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.
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