A Different View of NIL
Like so many, I’m thrilled that the student-athletes have the opportunity to make money while in school. This should have happened a long time ago. Yet, like so many others, I have concerns about how the players are going to do it. Will they have the time and dedication to building an audience, continue networking, engaging with potential clients and exceeding expectations when hired? Or will they get bad advice, make poor choices and/or do more harm than good by hiring people to represent them?
My worst initial fears recently played out. I’m not going to give names to protect the innocent but here is what transpired.
I have a friend who does marketing for a mid-sized business in a college town that is home one of the most prominent schools in the nation. We had spoken about opportunities to utilize student influencers – including athletes – to generate exposure and revenue.
He had arranged to have a call with the agent who was representing two players on the top-ranked football team. I agreed to join him. To put it bluntly, this recap should be a wake-up call to the athletes, their schools and families and those who say they are “representing the best interests of their clients.”
The call was not with the agent, but instead with someone I’ll call the “screener.” After going through the traditional intros where my friend and I both explained our long-time connections in college sports and understanding of NIL, the conversation veered towards who the agent is and his desire to “work with us to find the unique opportunities that fit both parties.” Within five minutes my marketing jargon bingo card had been filled.
Never did the screener thank us for showing interest in college students. Instead, it was a typical sales pitch as if we wanted to hire a professional all-star to engage with attendees at a big brand’s trade show booth. There was no humility. No warmth. No “this is kind of cool for the guys” talk. The call was never about the players. In fact, the screener did not even know what high school they went to.
The screener essentially used a poorly-executed script and a worse game plan, indicative of his agency representing NFL, MLB players while touting they helped generate record contracts. They clearly have not adapted to this college sports thing.
Eventually my friend told him he was interested in potentially utilizing the players as influencers and/or hiring them for a “meet and greet” at the office with staff and potentially alumni on the Thursday or Friday of a football weekend. This was the exact scenario athletes should be benefiting from locally. The screener’s response was, “what other ways can you use them” without offering ideas.
As the call wrapped up, the screener shared he would talk to the agent and get back to us but that he had to jump to another call. It was cold. Not what you would expect from someone representing college kids who should be happy to generate some income. Unless the agents are generating deals with Coke, Target or McDonald’s, there should have been a much more positive response.
The agency, the agent and the screener did a disservice to the players. They could be the nicest kids in the world (apparently they are) but that never came across. Instead, my friend was turned off by the conversation and likely won’t want to work with the players as it would entail interacting with the agency. It is also important to note that as I write this - 10 business days after a call where no terms or fees were discussed – the agent has still not responded. Who suffers? The players!
The screener treated the call as if these kids already have multi-million dollar contracts. They don’t! And maybe even worse, the screener damaged their reputations. I understand this is business. But everyone involved in NIL from the schools to the players, their families and potential agents need to recognize this is a different form of business.
These players may be the only show in town, but remember that the business community – hotels, restaurants, airlines and even local real estate companies - has survived for generations without NIL. College kids are supposed to be likeable. The more likable the better and more opportunities could come their way!
Like I said, I hope your first experience is better than mine!
KEY TAKEAWAYS FOR ATHLETES AND THEIR FAMILIES:
Your reputation must come first in NIL
NIL is business and marketing. It is therefore critical to surround yourself with the right people who understand how your goals and objectives may match up with potential business partners along with the time and energy you want to devote to NIL work.
If you hire professional representation, remember that they work for YOU. Map out what YOU want. Remember, they are compensated a percentage of your revenue (ex. 10-20%). Therefore a major agency - as I spoke about above - may not have interest in the work involved in netting $200-$400 off of a $2,000 deal you might be thrilled with. I would suggest having friends or family do spot checks on your representation to ensure they are meeting your needs.
If you hire an agency or agent who represents professional athletes, ask a lot of questions including:
If they represent pro athletes why do they want to work with college players?
What types of endorsements did they earn for their new pros and how do they expect your deals to be similar or different?
How will you work with endorsement opportunities in your hometown or college town?
Who will be your main point of contact for those who reach out to them with NIL opportunities? Do you get to interview and approve them? What happens if they change your contact?
What do success metrics look like for you and the agency?
In these early days of NIL, there are no “experts” but plenty who want to profit off of your NIL capabilities.