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An Insider’s Perspective on how NIL Reform will affect Student Athletes

  • By Daniel Hennes
  •  Oct 20, 2020

It has become increasingly clear that at some point in 2021 the NCAA will pass some type of NIL reform allowing college athletes to finally make money off of their name image and likeness just like any other human being. During my time at USC I was incredibly fortunate to manage Jake Olson, a blind long snapper for our football team. Due to the NCAA’s double life clause, Jake is one of the few college athletes ever to be able to monetize their name image and likeness while a college athlete. We had a front row seat to what can happen, and wanted to share our perspective on what we think will happen with the sweeping NIL reform.

First, college athletes will be exposed to an unbelievable amount of shady figures masquerading as “marketing reps”. Athletes being able to have representation means people will come out of the woodwork to try to make a buck off of them. While I do not believe NCAA supervision over agents is the answer, we have to do something to educate these kids on how to assess if agents are legitimate, questions to ask, etc. We are encouraged by companies like Pro Shark Sports working to bring transparency to this process. Jake had multiple people reach out abut representation right after he snapped in 2017 (fortunately he’s a loyal guy) and many speakers bureaus and booking agencies just started listing him on their website anyway even though they do not have our permission. Already we have talked to guys being approached by sports marketing people on Instagram claiming to be experts in NIL marketing for college athletes. How can you be an expert in a space that doesn’t exist yet? There is a real need for a platform or group independent of the NCAA and its member schools that helps vet agents and marketing reps.

Second, there will be a flood of local and national brands and businesses looking to work with athletes to leverage their oftentimes large and engaged social following to promote their products and services. This undoubtedly represents a huge opportunity for athletes to make money, and is what I consider the “low-hanging fruit” of the NIL reform. It’s not just the starting quarterback at a marquee program that has value in this situation. It could literally be any college athlete with an engaged following in a specific market. A car dealership in Oxford, Mississippi would benefit greatly from having anyone on the beloved Ole Miss football team post about buying a car there. A restaurant opening in Pullman, Washington could leverage a host of Washington State athletes to post about its grand opening and bring attention. Even successful players at Division Three schools in small markets could see monetization opportunities. If you are a student athlete wondering what you can do right now to position yourself for success in 2021, start building your brand. Post engaging, entertaining, and authentic content across social media. Post consistently, do Q and A’s with your fans, go live on Instagram. All of these things will help you build a following and be more appealing to companies. 

While everyone seems to be focused on the social media aspect of NIL, we think it is incredibly important to understand the value of the appearances and human interactions that can be opened up as a result of this. At some point we will get through this pandemic and be able to gather in groups again. Now more than ever, athletes think of themselves as brands and businesses. Jake is a very in demand speaker, and because of that we were able to travel the country while he shared his story with companies and groups large and small. Although it is more work than posting something on Instagram, these in person interactions have far more value in the long term. The two largest investors in our company were people who met Jake when he spoke to their companies. We have built countless business connections that will serve Jake well for the rest of his life because of his speeches. So many of these schools have powerful and successful alumni who would love nothing more than to help these student athletes succeed in all areas of life. Whether it is speaking to a local business, making an appearance at a restaurant opening, or even putting on their own ticketed events and marketing to fans of their school, this is where the long term value lies in NIL. Not only can athletes get paid to make an appearance, but also they’ll be able to build the relationships that set them up for success when their playing days inevitably end. For athletes who want to make more than a quick buck, this represents a massive opportunity. If you are an athlete, practice sharing your story and think about how the lessons you’ve learned excelling at your sport can help with others facing adversity or challenges. Start interviewing your friends and honing your broadcasting chops so you can be ready to launch your own podcast. The athletes who lean into this market will see tremendous value for the rest of their lives. 

Third, platforms that make all of these processes simple and transparent will emerge as key players. All of these student-athletes have grown up with technology at their fingertips. Platforms like Cameo, Blue Wire, Opendorse, and Engage will be crucial in helping athletes monetize their fame. Whether it is doing video shout outs on Cameo, launching a podcast with Blue Wire, getting paid for social content via Opendorse, or using Engage to get booked by a company or execute their own pop-ups event or sweepstakes, athletes will use transparent and trusted platforms in order to maximize their earning potential.

Over the next few months I’ll be keeping a close eye on the legislation and we here at Engage will be continuing to gather information and share our thoughts on the latest developments. In the coming weeks we’ll go more in depth on specific topics mentioned above. Whether you are a student-athlete, businessperson, or just an interested observer, we encourage you to subscribe to our newsletter on the topic below.