall and Weinberg second-year Regan Cornelius filled those positions.
Each ambassador had a different topic to post about, Slattery says. She focused on holiday deals, Marshall advertised the rewards program, Zimmer posted “taste tests” to advertise the menu and Cornelius posted about getting Dunkin’ during poor winter weather.
As part of the deal, players received gift cards, payment for social media posts and packages with Dunkin’ gear including a tumbler and a sweatshirt. Slattery, who lives with Zimmer, says they were excited to receive the gear.
“My window faces the street, so I saw the UPS truck pull up,” Slattery says.
“We sprinted downstairs and we unboxed everything. It honestly felt like I was a kid on Christmas.”Lila Slattery, McCormick Third-Year
The partnership marked Marshall’s first time participating in a NIL deal. She says the deal involved a lot of “open communication” with Dunkin’. Social media captions were approved beforehand, but she says players generally had a lot of creative freedom. As part of the deal, Marshall posted a “Day in the Life” video during winter break featuring her morning Dunkin’ routine.
“They were like, ‘Whatever works for your brand, whatever you want to post on social media,’” Marshall says.
For Marshall, the most rewarding experience was participating in National Girls and Women in Sports Day at a Northwestern women’s basketball game. She handed out $5 gift cards and told spectators about the Dunkin’ sponsorship.
This partnership builds on a broader trend of gender equality in the post-NIL athletic world, as female student athletes tend to benefit from their name, image and likeness just as much as their male peers. In Dunkin’s first wave of NIL partnerships, the majority of participating student-athletes were women.
Slattery says acquaintances from high school and old teammates would reach out to her and tell her that she was featured in a Dunkin’-sponsored post on their Instagram feed.
“Their brand helps grow knowledge of women in sports and field hockey,” Slattery says. “Just seeing how large their brand was compared to my little world I live in –– that was crazy to me.”