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Nation-NIL Trends: Week 3

by michelle

Integrate Initiative, Group Licensing, Nick Saban, and Mikey Williams Impact

THE GOOD

Integrate Launches Support for Walk-on Athletes

Jeremy Bloom, a former NCAA football and Olympic athlete, announced that his company, Integrate, will be launching their “College Game Changers” initiative. This program has dedicated at least a million dollars (some sources have stated multiple millions!) to sponsoring walk-on student athletes who exhibit qualities of performance, innovation, happiness, trust, and radical candor.

“College is a time of opportunity and development, and no college athlete should be denied the financial or social support they need to pursue their dreams,” said Bloom. “At Integrate, we have a deep appreciation for people who have a high degree of grit and tenacity, and walk-on student-athletes are among the hardest working people in all of sports. We believe in bolstering the support system for the athletes who need it the most.”

Bloom’s collegiate career at University of Colorado Boulder was cut short by two years after the NCAA declined his waiver request to pursue endorsement opportunities to finance his Olympic pursuit. He chose to give up college football. 

Integrate’s sponsorship will seek to foster the company’s cultural pillars of performance, innovation, happiness, trust, and radical candor in the current and future generations of college athletes. Eligible walk-on college athletes can reach out to college-gamechangers@integrate.com to apply for the “College Game Changers” sponsorship.

NIL NETWORK INSIGHT: As a former walk-on athlete, this initiative really resonated with me. Walk-on athletes are dedicating the same amount of time as scholarship athletes but may have more limited opportunities in the NIL era. I commend Bloom for recognizing this disparity and extending this program to walk-on athletes.  

UNC and Michigan Early Leaders in Licensing

University of North Carolina, who launched a group licensing program for their alumni in April, is the first university to bring official group licensing opportunities for their current student athletes. UNC partnered with Brandr, who will invite all of UNC’s current student-athletes to join the voluntary group licensing program, which will allow them to benefit from their NIL in conjunction with UNC’s official trademarks and logos.

“This is an outstanding opportunity because it will allow our student-athletes to benefit, together, with our trademarks and logos – and to have more choices and chances to collectively benefit from their NIL,” said Bubba Cunningham, Carolina’s Director of Athletics. “I have long supported the group licensing concept because it can positively impact so many student-athletes. I’m proud that Carolina is the first program to support college athletes, past and present, through group licensing.”

The Brandr Group stated that they are currently in conversations with another 30-35 universities about a similar group licensing deal. 

Additionally, The M Den, the University of Michigan officially licensed retailer, announced that it was offering fans the rights to get players’ names on the back of their Michigan football jerseys.

At least 50 players on this year’s roster have signed deals and are available for order. 

Each jersey has to be personalized in a custom manner by either an online or in store order, meaning there won’t be jerseys of a particular player hanging on the rack. These jerseys will cost $120 for names and numbers to be ironed on and $180 for them to be sewn. The athletes will earn a predetermined percentage from each jersey sale. 

“We wanted to do the best that we could for these players,” Scott Hirth, owner of The M Den said. “Yes, we are a for profit business, but we are partners with the school.”

Hirth added that the players likely will make more money per jersey than The M Den will.

NIL NETWORK INSIGHT: This is a great opportunity for UNC athletes and may provide opportunities for niche sport athletes that they wouldn’t have had before. Although The M Den jersey deal appears to be just for Michigan Football Athletes at the moment, I anticipate it growing to more sports and across more institutions quite rapidly. It will be interesting to monitor how fans respond to these new opportunities: Will they embrace custom jerseys with their favorite athlete’s name on the back? Will we start seeing jerseys from top athletes in niche sports? I hope so.  

THE QUESTIONABLE

Saban & NIL Strategy

Nick Saban, head coach of Alabama football, shocked the sports world when he announced at the Texas High School Coaches Association Conference that his presumed starting quarterback has already made close to seven figures off of his NIL. The athlete in question, Bryce Young, threw for just one touchdown as a freshman last season. 

“Our QB has already approached ungodly numbers, and he hasn’t even played yet,” Saban said, per Chris Hummer of 247Sports. “If I told you what it is … it’s almost 7-figures.”

Saban goes on to reference the strength of the Alabama brand as an explanation for Young’s early NIL success. Young signed with CAA on July 2 but has only made one public NIL post so far: An endorsement for the company CashApp. 

NIL NETWORK INSIGHT: As anticipated, NIL is taking over in the “arm’s race” of collegiate sports. Saban knew exactly what he was doing when he made that statement: Come to Alabama, you’ll make a ton of money by being an athlete here. Some skeptics are questioning the validity of his statement but the thing is, it doesn’t even matter. That’s the real issue. 

While the traditional “arms race” included lavish spending on facilities, at least those promises were tangible: Prospects knew that the locker room, stadium, etc would be there when they arrived on campus. Using NIL in recruiting, however, may set expectations that are not as concrete. From my conversations with D1 coaches over the past few months, one of their top concerns is how their competitors (ie other coaches) are going to entice recruits to their school by making indirect NIL promises, as Saban did here. It’s similar to guaranteeing playing time or a starting position in a recruiting pitch – recruits shouldn’t be making their decisions off of  intangibles. And NIL may prove to be the biggest intangible we’ve seen in college sports. 

ON THE WATCH LIST

Prep Athletes Start Signing NIL Deals

Mikey Williams, a top 10 recruit in the 2023 class, has signed a deal with Excel Sports Management to pursue NIL deals. 

“We will work with Mikey to continue to develop his personal brand and build an endorsement and partnership portfolio that is authentic to who he is and what he stands for,” Excel Sports said in a statement. “He is truly a unique talent primed to take advantage of the rapidly evolving athlete endorsement space and we know the future is bright for him.”

In order for Mikey to be allowed to monetize his NIL, he transferred to a high school that is not beholden to a state association. “We’re not going to be sanctioned by any high school association and we’ll play showcase games against prep schools. We’ll be an all-around club team. We’re adopting the European model, “ Mikey’s father, Mahlon Williams stated.

With over five million followers across multiple social media platforms, Mikey is in a good position to capitalize on his celebrity before he turns 18 and with the new NCAA interim policy, he can retain his NCAA eligibility, should he decide to play in college.  

NIL NETWORK INSIGHT: Mikey is the first known prep athlete to sign with an agency but he certainly won’t be the last. As more basketball opportunities outside of the traditional model present themselves (ex Overtime, PCL, NBA D League), it will be interesting to monitor the transfers of top prep basketball athletes out of high schools governed by state high school associations. As I wrote about recently, I don’t think an exodus of top athletes to different high schools or even just foregoing their high school eligibility to play club would be the end of the world. Those roster positions would be filled by other high school students who also deserve an opportunity to compete and be part of a team. I do think that the number of elite athletes that could monetize their NIL while in high school is quite small and because of that, plus a number of other reasons, high school associations won’t be changing their rules anytime soon. 

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