Monday, 22 Jul 2024

An Overview of Name, Image, and Likeness in College Sports

On July 1, 2021, the NCAA made a significant change by allowing college athletes to profit from their own name, image, and likeness (NIL). So, what exactly does NIL mean and why does it matter?

In legal terms, name, image, and likeness are the three components of an individual’s “right to publicity.” Let’s break it down:

Name: Your name belongs to you, and nobody should use it for commercial purposes without your consent.

Image: Your image is unique to you, and it shouldn’t be used for commercial purposes without your permission.

Likeness: Your likeness refers to your “semblance.” Think of the silhouette of Michael Jordan on his brand or Arnold Palmer’s signature on Arizona Iced Tea. It includes the features that distinguish you but doesn’t necessarily include your name or exact image.

Now, all NCAA athletes (including NAIA, NJCAA, and CCCAA athletes) have the opportunity to accept compensation for the commercial or promotional use of their name, image, and likeness. They can collaborate with businesses, endorse products and services on their personal social media channels, become the face of marketing campaigns, and earn through appearances, autographs, merchandise lines, and advertising their own camps and lessons.

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Why Does it Matter?

Some argue that college athletes already receive enough benefits through scholarships and exclusive resources. Traditionalists fear that allowing athletes to monetize their NIL will damage the amateurism model and ultimately lead to the downfall of the NCAA.

While it is true that a small percentage of NCAA athletes receive full-ride scholarships and access to exceptional resources, the rollout of NIL reform was always going to be complex and confusing. It represents the most significant change to college sports since the implementation of Title IX 50 years ago.

For example, in the past, restaurants were cautioned against providing even complimentary soda to NCAA athletes as it could be deemed an impermissible benefit. Now, those same businesses are allowed to offer athletes multiple sodas as long as they tweet about it.

Permitting college athletes to monetize their name, image, and likeness was not only inevitable considering the NCAA’s rising revenues but also the right thing to do in an era dominated by social media and influencer marketing.

NCAA Skyrocketing Revenues and Increased Public Awareness

Over the past 30+ years, NCAA revenues have grown significantly. In 1992, the NCAA earned $166 million. Last year, their revenues reached a staggering $1.16 billion, largely due to television and marketing rights fees.

The NCAA has also faced public lawsuits that have drawn attention to its increasing revenues and lack of compensation for athletes. The O’Bannon vs NCAA case, for instance, shed light on the NCAA’s use of former athletes’ likenesses for commercial purposes. While not directly related to NIL, the case highlighted the flaws in the NCAA’s business model.

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These factors, along with additional lawsuits and the Supreme Court’s decision in the Alston case, forced the NCAA to amend its bylaws and allow approximately 500,000 college athletes to monetize their name, image, and likeness.

Rise of Social Media and Influencer Marketing

Social media has revolutionized how people interact and has given rise to influencer marketing. Public figures, including NCAA athletes, now have direct access to their fans through social media platforms.

NCAA athletes, particularly those in nationally televised sports, often have significant platforms with highly engaged followers. Their specific audience, consisting of fans of their sport, school, or team, allows businesses to target precise demographics. NIL has provided these athletes with lucrative influencer marketing opportunities, enabling them to partner with brands.

Even for athletes in sports with smaller audiences, their talent or non-sport-related attributes can attract a substantial following. Limiting their ability to monetize their platforms would be unfair, especially since their demanding schedules often prevent them from holding part-time jobs.

Allowing college athletes to benefit from their name, image, and likeness was the right decision. It provides them with an entrepreneurial opportunity, allows them to build relationships, and gain valuable business experience during their time as student-athletes.

Thank you for reading! Stay tuned for next month’s NIL topic: “What the first year looked like and the opportunity for volleyball athletes.”

About the Author:
Michelle Meyer, a former NCAA athlete and D1 volleyball coach, founded NIL Network in 2020 as a resource hub to assist athletes, coaches, and administrators in navigating this new era of collegiate athletics. In November 2021, she became one of the country’s first NIL Administrators when she accepted the position at San Diego State University.

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