NIL Market Creates New Opportunity for “Non-Revenue” Sports and Regional Endorsers

    June 06, 2022, 08:00 AM

    As the world watches in awe at some of the staggeringly large NIL deals emerging in college sports, many have been equally surprised by which sports have garnered the most NIL attention and earnings. While most of the “Top NCAA NIL-earners” lists are dominated by the premier names of the “revenue sports” i.e., men’s football and basketball, there is a growing number of athletes signing notable NIL deals from “non-revenue” sports, namely gymnastics, wrestling, track & field, and golf. Additionally, female athletes make up a significant number of the NCAA’s highest NIL earners. Many of these athletes have made up for the lack of spotlight and attention given to other sports, by developing sizable social media followings that not only showcase their skills in competition but their marketability.

    Historically, the debate surrounding the compensation of college athletes seemed to presuppose that college athletes were receiving informal compensation via scholarships and other benefits, or would have the chance to get paid later in their athletic careers. However, the apparent reality is that this kind of treatment is reserved for a small minority of the top revenue-generating programs. Moreover, a majority of college athletes will not have the opportunity to play professionally after college, including entire categories of sports that have limited professional opportunities. In light of the significant role that social media plays in the NIL market, athletes from virtually any sport with a notable social media following suddenly have access to the same lucrative opportunities as their counterparts who are consistently featured on College Game Day or March Madness promotions.

    For athletes, there is now equal incentive to work on your social media following alongside your normal strength and conditioning routine. Many self-proclaimed “influencer-athletes” suggest that it is as simple as leveraging your preexisting social media accounts and showcasing your marketability on and off the field. Similarly, for companies and other interested endorsers, there is an incentive to not only get into the NIL market but to consider the unique opportunities that come from working with athletes that have garnered success in “non-revenue sports” to tap into local and regional marketing opportunities. It appears that endorsers are beginning to realize the value and untapped marketing potential of the “hometown hero”. Unfortunately, the resources available for those navigating the NIL market often parallel the resources and attention divided among sports. Self-taught social media marketing can certainly attract endorsers, but as NIL deals become increasingly more commonplace, so does the need for corresponding legal aid to navigate the emerging challenges associated with this market. The Sports & Entertainment Group at Kaufman & Canoles is here to offer the necessary legal services whenever those needs arise.