Mountain West Athletes Can Make Money From NIL Deals. Now What?
The early response suggests that there may not be massive amounts of money for everyone out there, but it is nonetheless an important step.
The free market has arrived in college athletics.
Well, that escalated quickly.
Yesterday afternoon, the NCAA bowed to a cascade of forthcoming state laws and broader public opinion with an announcement that will permanently change college athletics as we know it: College athletes can now profit off of their name, image and likeness. After decades of unnecessary scandal and numerous lawsuits that went so far as to include the Supreme Court, those individuals who put in countless hours on and off the field have an avenue to create some disposable income.
It’s good news for what has, in some corners of the athletic landscape, become a billion-dollar industry, but what comes next? There’s already a suggestion that the whiplash could make things messy at the onset, but some unique threads have already emerged which could be worth following:
1. The ability to make NIL deals could be a boon for small and minority-owned businesses.
One of the first deals signed by a college athlete at the stroke of midnight yesterday came out of Jackson State, where defensive end Antwan Owens partnered with 3KINGS Grooming, a company devoted to grooming products for both men and women that is owned by a trio of black brothers. Sports Illustrated noted that several other JSU football players will also become part of this deal and that head coach Deion Sanders, who knows a thing or two about promotions, played a significant role in his program getting a head start on NIL initiatives, so it will be fascinating to follow how focused some of the subsequent deals might be.
2. Think local and regional, not national.
There are some exceptions to this in the early going, of course, most notably the deal struck by Miami Hurricanes quarterback D’Eriq King and moving company College Hunks Hauling Junk, but at least one national company is thinking more on the micro level:
Hanna and Haley Cavinder are in New York this morning to promote their new deal with Boost Mobile. Boost CEO Stephen Stokols told me he's got a list of 400 college athletes he wants to work with on a regional/local level. More: https://t.co/2hNZO6OpTE
— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) July 1, 2021
Fresno State women’s basketball players Haley and Hanna Cavinder, twins who have a huge social media following, are sort of emblematic of the direction that many NIL deals are likely to head in that:
- They don’t play the kind of revenue-generating sport you’d suspect would benefit most from NIL, and
- Their off-the-court personalities may have put them in the position to earn more than what they’ve done on the court.
As influencers with earning potential that could be, at least by one estimate, hundreds of thousands of dollars, it wouldn’t be out of the question for the Cavinders to promote Boost Mobile throughout the Central Valley and be the face of other local businesses. Why not, for instance, work with a local restaurant on gameday specials at the Save Mart Center or collaborate with Fresno State itself to promote other events on the campus?
@cavindertwinsHappy July 1st to all the athletes out there💃🏼 #fyp #foryou
Some businesses already seem to be ahead of the game with this in mind. Take Runza, a fast food institution in the state of Nebraska, which has already declared that numerous Cornhuskers will have an opportunity to endorse the restaurant chain. Numerous Mountain West cities and regions have similar businesses which could pretty easily do the same thing — New Belgium in Fort Collins, Save Mart in the Central Valley and Albertsons in Boise, Ike’s Love and Sandwiches in San Jose (which, coincidentally, already partnered with San Jose State football to debut a new sandwich in June), to name a few — so it may be that the opportunities are limited only by the imaginations of the individual athletes and the programs of which they are part.
3. NIL deals look like a spark for the entrepreneurial spirit.
Interested in video game streaming? Still somehow interested in NFTs? Ready for good old-fashioned meet-and-greets? 247Sports has put together a comprehensive list of what’s already been done on day one and, well, it’s all on the table.
It’ll be fascinating to see the directions in which Mountain West athletes take their newfound freedom. Nevada linebacker Lawson Hall, for instance, spearheaded the creation of a video from within the Wolf Pack football program in support of the Black Lives Matter movement last year so, as someone already on his way to a master’s degree in business administration, what could he and other members of the Wolf Pack do to sustain that message throughout Reno and northern Nevada? The next Neemias Queta promote could Utah State’s Aggie Chocolate Factory and the city of Colorado Springs could partner with athletes from the Air Force Academy to promote tourism to Pikes Peak.
4. The Mountain West could help promote itself.
Think of the institutional ads that you see during college athletics broadcasts. Now imagine that those institutional advertisements could utilize some of each campus’s brightest athlete personalities. If you want to take the common argument that athletics are the “front porch” of any university at face value, then it follows that compensating athletes as a way to attract potential students and boost enrollment could be a sound investment.
The conference itself could be an attractive platform, though, for athletes who might otherwise be tempted to leave for more alluring Power 5 programs. They could be compensated for brief video appearances with Jesse Kurtz in the same fashion that coaches are for radio segments, or they could help promote every forthcoming championship in every sponsored sport.
5. NIL deals don’t have to be big in order to improve an athlete’s quality of life during college.
Two weeks ago, Detroit Lions player Tyrell Crosby wrote a revealing thread on Twitter that pointed out shortcomings of the compensation model to which the NCAA had clung. It’s a safe bet the issue with food insecurity is not simply anecdotal on Crosby’s part, and NIL partnerships could go a long way toward resolving that.
Not every athlete will be able to strike it rich like the Cavinder twins or D’Eriq King, but not every athlete will need to do so to improve their collegiate experience. Supplementing tuition with the ability to simply pay a few bills and keep a refrigerator stocked could be a game-changer for programs willing to put in the work and establish a more defined foundation of what future student-athletes can expect, especially in municipalities where the cost of living is on the rise.