CGN Roundtable: On Name, Image, Likeness

NCAA athletes can finally profit off their name, image and likeness thanks! To get a quick, high-level understanding of how it’ll all work, take a minute to read through our explainer article from last week. Once you have a general understanding, dive into this week’s roundtable, where we’ll be discussing what we hope to see from gymnasts with NIL, where we think it’ll eventually lead, the wildest endorsement deals we can think of and more.

What are your thoughts on NIL? Let us know in the comments or on social media.

What are your initial thoughts on NIL?

Elizabeth: Obviously this was a long time coming, and I’m glad athletes can earn money from random Instagram companies and podcast advertisers like Gopuff and Hello Fresh like the average person on the street. But I don’t think it’s going to be that significant except for the top 1% of college athletes who can get “real” endorsements. TBD.

Brandis: With billions of dollars being made off the backs of student-athletes yearly, giving them NIL rights was the fair thing to do. I think it’s great that these athletes are now capable of earning money from doing what they do best, but I don’t know if they’re quite ready for all the extra effort and work making these business deals is going to entail.

Katie W: I’m excited for the opportunities athletes have to maximize marketing themselves away from their sport and within their sport. I think it’s a great opportunity for college athletes to earn some money and recognition. I wonder if this will also increase the talent pool for NCAA sports with athletes having the opportunity to make money while in college.

Ryan: I’m thrilled that the unfair business model college sports have followed for decades may finally be starting to change. The NCAA has made billions from athletes without sharing any of the profits, and while NIL is just a first step, it might help put that money back in the hands of the people who earned it. I’m excited to see what the future changes might be!

Tavia: I’m excited that the athletes get this opportunity! It’s only fair that the athletes can capitalize on their own name, image and likeness when their schools and the NCAA have been capitalizing on athletic success for years. I am interested to see which athletes will actually be able to get contracts with major companies since there are now thousands of new people willing to advertise for companies. I was honestly a little overwhelmed with the amount of gymnasts saying their “DMs were open” to talk with brands, so I can only imagine how the companies are feeling. The opportunities seem limitless at this point. I’m most excited to see all the merch that gymnasts come up with!

Tara: I’m excited that athletes can have the opportunity to capitalize on their name, image and likeness! I think just having the opportunity to make money and benefit is a HUGE step in the right direction. I’m sure some will decide not to take advantage, but for those who do, I’m glad they can. Echoing Brandis, I’m not sure they’re totally ready for the extra effort required for brand deals. However, I think a lot of good can come from it beyond that, whether it be learning how to market yourself or manage money (and hopefully schools will help with this). It’s definitely been a long time coming. 

Emily M: I agree with my fellow editors, it was a long time coming, and that it will begin to adjust the imbalance of power in the NCAA. I think it’s worth remembering that the NCAA is a business. It exists to make money, so it is only right that the athletes generating that revenue should make money, too.

How do you think gymnasts or the sport of gymnastics will benefit from it (or not)?

Elizabeth: I’ve seen some articles claiming it’ll be the death of non revenue college sports, but I don’t really believe that. Gymnastics, for example, has plenty of niche companies and markets that gymnasts can take advantage of. You don’t have to be TikTok famous to profit off NIL. Look at Derrian Gobourne who already has a leo deal. I think it’ll only bring more exposure to the sport, especially if the sport’s big names take full advantage.

Brandis: Especially with the Olympics this summer, I think there will be a good deal of college gymnasts making a decent chunk of money from endorsements. However, with gymnastics being more of a “niche” sport outside of Olympic years, I wonder how many opportunities there actually are for gymnasts. Are we going to see ads with tons of gymnasts, or just a few raking up all the money?

Katie W: I think if more Olympians continue to compete in college gymnastics, it will definitely widen the college gymnastics fanbase, which will hopefully result in higher viewership and more coverage. I mean Olivia Dunne is the most followed NCAA athlete on social media and she’s not one of the top top gymnasts, so I think it can definitely increase exposure. 

Ryan: The first thing that comes to mind is that gymnasts will be able to benefit financially from going viral while they’re still in college. Katelyn Ohashi has several high-profile endorsements now that she has finished her NCAA career, but it’s my understanding that with NIL she could have had similar endorsements while still competing. It would be great to see the next viral gymnast star in a major campaign, because it might help attract new interest to the sport. However, my gut tells me that the majority of the benefits from NIL will go to the popular men’s sports. I’m worried athletic department spending could become even more lopsided as administrators try to lure in business partners to recruit for football and basketball.

Tavia: I think that gymnastics will benefit from the new rules because many of the gymnasts will be able to monetize posts that they were already doing anyway. More elites will also be able to participate in college gymnastics without sacrificing any possible endorsement deals. However, I feel like only the big names in every sport will really be able to capitalize on the change in rules, so the effects may honestly be negligible on sports as a whole. 

Tara: I think it has potential to bring more exposure to the sport at the college level, especially if bigger companies and/or gymnastics-focused companies like leotard companies ink deals with gymnasts. They’ll also be able to benefit from their social media presence, so gymnasts such as Olivia Dunne won’t have the either-or decision of social media endorsements or competing in college. And, like others have said, I think there’s a possibility that more Olympians go on to compete in college since they can still make money via NIL. 

Emily M: Gymnastics has so many products inherent to it that are already endorsed by athletes in the pro world (think leos, that Nastia Liukin beam pad, Simone-branded everything). I think brands like GK and AAI will recognize the value of putting NCAA faces on their products in addition to those mega-famous elite athletes, so I can see that being a big revenue-generator for some of the bigger names in college, and might in turn increase collegiate gymnastics visibility in the wider gymnastics community.

How do you see NIL playing out this season? In three years? In five years?

Elizabeth: Brandis says this in a much better way than I’m about to, but NIL was so rushed that I think there are going to be a lot of speed bumps over the next few years. Whether that means athletes accidentally breaking the rules or finding loopholes the NCAA later plugs up, time will tell.

Brandis: Honestly, I think these first few seasons with NIL in effect could be a disaster. With how rushed the NCAA was in creating NIL rules and with every state seemingly having different NIL laws as well, I think we might end up seeing athletes being punished for accidentally breaking rules. However, as time passes and the kinks get ironed out, I think NIL will end up primarily being a benefit to college athletes.

Katie W: I’m sure there will be bumps in the road while everyone navigates the NIL rules, but I think in the long run it will benefit NCAA athletics. I am interested to see how this may alter the college commitment decision for athletes. It could be a matter of exposure to brands based on schools and which colleges/universities are capitalizing on the opportunities NIL provides more than others. 

Ryan: This season will definitely be a test of what’s possible. I don’t think we’ll see anything too outlandish because people aren’t entirely sure what they can and can’t do yet. As things become clearer, I think we’ll see more and more creativity, both on the part of the universities and the athletes themselves. Certain programs will probably become known for landing endorsement deals within specific industries, and gymnasts will play off each other to promote themselves in their own unique way.

Tavia: I think the first couple years are definitely going to be a bumpy ride as everyone figures out where the line in the sand is really drawn. This is especially true in the states that have not currently passed the legislation to allow for NIL. I think there will be a fight to allow international students to participate in NIL, too. Within five years, I think the hype around NIL will die down. Athletes will continue to accept deals if they’re offered, but I think they will be less inclined to actively pursue contacting companies.

Tara: This big of a change this quickly is bound to have some bumps in the road at first. At the same time, there’s more hype around it now than there will ever be. As time goes on, I think we’ll see things even out, and athletes will have a better idea of how to navigate the NIL landscape, resulting in more meaningful partnerships between brands and athletes. 

Emily M: Others have hit on this, but I think it’ll be chaotic. Everyone is sort of flailing, from brands to athletes and NCAA compliance offices. No one really knows where this is going or how we’ll get there, so I think it’ll be a few years before there’s any kind of clarity around how the process should work.

How will this change the elite landscape if at all?

Elizabeth: I definitely see more elites continuing in college because they don’t necessarily have to go pro to earn money. Sure they still won’t be able to accept prize money, for example, but they can sign a deal with Nike if they want or be the face of Visa or whatever.

Katie W: I mentioned this earlier, but I think we will continue to see an increase in the amount of elites that compete in college gymnastics with the opportunity to work with brands.

Ryan: My hope is that teenage elites will feel less pressure in regards to “going pro.” I couldn’t imagine trying to decide between competing in college or being paid for a sponsorship when already faced with the daily stress of trying to make an Olympic or a world championship team. If younger elites can capitalize on their success without giving up their opportunity for scholarships, we might see more of them in NCAA. I’d also like to think that if well-known NCAA gymnasts can continue making money, they might continue with elite past college, maybe in competitions like the FIG world cup circuit.

Tavia: I’m not sure that this change in rules will impact elite gymnastics that much. It may reduce the amount of hesitance of elites to enter the college gymnastics world some, though.

Tara: Hopefully the “go pro or compete in college” decision becomes less daunting because they can get some of the benefits of going pro without sacrificing NCAA eligibility. As a result, I’m hopeful we’ll see more elites choosing to go the college route. 

Emily M: I have to wonder if some elites who hang on through a quad to push for the visibility of Olympic Trials will choose to drop to level 10 or go to college depending on the timing, knowing that NIL allows for increased visibility already. Then again, the Olympics are the goal, right? So maybe nothing will change at all.

Do you have any initial concerns about NIL from what we’ve seen so far?

Elizabeth: I’m going to go ahead and admit that I’m already tired of the “nonsense” deals gymnasts have accepted so far. Yes, get that money, but also don’t just take any old thing that moves in your direction. Also, we need to talk about Barstool. It’s a horrible, terrible, misogynistic company, and I hate that we’ve already seen so many gymnasts announce they’re “Barstool Athletes.” This is a good lesson in researching the brands and companies you endorse before signing on to promote them.

Katie W: Elizabeth brings up such a valid point that athletes need to be educated by the NCAA and/or universities/colleges. Additionally, I hope athletes are able to balance time effectively because creating brand content is time consuming to add into their already stressful schedules. 

Ryan: I’m uneasy that businesses will try to take advantage of athletes who don’t do their research. The excitement of it all might cause people to rush into unfair compensation or shady contracts. I’m also concerned that female athletes, and especially gymnasts, will promote products or companies that damage young people’s physical and mental health. We’ve all seen ads for “detox teas,” weight loss gadgets and supplements, tanning oils and beauty products from influencers on social media. I don’t want to see NCAA gymnasts promoting unattainable body standards or dangerous fads to their fans, who tend to be young girls.

Tavia: My only real concern is the fact that working with brands is a full time job on top of being an athlete and getting an education. Being a student athlete is already a lot of work all by itself without adding the responsibility of making content to advertise for a brand. This concern really depends on the amount of content each individual athlete has to make to fulfill their contract. If the amount of posting is not much more than their normal, this concern may be negligible in effect.

Tara: Student-athletes already have a lot on their plates–this is just something else to manage and balance along with what they already do. I hope they’re able to take the time to learn about companies before endorsing them (hopefully schools’ NIL programs can help with this also) so that they’re not blindly supporting questionable companies. Also, please don’t let there be an influx of athletes joining sketchy MLMs. 

Emily M: MLMs are bad, full stop. We already see plenty of gymnasts hawking Arbonne and the like after their careers end. I really hope that doesn’t filter into the NIL landscape; I don’t want to see these predatory brands taking advantage of student-athletes. And like Ryan pointed out, we don’t need kids seeing their college gym idols trying to sell them diet drinks, yanno? 

What questions do you still have about NIL?

Elizabeth: I’m still a little fuzzy on the details about recruits and how they can capitalize on NIL. Can 6 year olds (aka their moms) now create that profitable YouTube channel and still have college eligibility? What’s something we might think is OK but is actually against NIL rules? I also wonder how those post-meet autograph sessions will work. Will gymnasts now get paid to do those? Will they be turned into paid events? Will we start seeing gymnast T-shirt leos for sale?

Brandis: What are the consequences for breaking rules? Like I alluded to before, how will the NCAA, schools and states all make sure rules are followed and enforced? With so many sets of rules, we may end up with lots of conflict over who was and wasn’t punished and how.

Ryan: My first question is: When can I buy my Trinity Thomas jersey? Seriously though, I agree with my fellow editors that I’m unsure where the line is. I hope the NCAA will be somewhat forgiving at first, so we don’t have to find out what kinds of sponsorships are too far when an athlete is suspended or banned.

Tavia: I’m still confused as to where the boundary is and how it will be enforced. For gymnastics, there seems to be little difference between NIL and going pro. Our sport is not one where a gymnast can be officially paid to perform. “Going pro” mainly is related to the ability to get ad deals and work with brands. How will the NCAA and schools differentiate between the two? There doesn’t seem to be a clear black and white here, so I’m interested to see how the NCAA handles the gray.

Tara: I still have questions about how it will work pre-college. Is there an age boundary? What are the limits there? How will the NCAA navigate these lines, and how forgiving will they be if there’s a violation, especially an inadvertent one? How will recruits be educated on this to ensure they don’t break the rules before they even enter college? 

Emily M: I agree with Tara and Elizabeth, and have some questions about what it will mean for youngsters. You know, the future “Amazing 7-year-old gymnast Sage” type YouTube kids. Can those YouTubes be monetized without affecting eligibility? What are the limits? Will this open up superstar level 10s to monetizing their Instagram accounts? It seems especially tough for pre-college kids because they don’t have a compliance officer to call up and ask if something is alright. Will the NCAA dedicate someone in the eligibility center to help college-bound athletes navigate these waters?

Now for some fun. What’s the wildest endorsement you can think of that you want or hope a gymnast signs on to promote?

Elizabeth: This isn’t necessarily wild, but I want merch! I want leos and T-shirts and custom logos. I also want more YouTube video vlogs (that are done well and aren’t boring).

Tavia: The funniest endorsement ideas I’ve seen so far have been for Depends or Poise. 

Ryan: I would love to see a gymnast capitalize on their unique name or nickname with a super out-there endorsement. The first one that comes to mind is Felicia “Fish” Hano promoting frozen fish fillets or a seafood restaurant. Maybe I’m the only one who would find that funny, but if they make money, why not? We could have Sierra Brooks in a Sierra Mist commercial, Lexy Ramler on billboards for Ram trucks and Nya Reed on boxes of clarinet reeds. Athletes in other sports have certainly signed on for weirder gigs than that.

READ THIS NEXT: Name, Image, Likeness Set to Begin July 1

Article by Elizabeth Grimsley, Brandis Heffner, Ryan Wichtendahl, Katie Walsh, Tavia Smith, Tara Graeve and Emily Minehart

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