College Athletes Can Now Benefit From Their Name, Image & Likeness — But Should Shoe Brands Rush to Invest?

As of today, after years of debate, college athletes can finally get paid from their name, image and likeness.

Late yesterday, the NCAA announced that an interim policy was adopted by all three divisions suspending name, image and likeness rules. This will impact both incoming and current student-athletes across all sports.

With the new interim policy in place, brands in the footwear space have a fresh opportunity to tap into a young, influential and energetic student-athlete base. But is the investment worth it?

According to Marc Beckman, founder and CEO of advertising agency DMA United, footwear companies would be wise to explore this untapped resource. “From a marketing perspective, this generation will be relatable and approachable to Gen Z and younger, and in turn, influence footwear-based purchases,” Beckman said.

Matt Powell, The NPD Group Inc. senior sports industry adviser, believes brands can align themselves with student athletes at a value, if they act early.

I don’t think you’re going to have to spend tens of millions of dollars here. You probably can get an athlete to [endorse products] for $10,000, not $10 million,” Powell said. “If endorsing an athlete like this moves the needle, then we’re going to see more and more money being put into it.”

Still, the industry insider believes brands should exercise caution when tapping this source.

“It would take a special kind of athlete to really leverage this. If you take the star quarterback or the star softball pitcher and get them to wear your clothes, is it going to influence people to want to wear the products? I’m not so sure. But if a brand signs a marquee athlete and that athlete is able to drive sales, I think brands will rush in and do much more of this,” Powell explained.

Powell also believes performance on the field or court isn’t the lone barometer in selecting a student-athlete to back. “A sense of style, a marketable personality and performance on the playing field are all the qualities that you want to evaluate in terms of the endorsement of an athlete,” he said. “It’s all about personality, fashion style and, obviously, performance on the field — it’s a package of all those things.”

Late yesterday, Darren Rovell of The Action Network released a ranking of today’s college athletes across all sports who could lead the charge in capitalizing on the NCAA’s new policy. At the top of the list was Spencer Rattler, quarterback for the Oklahoma Sooners, who often provides glimpses of his fashion preferences on social media — featuring such looks as the Comme des Garçons Play x Converse Chuck 70 “Multi-Hearts” and the Off-White x Nike Dunk Low “University Red”.

Rovell also revealed the social media followings of each athlete. Rattler, for instance, has an Instagram count of 377,000, and 63,100 on Twitter. The student-athletes with the broadest reach on social media are LSU gymnast Olivia Dunne, who has 3.9 million followers on TikTok and 1.1 million on Instagram, and LSU basketball standout Shareef O’Neal — the son of NBA icon Shaquille O’Neal — with 2.7 million followers on Instagram and 322,000 on Twitter.

Both Beckman and Powell believe brands ranging from upstarts to industry giants will pursue student-athletes, but they actually give the edge to smaller companies for signings.

“I really see the opportunity here for the guerrilla marketing side of smaller brands who have a little bit of an edge, an attitude to be ones that might benefit from this,” Powell said. “Brands that have more of a fashion legacy as opposed to the brands that are really trying to sell athletic products.”

Beckman noted, “The old guard is too staid and will apply its formulaic approach to identifying, securing and activating collegiate-level athletes. But naturally, they will also miss a few — which will open the industry to innovative fashionable brands being launched.”

Nike, Adidas and Jordan Brand are all players that Beckman believes will be active in signing student-athletes, but he predicts another name could make the biggest splash. “Don’t be surprised if Converse comes out of the gate with a surprising lead against the other brands. They are reinventing and speaking the language of this younger generation,” Beckman said.

For Powell, the signing edge could go to Puma. “It’s a smaller emerging brand, really all about fashion — although they’re making some performance product,” he said. “For a small amount of money, you get a kid wearing Puma product on the campus. Let’s see if that means anything to the business.”

In addition to Puma, Powell believes non-athletic brands could make some noise, specifically outdoor standout Chaco, which offers sandals that have traditionally been a staple on the campuses of SEC schools.

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