On Thursday at least 10 states--Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Texas are on that list--will enact laws that will allow college athletes in those states to make money using their name, their image and their likeness.
On Wednesday the NCAA Board of Governors is expected to approve a set of guidelines that will allow the athletes in the other 40 states to do the same.
And nobody—absolutely nobody—knows what is going to happen next.
There are going to be a lot of university compliance offers holding their collective breath for some time to come.
Everybody I talked to on this subject said pretty much the same thing: This is going to be the Wild, Wild West for a while.
This will certainly change college athletics as we have known it. In fact, this is the biggest change since the 1984 Supreme Court decision opened the floodgates for unlimited college football on television
But will the game on the field and on the court still be the same? After the 1984 ruling the game not only survived, it prospered big time.
What will happen to the college football locker room if the star quarterback has a car deal and a public speaking deal but the offensive lineman who blocks for him gets very little?
Passion is that thing that makes college football special. Does that passion change? It shouldn't.
In short, we don’t know what we don’t know.
“I don’t think you’ll see any clarity in the (NIL) marketplace for the next 2-3 years,” said Vince Thompson, the Founder and CEO of MELT, one of the nation’s top sports marketing firms.
When you take on a topic with this many moving parts, the best approach is to talk to people who are a lot smarter than you.
Here are three people representing three different approaches to this historic change in college sports.
Drew Butler, Executive Vice-President, Icon Source
Background: Butler was an All-America punter at the University of Georgia (2007-2011) and kicked professionally with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals. In March Butler, son of Hall of Fame placekicker Kevin Butler, was hired to head Icon Source’s newly-created collegiate division to help athletes monetize their name, image, and likeness.
What his company does: Icon Source was founded in 2018 to use technology to streamline the process of connecting professional athletes and other celebrities with brands. Now the company is expanding to include college athletes. Icon Source is a platform that puts the athletes and brands together and the brands ultimately decide which athletes it will employ. Butler’s company handles the transaction and deals with the compliance departments of the respective schools, which are charged with documenting every deal that the athlete makes.
Quote: “We think we’re in a unique position to help college athletes because we have experience with the pros. Current NIL laws leave the heavy lifting up to the student-athletes to promote themselves and find opportunities to capitalize on their likeness. Icon Source is the only platform to directly connect them with brands, both national and hyper-local, while maintaining the transparency compliance and universities will require.
“We think this (NIL) will be a fluid business for the first five years. There will be a lot of players at first but over time it will shake out. This is going to be the biggest change in college athletics in years.”
Steve Kennedy, Founder, Fans Meet Idols
Background: Since 2004 Kennedy has built five companies dealing with providing products and services to the collegiate athletics community. He has worked with over 100 NCAA institutions in the areas of recruiting, rules compliance and now NIL.
What his company does: Kennedy has carved out a unique niche in the NIL market place by creating a platform that connects fans, not brands, to college athletes. The cornerstone of his pitch to athletes is to avoid what he calls “The Big Letdown.” That’s when the overwhelming majority of athletes realize that they don’t have a big enough social media following to catch the attention of a major brand. Athletes sign up on Kennedy’s website and create a customized storefront that will be used to offer a range of goods and services such as autographs, personalized audio and video messages, and personal appearances. Kennedy’s company handles the transaction and does all of the compliance and tax paperwork. Kennedy’s company also provides a structure to encourage athletes to make a contribution to “give back” the charity of their choice.
Quote: “Our belief and what we will share with athletes is a chance to monetize the people who already like you. Fans don’t care how big of a social media following you have. Growing a social media network takes time and these young people already have a full-time job of going to school and playing their sport.”
Vince Thompson, CEO, Chairman, MELT Atlanta.
Background: In 2000 Thompson founded MELT and turned it into one of the nation’s top sports marketing firms. He did it with a roster of big-name brands including Coca-Cola. He matches those brands with big-time sporting events such as The Final Four, ESPN’s College Game Day, MLB, NASCAR and many others. He is considered one of the best brand builders in the industry.
What his company does: Thompson will approach NIL differently than most companies in that he represents the corporations and the brands and will help them find potential representatives among college athletes should those companies choose to go in that direction. A 1984 graduate of Auburn University, Thompson is well connected throughout the college athletics community thanks in part to the founding of MELTU, an award-winning internship program for students.
Quote: “One of the great misconceptions (about NIL) is that there is going to be some immediate gold rush. The reality is that team sports are more problematic than individual sports in the endorsement game.
“I think the story that everybody is missing is that most of the (NIL) money, early on, is going to be made by women. That is a new money. It is an untapped market.
“But I will say this: NIL could be the greatest grass roots marketing opportunity in the history of sports. You have an evergreen set of 500,000 kids in 23 (NCAA) sports. There’s a lot of opportunity there.”