Student-athletes are the hottest new entrepreneurs thanks to the new NCAA rules

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Not every day you hear the word “deliverables” from the mouth of a 21-year-old. But Masai Russell is not your typical young adult. The four-time all-American first-team in track and field at the University of Kentucky is also a successful social media influencer. She spoke of accomplishments while setting expectations of her customers for social media content; H. Sponsors of their Instagram and YouTube channels, characterized.

British athletics

Mind you, Russell has only been working on results with these clients for two months. The NCAA redefined its amateur rules in late June to allow college student athletes to monetize their name, image, and likeness (NIL). Until then, they couldn't accept payments for personal appearances, related goods, or even sponsored content on their social media channels, even if their content had nothing to do with sports (despite the billions that colleges and the NCAA through Advertising and advertising would deserve to radiate their talents).

Pressure on the NCAA to give student athletes the right to benefit from their own brands has grown for years. But it was the case of West Virginia University football player Shawne Alston who made it to the US Supreme Court and scored the winning touchdown for student athletes.

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Judge Brett Kavanaugh even wrote in the ruling that the NCAA's business model "would be completely illegal in almost every other industry in America."

The National Association of Intetcollegiate Atheltics (NAIA), an association of mostly small schools and the other major college sports association in the United States, passed a NIL bill in December 2020 that puts additional pressure on the NCAA to make changes or increase the consequences wear.

Student athletes, for example, registered with a new set of rules in August. They could now earn money to supplement their scholarships. For student athletes at the best schools or with full scholarships, NIL is the icing on the cake. But for most of the others, making ends meet could be the difference.

According to the NCAA, Division I and II sports programs pay out $ 3.6 billion in scholarship funds annually to more than 180,000 student athletes. But that's only $ 20,000 per person – $ 17,000 less than the average total cost of private schools and $ 7,000 less than the cost of a total out-of-state package for public institutions. Many athletes only receive scholarships that cover tuition fees. Some not even that much.

NIL flexibility is therefore not only fair, it is necessary.

The chance vs. the obstacles

Social media and the explosive economy of followers-for-sponsorships provide college athletes with an easy platform to monetize their brand. The most heralded prospects in some sports garner hundreds of thousands of followers in high school. NIL at this level of competition has not yet become an issue for the courts, so college is the first opportunity for the athlete to make money with his name.

Quinn Ewers, a Texas high school football phenomenon, even dropped out of senior year and chose to enroll early in Ohio State just to take advantage of his NIL score. But the downside is that NIL often gives the pictorial keys to the Cadillac to teenagers and young 20-year-olds unwilling to run a business.

"We're still a little kid at the end of the day," says Donovan Williams, a sophomore on the Oklahoma State men's basketball team. “Children want money. That's just human nature. There is some money. We want to get it. "

Image source: Oklahoma State Athletics

Williams reported that after three months in this new entrepreneurial environment, he knows some student-athletes who have already broken their brand sponsorship commitments. “These are contracts!” He exclaims. "They are not something to be taken lightly."

Where trouble is brewing

"It really is still the Wild West," warns Ahin Thomas, chief revenue officer of Tastes of Chicago, a direct-selling pizza brand that has started sponsoring student athletes. "Some of the standard contract templates have perpetual image rights. If a company is willing to go predatory, that's not right. I bet there are a lot of college athletes who would sign a contract without reading it. They don't know what forever means."

Thomas said his company would never put a student-athlete in this position because it could take away opportunities later in life. "What if one day a domino knocks on your door?" he assumes. "How terrible is it going to be that you have a big advertising deal, but these guys have perpetual image rights?"

Stanford womens basketball star Haley Jones agrees that there are drawbacks to the NIL environment, especially when it comes to making sure guard rails are in place to help these less enterprising student athletes balance responsibility with privilege bring. "I think a lot of student-athletes could fall into the trap of snatching money and doing things that your brand shouldn't be part of," she explains. “You can make an appearance or do a quick Instagram post and grab some quick cash. But you also have to think about the long-term game. You need to do the background checks and see who you really do business with and who cares about your interests. "

Jones led Stanford to its third national women's basketball championship last April and was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. Potential partners can see their activations on twitter or an Instagram feed with almost 40,000 followers. Just a junior this season, Jones knows a WNBA career could lie ahead but is also using NIL as a longer-term investment.

"Beyond basketball, I can now start building my brand and showing what I like and what I'm passionate about," says Jones. "When I'm done with basketball, I can really immerse myself in it and have things sorted out."

Kentucky-born Russell, who hopes to run her own fashion brand one day, has over 156,000 followers on Instagram and a growing audience of over 21,000 on YouTube. Their focus is similar.

“I'm looking for ambassadors rather than partnerships,” says Russell. “I really want to build an empire, a brand, and a legacy for Masai. If I'm modeling for another company, why can't I model for my own company? So I think about it. "

Chloe Mitchell and her father Keith, a former Michigan football player, started a company to help student athletes connect with brands and fans. She has a different attitude.

Image source: Rachel Campbell

“To each his own”, she offers. “Those who want to build their brand and think long term? We'll help you with that. Those who want to make a few hundred dollars? That's fine too. "

Mitchell raised 2.6 million TikTok followers doing DIY home projects during her high school pandemic days. When she enrolled at the NAIA Institute Aquinas College last fall, she had to say goodbye to influencer deals. But the NAIA's December option to allow NIL reopened Mitchell's profitability and gave it a head start in realizing the bigger business idea of ​​building an agency. She says her experience with branded businesses puts her in a unique position to help student-athletes looking to build their legacies as well as those who just want to make some extra cash.

"Some know that they are only four years in college and have to take advantage of that," she suggests. "There's nothing wrong with that."

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Manage the game board

Most college athletes didn't expect NIL to happen anytime soon. The decision of the Supreme Court came on June 21 of this year. The NCAA announcement came nine days later, and the policy went into effect the following day. Most fall sports freshmen registered on campus just a few days later.

"It started for me two years earlier than I expected," says Jones. "I expected to sign with an agent when I was about to be drafted, as soon as I graduate, and not into my junior year."

Oklahoma-based Williams was ahead of the game and left to sign with MAGZ Sports Group and partner with Donovan Watches of the same name as soon as the rules allowed. “I was prepared,” he says. “It was two or three months before they let it through. When we (the NCAA) gave the green light, I started everything. "

Williams advertises the watches, his own bespoke clothing, and has a contract with a sports jersey company. He uses Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat to connect these brands with its fans. But not many student athletes are as enterprising as Williams, Jones, and Russell. The college sports departments want to point them in the right direction.

"I see it as part of our training mission in the athletics department that our student athletes understand how to market themselves and be the CEO of their brand," said Ray Tanner, Athletics Director at the University of South Carolina to ensure that our student athletes Athletes can take advantage of all the opportunities that NIL offers. "

Thomas at Taste of Chicago believes brands have a responsibility in this equation as well. “We decided to write our contracts in plain English and not ask for image rights over and over again,” he explains. But he believes many other brands will act in their best interests, not the athletes: "Just because you could get away with it doesn't mean you should."

Jones also sees potential problems ahead. "I'm sure there will be some kind of ESPN scandal if something happens where someone got the wrong deal," she says. “It will definitely happen. I knock on wood that doesn't, but it will happen. "

Jones, who also teaches a course at Stanford this year, says NIL opportunities don't come if you don't play well. And if you don't keep your classwork up to date, you won't be able to play at all.

“It is enough to combine lessons and basketball,” she says. “Do you now need to add NIL opportunities that you want to take full advantage of? You need to have a basic understanding of where your priorities are. It's a domino effect of things that must all be in place before you can even take these NIL opportunities. "

Still, the lion's share of student athletes know that NIL offers just that: opportunities. “It was amazing,” says Russell about her social media engagement. I didn't even notice that all the work I've put in has now opened so many doors for me. "

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