NIL NETWORK INSIGHT
Recap: Although it is still unclear what finalized NIL reform will look like, there are over 150 companies that have launched or pivoted to assist collegiate athletes and/or their athletic departments navigate this new era.
Observations: It appears that this new NIL market will only continue to grow as the framework for reform becomes more clear. While it is great to have a booming new industry and plenty of options, vetting these companies will be time consuming and difficult during the first few years.
In most buying decisions, data, case studies, and testimonials provide guidance. In a new market where these resources don’t yet exist, what navigates buying decisions?
NIL Network is striving to provide clarity and transparency to guide buying decisions by sharing relevant content, consulting, and, in time, providing a rate and review directory of all NIL companies.
For two years now, Icon Source has provided a marketplace for talent, such as pro athletes and social media influencers, to connect with brand companies for endorsement and commercial opportunities. Like a match-making service that pairs like-minded couples in romantic relationships, Icon Source links talent with brands in business arrangements.
Last Thursday, the marketplace added a new player.
College athletes became eligible to create profiles on Icon Source in what is, for the company, the first step in helping NCAA athletes monetize their name, image and likeness (NIL). Eventually, an athlete on Icon Source will be able to identify companies to partner with for a profitable exchange.
Maybe it’s a star quarterback hooking up with an eatery in Athens, Ga., or a champion gymnast signing with a clothing shop in Oxford, Miss.
Either way, the world of NIL match-making is here—well, almost.
It officially arrives in about 70 days, when several state laws governing NIL take effect.
“Athletes are preparing themselves for July 1,” says Drew Butler, a former NCAA and NFL punter who is vice president of Icon Source’s collegiate division. “We are ready to turn on the green light for them.”
So are dozens of others.
The introduction of NIL to the college scene has created a striking side effect: a cascade of activity in an untapped space. As July 1 nears, companies similar to Icon Source are bursting onto the scene, offering an array of NIL-centric products and services to schools and athletes alike.
As many as 150 NIL platforms now exist in what has become an oversaturated space exploding with outlets flaunting new-fangled databases and glitzy mobile applications. They are all different and yet, for many of them, very much the same.
Some are specializing in NIL education, marketing and branding. Others are focused on compliance and regulatory issues. Another group is targeting the marketplace, where athletes connect with brands. And some companies are even dabbling in all three.
A few, in fact, are dangerously walking the line, industry experts say, of violating potential legislation by partnering with schools while also offering athletes at those schools a marketplace to strike NIL deals.
In short, this space—empty and quiet just months ago—is now a crowded, muddled and boisterous mess.
“It’s the hidden industry of NIL,” says Blake Lawrence, a former Nebraska linebacker and the co-founder of Opendorse, one of the largest and longest-tenured athlete marketing platforms in the country.