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Name, Image and Likeness Part 2: Who will make the money?

Imaginations can run wild and comprehending the complexities of Name, Image and Likeness, especially without NCAA legislation, can be staggering.

But Blake Lawrence of Opendorse offers an excellent analogy.

The former four-star linebacker who played at Nebraska and now runs the leading platform for athlete marketing from Lincoln compares NIL to any other part of an athletic program. That is what college coaches will have to wrap their minds around: Neglecting NIL will be like having poor facilities or outdated equipment.

“If you think about NIL as a new department within athletics – you have strength and conditioning, you have nutrition, you’ve got your training room, academics, life skills and now NIL,” Lawrence said. “When strength and conditioning became a thing, every school in the country needed a weight room. Within that weight room you needed equipment, you needed to have a standard of measurement of what is strong, what is fast, what is slow, what is weak and you needed to have a strength and conditioning coach.”



MONDAY: Answers to biggest questions | NIL 101 - Who will make the money

TUESDAY: Building an athlete's brand

WEDNESDAY: What HS athletes think

THURSDAY: How colleges are handling this

FRIDAY: The most marketable college athletes


The same will probably go for Name, Image and Likeness, although the legislation is still being worked through the NCAA with a proposal deadline in October and then a vote planned for January.

What the future brings is still largely uncertain, but this is for sure: In numerous ways, college athletes will be able to make money off their name, image and likeness. That is a potential game-changer for college athletics and recruiting, especially for the schools that adopt smart and nimble ways to promote their student-athletes on campus.

Some believe trendy uniforms came first. Then facilities. Next could be a staff of content creators that help promote personal brands - and in turn, the athletes can make money.

How you ask? Any perception that boosters are going to be allowed to throw around money to either land recruits or be involved in pay-for-play schemes would be completely off-base. Coaches will almost certainly not be allowed to set up transactions. The NCAA – or quite likely a third-party – will be significantly involved in determining fair-market value for each transaction to police any malfeasance.

Memorabilia could be one legitimate way. Personal appearances would be another. Or doing commercials, being in magazines, selling merchandise with a personal logo. Running camps either in their college towns or hometowns to make a quick, easy buck could happen.

For example, the Trevor Lawrence Quarterback Camp in Cartersville, Ga., or the Chuba Hubbard Camp in Canada will likely be ways for athletes to profit.

“It’s memorabilia, it’s events,” said Zach Soskin of Voltage Management. “You can host a kid’s clinic. This is something for these college towns, it could be huge. If you’re an Alabama D-lineman, he can hold camps every week. On Sundays, the kids can go and pay X-amount of dollars and that will be interesting to see how they determine the value of that. What little kid isn’t coming to that? It’s fantasy camp.

“You don’t need to charge the kids even. You can use that and charge brand sponsors. It becomes a platform for sponsors where maybe the market value is a little higher, maybe they can do a personal and an event deal. The key for this is the kids who understand all the different ways they can monetize it, not just trying to max out one.”

Blake Lawrence said: “Athletes who operate as entrepreneurs and turn themselves into a business or enterprise will start to earn dollars directly from individuals and that’s where people are underselling how much a student-athlete could make. A backup right tackle walk-on may not be the face of the local bank deal, they might not get a deal with the beef jerky company to push out content on their Instagram channel, but if they go back and put on a camp, they’re the biggest deal in their hometown. They could charge $50 a pop and have 10 kids come through. Five hundred dollars to a college student-athlete, that’s more money they could ever imagine, especially to a walk-on. Those are the things undersold in the conversation around the country.”

“Athletes who operate as entrepreneurs and turn themselves into a business or enterprise will start to earn dollars directly from individuals and that’s where people are underselling how much a student-athlete could make."
— Blake Lawrence, who runs the leading platform for athlete marketing from Lincoln, Neb.

Which schools benefit is still up for debate.

Is it the big-city schools like USC, UCLA, Miami, Texas and others with deep-pocketed alumni in those regions who could transact with athletes for all kinds of things.

Or is it the small college towns like Tuscaloosa, Ala., or Clemson, S.C., where the local college powerhouse runs the show and dominates the market. Will there be better money for athletes who are the biggest fish in that small pond?

The thinking against the big-city schools is this: Jennifer Aniston and Jared Goff are in L.A. Is anyone really ponying up dough for the USC running back?

Nebraska is way better positioned than UCLA,” Soskin said. “Think of everything L.A. companies have: You have all the actors and actresses and singers and Instagram influencers and these other content producers. If you’re a company in Lincoln, Nebraska, what’s better to have than a Nebraska football player? There is just so much competition.

"If USC got rolling, they have the ability to win the city over. Reggie Bush was the biggest athlete in L.A. when he was at SC. So if you reach that lev,el, you have some big opportunities and the same thing with Miami, if they can win the ACC title then those guys could be crushing it in marketing but you have to win big in those cities.

“The ones that are interesting to me as far as big-city advantages are SMU, Houston and UNLV. Dallas and Houston are football-obsessed cities and you can have only so many (Dallas) Cowboys. Football is such king, I’d say for hometown kids. If you’re Ed Oliver, he would have done pretty well when he was at Houston since he’s from Houston. If you’re a kid at North Shore or Katy, do you think about staying at Houston?”

Will it really change anything?

Brainstorming marketing ideas and prognosticating how name, image and likeness is going to impact college football and recruiting seems like an endless journey. Peel the onion and only more thoughts come to the front. Or more tears.

That’s because not everybody in this space is so convinced the marketing dollars are going to be there. Take author and brand consultant Jeremy Darlow, the former director of marketing at adidas for football and baseball.

Darlow points to a global health pandemic, a teetering economy, historically high unemployment, a stock market that dips with every bit of bad coronavirus news – and that’s what we know about. Digital ad spend is plummeting, and so he asks a question: What makes anyone think local businesses trying to survive or even bigger companies will choose to spend their advertising money in a new and unproven space?

“My mission is to teach these kids the realities,” Darlow said. “I’ve been on that side of the table, I’ve seen the endorsement deals, I was responsible for choosing which athlete we brought on board, which athlete we didn’t bring on board and I can tell you with certainty the money is not going to be there come January for every single athlete on a football team, every single athlete on a basketball team.

“That’s just not realistic. So these kids need to realize and I hope to educate them on the fact that just because you can make money off your likeness doesn’t mean you will. And it doesn’t mean you should not strive for that, absolutely, I’m not here to keep you from your dreams. What I’m here to do is teach you that while you’re striving for those endorsement deals or while you’re striving to build that influence, let’s have a parallel plan that teaches you how to build a brand outside the game so that when you do graduate, you have a path to success in a career and vocation that you’re passionate about outside of sports.

"That’s where we can do our best work and that’s where professionals and experts in the space like myself should be focused. That’s where we can take care of these kids.”

"These kids need to realize and I hope to educate them on the fact that just because you can make money off your likeness doesn’t mean you will."
— Jeremy Darlow, author and brand consultant

Lawrence, from Opendorse, believes the opposite. Lots of athletes are going to have opportunities. Lots of athletes can make money operating camps in their hometowns, or in magazines in their college towns, or doing autograph sessions. For Lawrence, who’s been on both sides of this – as a college player and now a businessman – the limits are only in place for those who cannot think of all the possibilities.

“People are underthinking it,” Lawrence said. “If you step on any college campus to play sports, where you came from, you are the best of the best. That’s the truth. If you got a chance to play at an NCAA school, walk-on or full-ride scholarship five-star, you are the best of the best of where you came from. And if you think where you came from is not going to support your journey, going back and hosting camps or promoting the businesses in the hometown you came from, that’s going to happen. It’s going to be more widespread than you think.”

And college staffs better be ready.

And, of course, the government wants to be ready as well

Katelyn Ohashi's floor routine generated over 115 million views on UCLA's YouTube page.
Katelyn Ohashi's floor routine generated over 115 million views on UCLA's YouTube page. (AP)

Thought leaders around the Name, Image and Likeness movement in college sports took to Washington, D.C., two weeks ago to express views and concerns – and also to educate Congress on what could be coming to universities soon.

The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation held a hearing chaired by Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) that was attended by Ole Miss vice chancellor for intercollegiate athletics Keith Carter, Dr. Michael Drake, chair of the NCAA Board of Governors and president emeritus at Ohio State, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, Dionne Koller, a professor of law and the director of the Center for Sport and Law at the University of Baltimore and Eric Winston of OneTeam Partners and the former president of the NFLPA.

The Congressional hearing traveled down many different avenues as Congress looks to become involved in writing the NIL legislation with input from the NCAA and others.

Wicker had many questions of his own when it came to NIL considerations, a sign this legislation could still move in numerous directions.

“Will high school athletes choose to attend a university in a large media market because they believe it will generate more NIL value?” Wicker said in an opening statement. “How will universities and their supporters be prevented from manipulation in NIL contracts? Will businesses invest in student-athlete NIL rights to promote legitimate business or as an avenue to create access to athletes, coaches and athletic programs? Will it be easier or harder for a star player on a team to put the team first even when showcasing individual talent may increase NIL income?

“Will NIL result in a rise in student-athlete transfers to universities in bigger advertising markets? How will third-parties contracting with student-athletes be regulated and how will that impact a school’s ability to ensure compliance and enforcement of NCAA rules? Is an 18-year-old emotionally and financially prepared to make all the choices required to enter into an NIL contract? What will be the impact of the student’s academic obligations? Will permitting compensation for NIL further widen the gap between the haves and have-nots? What about the effect on Title IX and women’s sports?”

All of these queries and many more will need to be figured out in the months ahead. Many of the witnesses agreed that a uniform national law around NIL would be preferable instead of individual state proposals like Florida, California and others have introduced. That way, athletes, administrators, coaches and everyone involved is playing by the same set of rules.

Pay-for-play schemes were also of concern. In the legislation, some argued, it would have to be made clear that there could be no recruiting inducements allowed. A booster could not give obscene amounts of money to a recruit under the guise of NIL for doing a social-media campaign or a coach could not promise X-amount of dollars delivered from local advertisers for a recruit’s signature on National Signing Day.

To police those overreaches, the witnesses proposed an arm of the NCAA Compliance Office deal with every NIL transaction and some believed it would be best for an independent panel not affiliated with schools or conferences to make proper NIL judgments.

One concern almost everyone had at the hearing is that NIL considerations could have an adverse and deleterious effect on the sanctity of the recruiting process.

“It absolutely has the potential,” Sankey said. “That’s why in my comments I observed the need to address the issue specifically. If this activity is around recruitment, it’s simply an inducement and we lose the conversations currently in recruiting around education, around geography, around the nature and support of the program and it becomes transactional. That is legitimately a concern we should have.”

Wicker said: “We must be mindful of the law of unintended consequences. Human nature being what it is we need to realize some of our fellow mortals will seek and likely find loopholes for an unfair advantage.”

“We must be mindful of the law of unintended consequences. Human nature being what it is we need to realize some of our fellow mortals will seek and likely find loopholes for an unfair advantage.”
— Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.)

When it comes to compensation amounts, Koller said she does not support a specific limit but that there should be “common-sense” rules in place. Drake echoed her sentiments.

“Common-sense limits so you can’t get $50,000 for whatever, for a t-shirt,” Drake said.

Drake predicted “three or four” football players at any given school would be doing commercials for NIL money and Carter said “probably a handful”. But it’s nuanced because the offensive guard could return to his hometown for a camp or autograph session and earn much more. Wicker was concerned about a “sweet deal” in those situations.

Koller added because of social media’s popularity, some might be discounting just how much some athletes – both men and women – could pocket, citing UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi’s famous floor routine that went viral and now has 115 million views on UCLA’s YouTube page.

“When we have discussions about this we tend to focus on the super, superstars and the revenue-generating sports. What’s exciting about Name, Image, Likeness legislation is that this opens up new frontiers, students from small schools, from under-appreciated sports, women in sports, people can become stars on the Internet that aren’t stars you and I always see,” Koller said.