Post 1: Opening the Can of Worms (Brands)
The NCAA Division 1 Council is voting on new rules related to collegiate athletes' abilities to generate income from their names, images, and likenesses (NIL) this coming January. There is a long-running debate amongst sports fans about whether colleges should pay athletes. College sports seems to be a big business with full stadiums, billion-dollar TV deals, and multimillion-dollar coaching salaries. But it's a strange business because the players' compensation is tightly regulated.
The classic debate is whether the institutions should directly pay the players. What is currently on the table is related but significantly different. The NCAA is not moving to transfer the income generated by the athletes to the athletes. The NCAA is loosening the constraints or rules that limit athletes from making money from their own enterprises.
It's not a good place to be.
NIL is a simple idea, but like any solution to a problem that has grown over the decades, there may be all sorts of complexities and unforeseen consequences.
It's too much of a topic for a single post.
As the NCAA's meeting nears, we will be digging into the issue from various perspectives. There will be some conceptual discussion where we look at the underlying issue in terms of economics and marketing principles. There will be some analytics where we dig into the limited available data to highlight some key issues. And there will be running coverage of what other folks are writing and saying about the topic.
This article from USA Today provides a good starting point.
The article lays out the gist of the current proposal.
More broadly, according to the proposals, athletes would be allowed to use their name, image, and likeness (NIL) "to promote … athletically and nonathletically related business activities (e.g., products, services, personal appearances)." Athletes would be allowed to mention their involvement in sports and the name of the school they attend. However, they would not be allowed to use any institutional marks, such as logos.
Specifically, the proposals say athletes would be allowed "to advertise or promote the sale or use of a commercial product or service, provided there is no institutional involvement in the arrangement."
In other words, the current proposals would allow athletes' to have manage and profit from their personal brands. Branding will be a key theme for the series. Because it is not just about athletes' brands, but it is also about the colleges and brands in a few key industries like athletic shoes.
The branding story is complex, and it will take multiple posts to explain fully.
There is also a vital cultural component to the story.
From the same USA Today story, we have a quote from a fairly high profile Democratic senator.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said in a statement to USA TODAY Sports that the restrictions appear to make the proposal "functionally useless" and, as a result, it "will do little to change the current exploitive state of college athletics."
Blumenthal's quote highlights a key fact about the narrow issue of "NIL" and the broader issue of "Paying the Players." The issue has gone from something that sports fans casually debate to being a charged political issue.
The cultural side of this story is of equal importance to the branding side. Fandom is an incredibly powerful factor for many entertainment businesses. To fully understand NIL and college player compensation issues, we need to dive into the bigger picture and think through how political forces and societal trends are likely to shape the future of college sports.
In the lead up to the NCAA meeting in January, I will be providing a mix of content related to the topic. There will be some original posts that dig into conceptual issues like branding, some commentary that highlights what the media is saying, and some original analyses (a statistical analysis of Instagram data is on the way!).
Check back frequently