As players and programs begin to navigate through the new landscape of college sports following the new NIL laws, one school has decided to allow players to capitalize on these rules uniquely. The University of North Carolina has just announced that it will allow its players to sign endorsement deals not only as individuals but also in groups of 3 or more.
The school has partnered with The Brandr Group, which is a small brand agency, to help create this group sponsorship program.
This has potentially large implications for players that are less likely to receive endorsement deals, due to either inferior ability or a less glamorous playing position. Professional athletes for years have signed off NIL deals in small groups to help attract more sponsorship. Now, college athletes that may not receive the most recognition on an individual basis, will be able to enjoy similar benefits.
Deals like this can leave you wondering what kinds of deals a group like the Michigan Fab Five could have secured should they have been allowed to.
The other major effect of this new program lies in licensing deals for merchandise. Most notably, video games. Being able to work with players as groups will make it easier for third-party companies to license video games, trading cards, and other merchandise that includes several college athletes.
They will also allow students to appear on camera with UNC trademarks and logos. This means that players will receive a share of the revenue from their jersey sales, as well as any promotions that show them in Tar Heels gear.
Implying that the days of officially licensed blank jerseys are numbered. Soon fans will be able to buy official jerseys with the names of their favorite student-athletes proudly displayed on the back.
It seems as if UNC is wasting no time in allowing its student-athletes to maximize their profit potential. In a recent interview with the school’s athletic department, Bubba Cunningham stated, “I thought this was the logical next step. Let's take what we're doing institutionally, let's apply it to the students, let those students go to market, and also share in the revenue”. And this is exactly what the program is doing. By allowing players to profit off their jerseys and to be seen in full uniform allows for more lucrative and comprehensive marketing campaigns.
While this will serve as a new and innovative way to compensate players for their countless hours in the gym, some have voiced concerns over group sponsorships. In a recent statement, The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics stated, “The concern is that group licenses will become a new tool for recruiting college athletes and will morph into a form of pay for play. Rules must be put in place to avoid pay for play, impermissible benefits, and improper recruiting or retention arrangements.”.
This concern is a genuine one as programs that allow group sponsorships will be able to promote opportunities for star athletes to help sign deals with fellow athletes and friends. It is not impossible to imagine schools pitching athletes on the idea of signing their best friends to group deals just to secure their commitments.
Although this remains a possibility, and will surely face backlash if it becomes a common practice. What remains true is that allowing group sponsorship and use of official trademarks will allow UNC players, and hopefully soon all college athletes, the opportunity to fully capitalize off the new NIL era in college sports.