Student-Athletes, Social Media and the NIL debate
Student-athletes should be able to profit off of their own name.
Schools should pay student-athletes.
Student-athletes receive enough already.
Money will ruin college sports.
When it comes to the idea of student-athletes making money, there are no shortage of opinions to be found. And we’re not going to add to that here. But what we are going to do is discuss where we think this is going based on current events. Recently, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill (it takes a few years before it actually becomes law) that will allow student-athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness (NIL). SB206, also known as the Fair Pay to Play Act, is not about schools paying student-athletes, it’s about student-athletes being able to make money off of their own name (think a car commercial for a local dealership, endorsing a local – or national – restaurant, etc). Other states have now introduced similar bills.
Update: the NCAA has now issued a statement on the issue. The NCAA Board of Governors states that they are beginning the process to enhance NIL opportunities for student-athletes. President of Ohio State University and chair of the board Michale Drake stated, “We must embrace change to provide the best possible experience for college athletes.”
Update to the update: In what some are calling a landmark moment, on April 29 the NCAA Board of Governors announced their support for “rule changes to allow student-athletes to receive compensation for third-party endorsements both related to and separate from athletics. It also supports compensation for other student-athlete opportunities, such as social media, businesses they have started and personal appearances within the guiding principles originally outlined by the board in October. There is a lot still to be done and nothing is official. The next step is to formalize the rules, vote/adopt them in January and implement them for the 2021-22 school year.
The idea is that student-athletes, like pro athletes, are brands and should be able to make money off of that brand. To drive the point home, Governor Newsom released the video of the signing of the bill on the Uninterrupted, a brand/platform owned by LeBron James.
Again, no opinions on the statement here but the implications are important. One thing we do agree on is that student-athletes are brands. They were brands before they got to campus, and they become even bigger brands during their time on campus. For many student-athletes, these 4 years are their most valuable as it relates to being a public brand. The starting QB may, instead of going to the NFL, go on to be an accountant. The star PG of the women’s basketball team may become an attorney rather than play in the WNBA or overseas. A local business may see them as a valuable spokesperson today, but just another productive member of society tomorrow. And the opportunity for them to capitalize on that opportunity gets lost. Social Media is where they can have real, tangible, profitable influence.
For 9 years, we’ve been working with schools from Power 5 programs down to DIII and NAIA schools to educate, equip and empower their student-athletes to build their brand on purpose. It’s not just about the content they share, it’s about the consistent story they tell. It’s the pictures and videos, but it’s also the interactions and opinions. It’s not just a game day or practice photo, it’s sharing what life is like on campus, on the road. It’s not about them as an athlete, it’s about them as a person. It’s the reputation they build.
We’ve been fortunate to impact more than 150,000 student-athletes during that time and as time goes on, we’ve heard back from them about how changing the way they used social media helped them get a job after college, get endorsements, get recognition, build a real platform.
The reality is that work just became even more critical. Whatever your thoughts on the issues, change is coming. And while we’ve been preaching to student-athletes to change how they use social media these 4 years to prepare them for success for the next 40, it appears that the opportunity will now be to change how you use social media for success TODAY.
And this isn’t just about star football and basketball players. We’ve worked with student-athletes from Olympic sports at small universities who have tens of thousands (sometimes hundreds of thousands) of followers on social media. Everyone is trying to reach this generation, and there’s nobody better to do that than this generation. While student-athletes are brand ambassadors for the university, they will become brand ambassadors for other brands as well – and profit off of it. (this already happens with non-athlete college students) And their social media accounts are and will continue to be the channels for that influence.
Yes, there are a number of issues that have to be worked out and considered, but this is the direction things are going. You don’t have to like it or agree with it, but you do have to recognize and adapt to it. And for student-athletes, they are going to need (and want) help. “How can I build a profitable platform?” is going to be a question they are asking. And yes, performance on the field/court matters but their performance online will be just as much of a factor. And the athletics departments that are intentional about preparing them will have an edge. In the arms race of student-athlete recruitment, the importance of helping them build their brand just got kicked up another notch.
The need for social media education has never been greater. Student-athletes will need guidance, wisdom, a road map, encouragement. They may have used the platforms for years, but building a strong personal brand won’t happen on accident. That requires intentional support, education, equipping, empowerment.
The future is here. We’ve been preparing for it for a decade. We’re here to help you be ready as well.
Fieldhouse Media is an award-winning firm dedicated to helping athletics departments get the most out of their social media efforts, from educating and training student-athletes, coaches and administrators, to providing an overall department strategy. To find out more about us or to join the more than 250 schools utilizing our services for their athletics department, contact us today.
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