Since the Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) rule was introduced in 2021, many critics have opposed the new statute. However, the argument remains widely contested. While 60% of adults over age 45 do not believe in compensation for student-athletes, 63% of adults under age 45 think they should. Many critics cite that the growing monetary inequality between schools far outweighs any benefits of the current NIL model. However, there are NIL benefits that these critics either refuse to address or perhaps don’t know to exist. So, what are NIL benefits for college athletes?
To fully understand the benefits of NIL, we must first look at the history of college athlete compensation.
For the first time since the NCAA’s founding in 1906, student-athletes can get paid by licensing out their name, image, and likeness for endorsements and brand partnerships. This came quickly after the landmark decision in NCAA vs. Alston, where the Supreme Court unanimously voted that it was unconstitutional for student-athletes to be uncompensated for playing college sports. With this change, universities, brands, and student-athletes have had to pivot and incorporate NIL into their everyday affairs. Despite institutions slowly adjusting to this change, it has been largely beneficial for the most important component of college athletics—the athletes.
First and foremost, NIL can provide financial support for athletes who may not come from wealthy backgrounds. According to a 2019 study from the National College Players Association, 86% of student-athletes who live off campus are living below the federal poverty line. Without opportunities like scholarships and NIL, these athletes would struggle to afford basic necessities. And with school and practice every day, they have no time to earn a liveable income from a part-time job.
NIL can help student-athletes prepare for their future by allowing them to build their personal brand while still in college. By securing endorsements during their college years, athletes can establish themselves as valued members of their university community, develop important business skills, and create valuable connections that can benefit them in their future careers.
Many brands want to work with micro-influencers, people on social media with 1,000 to 100,000 followers. This is the perfect opportunity for female student-athletes, student-athletes from non-revenue-generating sports, and lower-profile student-athletes to earn on the NIL market. Although their followings may be small compared to professional athletes and some college athletes in revenue sports, these influencers provide high engagement and ROI from their social media posts, which is much more valuable to brands than simply impressions.
Several student-athletes, including NC State gymnast Nicole Webb, Nebraska football player Cade Mueller, and Nebraska volleyball player Nicklin Hames, have successfully leveraged their social media presence as micro-influencers. Despite having under 5,000 followers, Webb’s academic excellence and outstanding performance as a gymnast enabled her to partner with Shuckin’ Shack Oyster Bar, generating income while promoting the restaurant to her audience. Similarly, Mueller and Hames teamed up with Muchachos in Lincoln, Nebraska, agreeing to promote the restaurant on their social media in exchange for NIL endorsements. These collaborations not only provided exposure to the brands among new audiences but also provided an opportunity to support student-athletes who would not otherwise receive significant NIL endorsements.
NC State Gymnast Nicole Webb, Nebraska football player Cade Mueller, and Nebraska volleyball player Nicklin Hames are all examples of student-athletes who have benefitted from being micro-influencers. Even though Webb has under 5,000 followers, due to her high academic esteem and performance as a gymnast she became a partner with Shuckin’ Shack Oyster Bar, getting paid while exposing her audience to the Shuckin’ Shack franchise. Likewise, Mueller and Hames partnered with Muchachos in Lincoln, Nebraska, offering to promote the restaurant on their social media in exchange for NIL endorsements. These partnerships not only offered the brands exposure to new audiences but provided them an outlet to support student-athletes who otherwise would not receive exorbitant NIL endorsements.
Most of the benefits NIL provides to college sports derive from one simple factor: NIL incentivizes players to stay in college longer. Because the top athletes can now make good money playing their sport in college, it gives them the incentive to finish out the remainder of their degree rather than jumping to the pros after meeting their minimum school requirement. Once the better players are incentivized to stay, fan engagement and interest will increase, and college sports will be better able to compete with professional sports leagues in revenue, viewership, and fan engagement.
The benefits of name, image, and likeness for college athletes and college sports as a whole are numerous and far-reaching. While some critics have raised concerns about competitive balance and the exploitation of athletes, many of these criticisms are largely misguided or overstated. The ability for college athletes to profit from their NIL can provide much-needed financial support and professional development opportunities, while also increasing fan engagement and interest in college sports.
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Benefits of NIL include:
The amount of money that college athletes can earn from their NIL varies widely and depends on several factors, including the athlete’s sport, popularity, and social media following. In terms of what are NIL benefits for these athletes, some earn significant sums of money through endorsement deals, while others may only earn small amounts through social media influencing or other opportunities. To learn more, check out our list of the highest-paid athletes in the NIL era.
Since the implementation of NIL rules, several college athletes have benefited from the opportunity to profit from their own name, image, and likeness.
Yes, NIL is generally considered to be good for college athletes, as it provides them with an opportunity to profit from their own name, image, and likeness, and to build their personal brands while they are still in college.