Name Image and Likeness: What it Means and How It Affects College Athletes

(Kailey Whitman/For The Washington Post)

This summer marked a historic occasion for NCAA college athletes: they are now able to take advantage of name, image and likeness opportunities.

While some states had already passed NIL laws, student athletes across the country can now benefit from this rule change that was officially passed by the U.S Supreme Court and went into effect on July 1st. This is a transcendent change for American collegiate sports, finally collapsing the NCAA’s long-standing constraints on athlete pay. Let’s take a closer look at what name, image, and likeness is, and how this seismic rule change works in the collegiate sports landscape.

Understanding what NIL (Name, Image, and Likeness) is, and how it works:

Name, image, and likeness is, essentially, a person’s personal brand. The recent legislation that was passed allows student athletes to profit off of their personal brand through a multitude of channels, such as endorsement deals, sponsored posts, selling merchandise, and much more. In the past, college athletes could not endorse products or services, even if no payment or monetary compensation was received. The NCAA rule change regarding NIL changed this by allowing athletes opportunities to profit from their personal brands and be paid by local or national businesses in exchange for publicity and promotion. These changes can be boiled down to a few simple points, which U.S News broke down for us concisely here:

  • Athletes can now engage in NIL activities in compliance with state laws and colleges can serve as a resource for NIL legal questions

So what is fair game for athletes? Basically, it’s anything that is not a direct reward or compensation for your athletic performance. There should always be clear expectations on what the athlete is providing in return for monetary compensation, and NCAA rules that prevent universities from paying players directly have remained intact. No payments can be used as recruiting inducements, and there will still be restrictions on some opportunities available to athletes. These restrictions vary on state laws and policies created by the schools themselves.

Evaluating its impact on college athletes:

The impact of the NIL rule changes on current and prospective college athletes is substantial. Who they choose to associate themselves with allows athletes to shape how they want to be perceived to professional leagues, other interested brands, and their fanbase.

“You are establishing, potentially, your lifetime brand and who you want to be associated with going forward,” said Kenneth Shropshire, a professor and CEO of the Global Sport Institute at Arizona State University — Tempe. “It’s not just something that the university is concerned about. Individual athletes should take a moment to reflect on what they want to be associated with.”

Thilo Kukel, a professor and director of the Sports Industry Research Center at Temple University, had a similar sentiment.

“I think, regardless of the division and regardless of the sport, the name, image and likeness value of an individual athlete will vastly depend on how they’re able to build a powerful personal brand.”

So far, there have been numerous athletes who have cashed in on this new era of NIL. Examples of some of the early deals include sponsorship agreements with gyms, pet care companies, restaurants, beverage companies, and more. While some are worried that the NIL rules will negatively impact the priorities of college athletes, many are optimistic about the change and think it is about time athletes are able to start making money by selling their name, image, and likeness.

“It is impossible to overstate the importance of this development,” said J. Michael Keyes, an intellectual property attorney at the Dorsey & Whitney law firm. “By some estimates, the sports merchandising market over the last few years hovered around $15 billion. It’s about to get a lot bigger very soon.”

Indeed it is — we can expect a future where college athletes can use their names to promote sports brands, sponsor events, and run their own merchandising company. The evolution of athletes as influencers is continuing to develop and become more complex, and we are only witnessing the beginning of it.

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