Name, Image, and Likeness: Shoe and Apparel Brands

The sports marketing industry will soon undergo the single most dramatic change in its history, when college athletes are finally granted the right to monetize their Name, Image and Likeness. The mission of Student Athlete NIL is to help brands seize this opportunity and capture the attention of student-athletes, identify the ones that best personify their values, and then develop value-based partnerships with those individuals to mutually reach their goals. Working hand-in-hand, we can finally democratize college athletics.

A non-NCAA athlete may serve as the case study for NCAA athletes seeking to monetize their name, image, and likeness (“NIL”). Chloe Mitchell, a freshman volleyball player at Aquinas College, plays in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (“NAIA”) and is regarded as the first college athlete to monetize her NIL.

The NAIA began allowing athletes to monetize their NIL in October of 2020, and since then, Mitchell has taken advantage despite not being a nationally-known athletic superstar. Because of her prowess on social media, Mitchell has endorsed small golf brands like Bloodline Golf and Delta Putt. She has also worked with a beverage company called Smart Cups.

Although Mitchell’s compensation is undisclosed, Opendorse founder Blake Lawrence suggested her Instagram posts (48,000 followers) could be valued at $516 per post while her TikTok videos (2.6 million followers) could be valued at $15,000-20,000 per video. Her story is just the beginning of what NIL could look like for NCAA athletes.

Enter: shoe and apparel companies. Shoe companies, specifically when it comes to college basketball, have been involved in controversial relationships with college athletes in the past (see Adidas and Nike scandals). The NCAA, in its April 2020 NCAA proposal to Congress, even attempted to define third-party apparel companies as “boosters,” thereby prohibiting athletes from signing NIL endorsement deals with the companies:

“When considering those regulations, the working group recommends that the Board of Governors encourage the divisions to consider the following issues in particular:

  • (2)  Whether certain categories of third-party businesses (e.g., athletics shoe and apparel companies) should be precluded from, or have limited participation in, the newly permitted activities, due to their history of encouraging or facilitating recruiting and other rules infractions[.]”

But despite the plea from the NCAA, no state or federal proposals have prohibited shoe and/or apparel companies from partaking in endorsing college athletes. A few proposals, notably Rep. Anthony Gonzalez and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver’s Student Athlete Level Playing Field Act, prohibited athletes from entering into contracts that could harm their reputation.

If shoe and apparel companies are allowed to sign players, which seems very likely at this point, the companies will likely compete for athletes just like they have already been doing at the professional level. Such competition may feature a caveat, though: whether or not the athlete can sign with a brand conflicting with a team contract.

For example, California and Florida’s NIL legislation does not allow a player to sign an endorsement conflicting with his/her team contract. On the flip side, Sen. Corey Booker’s College Athletes Bill of Rights states athletes can wear conflicting apparel and footwear outside of team activities; during team activities, they only have to wear team apparel (not team footwear).

In an NIL world like California and Florida, a school compliance officer may choose to deny an athlete’s endorsement deal in the case where the school has a contract with Nike and he/she signs a deal with Adidas, In an NIL world like Booker’s federal proposal, the athlete could sign an endorsement with Adidas while playing for a Nike school; the athlete would just have to wear Nike apparel during team activities, but could still wear Adidas footwear (like in the NBA).

In a regulated market where athletes may be limited to certain brands and/or restricted to when and where they can endorse the products, apparel and shoe companies may be less willing to offer as much compensation (although, that may depend on how badly the company would like to recruit the athlete for the long haul).

In more of an open market like Booker’s federal proposal, shoe and apparel companies will likely battle for athletes like they would an athlete entering their first professional year. It’s plausible the situation could be nearly identical. If brands like Nike, Adidas, Under Armour, and others want to recruit the next great athlete, they could offer them a long-term deal.

Some of the largest rookie shoe deals for NBA players have included LeBron James (seven years, $90 million) and Zion Williamson (five years, $75 million). Now, will shoe and apparel brands choose to pursue long-term deals with that type of compensation? Only time will tell.