Marketing Insights

College Athletes May Finally See Their Big Pay Day

While there is still much left in the air as far as the specifics of what student athletes can see in terms of compensation and how much control student athletes will have over their image, one thing does remain clear, for many college athletes, change may be on the horizon.

College sports have always been a draw for millions of fans across the nation, and with nearly 8 million viewers tuning in to this year’s March Madness, it should come as no shock that there’s plenty of money to be made. In fact, college sports bring in an average of $1 billion in revenue each year. While organizations like the NCAA and the universities that educate these student athletes certainly stand to make big bucks, there’s been a long standing debate as to whether or not the athletes who are the face of the game should get a piece of the pie as well. 

Former NBA player Jerome Williams, who now owns his own sports marketing agency, Alumni Pros Global Sports shared with Vox earlier this year, “For years, student-athletes, especially those from minority communities, have been disadvantaged from monetizing their image, or what we call ‘player intellectual property,’” Williams adds, “There’s an ongoing revenue stream college athletes are not a part of.”

There may be change on the horizon, however. After much debate and legislation, the NCAA shared that they would take a second look at athletes’ name and likeness policy through what has been called the “College Bill of Rights”. A vote that was supposed to happen at the end of January of this year would have given student athletes the opportunity to profit off of their image. That vote however has been delayed. The delay comes after the Justice Department weighed in asking the organization to pause changes to the policy for the time being.

Under the current policy, Student-athletes are what are referred to as amateur athletes and because of that status, amateur athletes cannot be paid for playing their sport, regardless of how much revenue their sports bring in. This inability to profit off their name and likeness is an overarching umbrella that includes not being able to receive prize money for winning in their sport, not being able to get representation by a professional or an agent, not being able to be sponsored by a company and promoting that company’s products, and much more. 

These restricting rules can make it difficult if not impossible for a student athlete to be able to profit off of their success as an athlete during their college experience. These restrictive measures have been criticized for years as the institutional entities including the universities and the NCAA that impose these rules continue to reap the benefits of successful college players whereas that college players do not. 

How The Rules Might Change

The Athletics Bill of Rights was brought forth by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). This latest push for fairness in college sports has been described as one of the most comprehensive and detailed initiatives yet as far as giving college athletes the opportunity to benefit financially from their performance on a more basic level, the bill would compensate the players who are critical to revenue generation in the first place. 

The main goal of the Athletics Bill of Rights aims to increase student privileges and rights for athletes who compete in the NCAA. Under the new legislation, there would be a sweeping change in the way money generated from college sports would be distributed. After scholarship deductions take place, a student athlete would be able to collect on money that is generated from that division’s sport. At the moment, football, men’s and women’s basketball, and baseball would be the main qualifying sports. In tournaments like March Madness where there are millions to be made, the benefits can be pretty substantial for players. 

In addition to the collection of revenue generated from games, a student athlete would be able to collect on the likeness of their image as well. This means that when it comes to brand partnerships, student athletes would be given the green light to sign on with brands and endorsement deals. They may be able to also collect on any aspects of the industry where revenue is generated because their name is attached to that event or merchandise. 

The bill takes a further step in giving student athletes access to healthcare and a medical trust fund that would follow them for up to five years after their eligibility. This added cushion would be additional support for students who suffer from injuries because of their participation in college sports. 

Student Athletes Could Score Big Through Sponsorships

While the dollar amounts are not clear as far as how compensation would go. Whether it would be a flat sum or a percentage, college athletes may be able to collect on their own image or likeness the way the modern social media influencer does. For example, basketball star Giannis Antetokounmpo is the highest ranked basketball star with a following of 8.5 million. His huge following has opened opportunities with brands including Nike, Hulu, and 2K Sports. Antetokounmpo’s endorsements alone bring in about $28 million. 

Students athletes who can control their own image could have similar opportunities at lucrative endorsement deals. However, when it comes to brand endorsements, social media endorsements, coaching, and even brand deals, it’s still up in the air as far as how many students athletes will actually see, unless of course, they can draw in millions of followers the way Antetokounmpo does. 

ESPN analysts who cover student athletes predict that depending on the athlete and their brand recognition, a player could rack up anywhere from a couple of thousand dollars to even a million dollars. Of course factors including the sport they play, who they play for, rank, and other elements that contribute to name recognition will play a factor in the payout. 

How Much Can Student Athletes Make on Social Media?

If student athletes are granted the ability to profit off of their name, there can be some serious money to be made outside of money generated through the NCAA or the university. Student athletes would now have the ability to establish a brand identity where they can profit off of the likeness of their own image. In the world of social media influencers, the income can quickly rack up, especially if there were to collaborate with sponsors. Overall, payment for a sponsored post depends on how many followers, engagements, and other analytics that player has. On a baseline, sponsored student athletes would be able to bring in as much as traditional sponsored influencers. According to Cleverism, rates for sponsored posts could include the following:

  • 5-10k followers cost $100-$500
  • 10-25k followers cost $500-$800
  • 25-50k followers cost $800-$1,500
  • 50k-100k followers cost $1,500-$2,000
  • 100k-250k followers cost $2,000-$6,000
  • 250k-1mil followers cost $6,000-$10,000

Many of these influencers also receive generous freebies as compensation for posts and it could be assumed that student athletes can expect to see the same. 

Payouts for posts will also depend on the platform. For YouTube sponsorships, the payouts would be through Google’s ad services with Google paying out 68% of the revenue generated by AdSense

One of the most lucrative social media platforms student athletes may be able to take advantage of is Tik Tok. Top influencers on the app include Addison Rae who’s racked in 5 million through her sponsorships with brands like FashionNova and American Eagle. While Rae has a following of almost 80 Million, student athletes could rack up similar amounts if they’re able to amass a following that large. 

Student Athletes Compared To The Pros

Along with lucrative contract deals after a player goes pro, there is additional money that can be made through sponsorship. Sponsorship revenue is only continuing to climb with 2020 seeing an all time high of nearly $1.4 billion of NBA revenue from sponsorships alone. Because these are the big leagues, student athletes may not see payouts to this extent, but if a player such as Zion Williams can generate as much hype as he did, the sponsors may want to pay attention. 

Williams can be a good indication of how much top ranking student athletes may generate in terms of income. After leaving Duke University, the basketball prodigy signed a reported $13 million dollar shoe deal with Nike’s Jordan Brand. 

Entry level players such as Zion still do not compare to the big pay days that seasoned players accumulate through endorsements. Currently, Lebron James leads the way of highest paid with his $60 Million endorsement deals. 

While there is still much left in the air as far as the specifics of what student athletes can see in terms of compensation and how much control student athletes will have over their image, one thing does remain clear, for many college athletes, change may be on the horizon.


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