Let me see if I’ve got this straight: the NCAA doesn’t allow student-athletes to be compensated for the use of their name, likeness and image, but has no problem allowing them to promote the use of their name, likeness and image.
Snell is part of a growing number of college athletes capitalizing on their popularity. The NCAA prevents athletes from endorsing products or being paid by sponsors, but they’re allowed to turn themselves into online personalities. And that helps lay the groundwork for future deals.
It’s a trend that Jim Nagy, executive director of the Senior Bowl, has noticed over the past few years. By building a personal brand in college, athletes “can really monetize themselves when they become professionals, rather than start from scratch in whatever NFL city they end up in,” said Nagy, a former NFL scout.
Evidently, it’s not spending time commercializing yourself that’s a problem. It’s getting to the commercially viable stage while you’re still in school that is.
The really perverse twist to this is that schools are starting to take advantage of it. No, really.
INFLCR was founded in 2017 by Jim Cavale, a former college baseball player who felt NCAA athletes were losing out on a golden opportunity to leverage their stardom. Schools pay between $10,000 and $50,000 per year for the service, and in return athletes receive approved content on their phones right after a game or practice. The service uses the professional cameramen that schools already employ.
“Athletic departments are often so focused on the return on investment, which to them means ticket sales or merchandise sales,” Cavale said. “Our service is a different kind of play. This is about recruiting, reaching a wider audience, and a better student-athlete experience. It’s a bit more abstract.”
Schools are coming around to the idea. Kentucky bought the Snell Yeah trademark and website, then transferred both to the running back after he left school. Guy Ramsey, who oversees the Wildcats’ website and social media, said the department’s approach has evolved over the past few years to become more collaborative. The school understands that its athletes reach an audience that the Wildcats’ accounts often miss.
“It even dips into recruiting,” Ramsey said. “It’s difficult to get a recruit to follow your brand account sometimes. But if you have an ambassador putting content out through their own personal lens, that’s then a reflection of our own brand.”
So there it is: kids, you can have the brand. You just can’t have the money.
I’m sure this makes sense to somebody. I’m not sure how they keep a straight face about it, though.