We’re nearing the day when a high school athlete could sign an NIL deal with an athletic footwear powerhouse.
Shams Charania, NBA insider with The Athletic and Stadium, broke news via Twitter yesterday that Puma is reportedly close to signing an endorsement deal with Mikey Williams, a high school basketball star with a massive presence on social media. Charania said Williams would sign a deal under the new name, image and likeness rules approved by the NCAA in July.
In an email with FN, Puma said it would not confirm or deny the report at this time.
News of this potential deal between the sportswear giant and Williams has some industry insiders eager to see what it could lead to.
“A deal between Puma and Mikey Williams will be ground-breaking and completely disrupt the relationship between brands, athletes and fans,” explained Marc Beckman, founder and CEO of advertising agency DMA United. “Specifically, it will create a marketplace filled with extended term deal-flow, particularly for elite athletes, starting with teenagers and forecasting into the professional level sports. Consider a scenario where Puma and Mikey lock-up from 17 to 27. This can be accomplished contractually with very little risk to the brands.”
Despite the headlines this news is making, Matt Powell, senior sports industry adviser at The NPD Group Inc., doesn’t believe this news should be shocking or unusual to anyone.
“The system, if you will, has been built around younger and younger ages all along. You have kids like Mikey who are going to an elite basketball school, probably spending more time playing basketball than on his studies, and you have traveling teams and summer tournaments, so kids are being selected as potential pros at younger ages,” Powell told FN. “This has really been the legacy of the pro sports machine and I don’t see this as a massive development.”
Part of the reason Powell believes a high school athlete signing with a major athletic brand isn’t earth shattering news is because companies have been throwing around money at this level for years.
“They’re already making these investments because brands like Nike, Adidas and Under Armour are spending a lot of money supporting these summer tournaments and celebrity tournaments, and they are paying some schools to be endorsers of the brands,” Powell said. “It’s not necessarily going to the players specifically, but there’s money being invested.”
He continued, “If they keep the money reasonably smart here, this is a good strategy. If I can sign Mikey Williams for $10,000 a year and give him some free stuff and have him be inclined to want to wear my brand when he becomes a pro, that’s a positive for the brand. If brands are going to start paying high school kids millions of dollars, they’re out of their minds.”
The celebrity of Williams, who is just 17, is already on the rise, despite the fact that he won’t be NBA Draft eligible until 2024. The baller signed with Excel Sports Management in July to pursue NIL endorsement deals, and in an ESPN report published at the time, the firm’s VP, Matt Davis, said he believes they “will generate millions of dollars for this young man.”
This month, Williams appeared in an ad for the NBA 2K22 video game — while wearing Puma — alongside Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum.
Despite the public profile, Powell believes if Puma does offer him a deal, it will be “relatively small” — between $10,000 and $50,000.
“I don’t see this as being a million-dollar contract,” Powell said. “He’s too far away from being a pro prospect, and we’re not even seeing the blockbuster deals for NBA rookies that we used to see. To make a big bet on even younger kids even further away from playing, that would be dangerous. To say, ‘I want to lock up a player with my brand at an early age’ makes sense, but I don’t think they can put up a lot of money for it.”
Although Beckman did not name a price, he, too, believes the payout won’t be staggering.
“It will be fair and equitable, but not earth-shattering,” Beckman said. “Puma will manage its risk by building in certain mutually agreed upon objective milestones that Mikey will need to realize in order for long-term revenue and bonuses to activate.”
At the end of June, the NCAA announced that an interim policy was adopted by all three divisions suspending name, image and likeness rules that would impact both incoming and current student-athletes across all sports. The interim allows college athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness.
And players did not wait to sign endorsement deals. On July 2, Kellan Grady, a former Davidson College guard who transferred to the University of Kentucky in March, announced that he signed with ISlide. On an Instagram post, ISlide stated Grady’s deal made him the first NCAA player to sign with a footwear brand.