Report: Gonzaga to play in NIL-driven college basketball event in 2025

Bulldogs are reportedly set to play in The Players Era Festival at MGM Las Vegas
Nov 26, 2023; Paradise, Nevada, USA; The Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign on the Las Vegas strip. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 26, 2023; Paradise, Nevada, USA; The Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign on the Las Vegas strip. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Gonzaga men’s basketball program has emerged as a candidate to play in a one-of-a-kind regular season multi-team event centered around name, image and likeness.

According to CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander, the Bulldogs “have agreed” to play in a revolutionary event dubbed “The Players Era Festival,” which features a $1 million NIL payout for participating teams in addition to future earnings opportunities through long-term NIL contracts, according to CBS Sports. The Zags are reportedly among eight teams set to join the event in 2025, along with St. John’s, Michigan, Syracuse and Saint Joe’s. Duke, Virginia and Kansas have “yet to formally commit,” according to Norlander. 

Alabama, Creighton, Houston, Notre Dame, Oregon, Rutgers, San Diego State and Texas A&M have all committed to play in 2024 and beyond. Norlander reported that the Bluejays, who were supposed to play in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament along with Gonzaga in 2024, have signed a three-year commitment to the Players Era Festival after pursuing the last remaining spot in the 2024 field. Creighton withdrew from the Battle 4 Atlantis in May and was replaced by Providence, another Big East school.

The Las Vegas event will be played in two four-team formats. Alabama, Houston, Notre Dame and Rutgers would be on one side of the event, while Creighton, Oregon, San Diego State and Texas A&M are on the other. Splitting the event into two is a sort of work-around to NCAA rules that prevent schools from playing in the same multi-team event more than once in four years. Organizers would have to work on different branding, event names and game locations to get around that rule. 

According to Norlander, the 2024 opening matchups will be: Houston vs. Alabama, Rutgers vs. Notre Dame, Creighton vs. Oregon and Texas A&M vs. San Diego State. Games will be held at the MGM Las Vegas during the week of Thanksgiving, according to CBS Sports, and will include live music and other attractions for fans along the Las Vegas Strip. 

All eight teams competing in the 2024 event are expected to be back in 2025, as event organizers told CBS Sports the plan is to double the size of the event at minimum in 2025 and beyond.

In addition to a $1 million payout to all participants, NIL opportunities would be awarded exclusively to the winner or winners of the event, depending on how the bracket shapes out. Student-athletes would be required to participate in multiple off-the-court actives to earn NIL compensation, which would be distributed by collectives. 

Players would also be able to sign a 10% equity state in the Players Era Festival in perpetuity, according to Norlander, which means those student-athletes would earn money from the event going forward if it continues to grow as an asset. 

According to Norlander, there is skepticism from many in college athletics over the long-term viability of the Players Era Festival due to the fact most multi-team events don’t have large profit margins. The event, which has “tens of millions of dollars” in private-equity funding, would mark a change in how teams schedule and likely affect how other multi-team events are operated. 

Gonzaga has become very familiar with Las Vegas over the years. In addition to playing in the West Coast Conference Tournament at Orleans Arena since 2009, the Bulldogs have been a part of a few multi-team events such as the 2022 Empire Classic (Central Michigan, UCLA, Duke) and the 2023 Las Vegas Invitational against USC last season.


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Cole Forsman

COLE FORSMAN

Cole Forsman is a reporter for Gonzaga Nation, a member of Sports Illustrated’s FanNation network. Cole holds a degree in Journalism and Sports Management from Gonzaga University.