NIL: The Athletes’ Angle

While the NCAA, its member schools, Congress and the several states are all at various stages – not to mention points of contention – in passing and implementing rules for Name, Image and Likeness allowances and restrictions for college athletes, players themselves have a dizzying array of possibilities awaiting them in terms of capitalizing on the fame they have earned on the playing fields and courts of their respective institutions.

First, and simplest, are product endorsements, in a variety of forms. While the old school standards of print, television and radio advertisements were most often offered as examples when first analyzing the impact of NIL, there are many more ways in which athletes can join in and earn money. The still-growing arena of social media influencers, in which even those with modest followings could earn $0.50 or more per follower per post, is a market that figures to soon be flooded.

A number of those athletes will earn based on on massive numbers of social media followers, with the expected standouts in football and men’s basketball the choices that leap to mind. For example, in one recent study performed by Athletic Director U, former Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence’s endorsement potential would have been $390,000 during his final season with the Tigers.

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Those two sports, however, don’t have a stranglehold on earning potential. Women’s gymnastics, basketball, volleyball, softball and tennis athletes also show huge earning potential in the social media arenas, as many of them boast followings in the hundreds of thousands. Some, such as recent WVU gymnastics graduates Chloe Cluchey and Erica Fontaine, were listed by Athletic Director U with earnings potentials well into the six figures. Also, as noted previously, Mountaineer basketball alum Kysre Gondrezick has already signed an exclusive deal with Adidas.

Straight endorsements are just one avenue for NIL capitalization, however. While the exact language of what will and won’t be permitted is still to be determined in potential rules from the NCAA or Congress, it’s likely to be mostly wide open. Athletes could start their own businesses with their own products. They could run their own camps, or even set up private tutoring lessons. (Imagine how many kids would sign up for a Major Harris football camp, or for individualized instruction from Pat White.) They could establish their own video channels, mixing ad-supported content with subscription-only fare. They could sell autographs. The only limits, aside from a few “guardrails” proposed by the NCAA, is the imagination of the athletes and their marketers.

With so many options available, athletes will be looking for guidance. They will only be able to receive some of that from their schools, which cannot participate in any manner in helping them strike deals with agents or potential clients, or participate in any way in negotiations. What schools can do is provide general education in the process of building brands and in preparing the athletes for life after college, even though a number of those lessons can certainly be applied to the NIL process.

West Virginia was one of the first Division I schools in the country to enter those waters, announcing last year that its football program had formed a partnership with brand marketing consultant and author Jeremy Darlow to educate Mountaineer players and develop their skills in growing their personal brands. It also was the first college program to partner with INFLCR to pilot an innovative Name, Image, & Likeness (NIL) Suite, which combines custom reporting with digital education and content consulting for student-athletes, coaches and the athletic program social media accounts. That, in conjunction with the 5th Quarter program, headed by Paige Diggs, is aimed at providing as much education as possible in preparing football players for the coming NIL storm as well as life after the game.

Many schools have since followed WVU’s lead, but as with the entire NIL picture, the details of those are all over the map. How effective will those programs be? Are they created just to check a box, to be able to answer ‘Yes, we will educate your sons and daughters on NIL issues?’

Even at West Virginia, the picture is unclear. While the football program seems to have a good plan for not only NIL, but also the total development aspect, that has not yet been extended to other sports. Of course, NIL isn’t a reality quite yet, but by July 1 it’s evident that at least some NCAA-wide loosening of the rules will be put in place.

One other aspect of the NIL picture for the athletes is in the selection of an agent or representative to help them develop and work through offers. The NCAA has long prohibited agent representation, so this expected allowance is going to be a major sea change for the 18-22 year-olds who will likely be making their first forays into what promises to be a very complex arena. Again, schools can provide some basic education, but can’t be involved in any part of the process of vetting or selecting representatives, and concerns over unscrupulous actors in that arena are one of several that will face athletes in the future.

Previously In The NIL Series

NIL: Sorting And Unifying The Rules    |    Name, Image And Likeness: A Primer

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  • #148560

    While the NCAA, its member schools, Congress and the several states are all at various stages – not to mention points of contention – in passing and i
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    #148623

    Wild Wild West is coming.  Hold on to your horses.

    Certainly some of these kids can make some money off of NIL.  Trevor Lawrence’s numbers are at the extreme but you can’t deny he could make some money.  Major question is how much of that $390k would he be able to keep?  Is he managing the NIL and Social Media himself?  Most likely every one of these kids would have to hire an agent or marketing company of some sort to handle things for them.  Handling the set up of Social Media, Interviews, Meet and Greets, Training Sessions, Camps, Sponsorships ….. these kids aren’t going to do it themselves.  Very few would have the know how to set it up then recoup the monies along with filing taxes.  Then there is setting themselves up as a 1099 and LLC.  Of course there is Legal Zoom, but you still have to navigate it and know what is needed and what isn’t in their vast litany of products they push on you.

    Then ……. how is the NCAA or College program going to monitor these “agents”?  Could they be donors that are just funneling monies to these kids to get them to sign a LOI?  Sign then leave them hanging high and dry:  Or sign and put them on a retainer for services, endorsements and sponsorships?

    Making all of this money is all well and good.  Couple of things to look at in the bigger picture of the team.  Who is benefiting and who isn’t?  OL getting stiffed because they are doing all the grunt work keeping the QB and RB safe and opening holes while they get nothing from NIL and the “stars get all the glory?  Then how much time is put against making money via NIL vs getting ready for the game.  This could be a problem is sponsors or agents start demanding more face time with players.

    Then there’s the question of how and when and where are these kids allowed to use the proprietary school information, logo’s and background.  Can a FB player wear his uniform on a pic for a tweet?  Instagram?  Logo in the background?  Sign pictures with the stadium, logo or team in the background?  Lots of questions to be answered on what is allowed and what is not allowed by law.

    Like I said ……. it’s the Wild Wild West.

    And we thought the Portal was the rabbit hole.

    #148646

    well said, Butlereer,…remember when freshmen where not aloud to play…..and athletes were excited about getting to go to collage, get an education because they are good at a sport……

    #148658

    Excellent points, Butler. Definitely lots of crossover here, with the intersection being more rights for the players, whether its NIL, transfers, earning potential, etc.

    I am seeing a little bit of a trend now for very little in terms of regulation for players in NIL opportunities, however, one area of consensus seems to be that they won’t be allowed to use school names or logos or jerseys, etc, in those efforts. That, i think, will be one of the few areas that the NCAA or schools might agree upon.

    Also, agents and companies are already lining up to offer their services to athletes once the doors open on July 1. And even if they take a standard cut of 10-15%, that’s still a lot of money for the athletes, as they made nothing before.

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