Companies Rush to Make Name, Image, Likeness Deals With College Athletes

Big brands and local businesses are rushing to make deals with college athletes and their schools under the NCAA’s Name, Image, and Likeness policy.
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Following his experience as a journalist — including 10 years with the Associated Press — Dean Golembeski managed communication departments at public and private colleges. Dean has written about higher education, politics, sports, and more, and has b...
Published on Sep 30, 2021
Updated Nov 12, 2021
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  • National and local businesses are striking deals with student-athletes.
  • Colleges are also reaching new sponsorship deals under NIL policy.
  • Companies view NIL deals as win-wins for attracting customers and supporting athletes.

Since the NCAA changed its rules to allow college athletes to make money off their name, image, and likeness (NIL) last July, big brands and local businesses have rushed to ink deals with athletes and their schools. And more are in the works.

Speaking to Sports Illustrated, Tom McMillen, the CEO of Lead1, which represents the athletic directors of the Football Bowl Subdivision, suggested more deals are likely in the weeks and months ahead.

"It's pretty much a free-for-all," he said.

Some of the partnerships have attracted national attention for the amount of money being spent, while others show viral value on social media. And a few entries to the NIL marketplace have raised eyebrows for testing the new policy's boundaries. Here is a sampling of the deals companies are making with college athletes.

Social Media Stars Shine in NIL Era

Twin sisters Hanna and Haley Cavinder, members of Fresno State's women's basketball team, have over 3.5 million TikTok followers. It's no surprise that they were among the first athletes to make a big splash when they signed as spokeswomen for Boost Mobile.

News of the deal spread across the country after it was announced on social media and displayed on an electronic billboard in New York City. Boost Mobile says it plans to sign 500 more college athletes by the end of the year, targeting Alabama State University, Georgia Tech, Baylor University, Auburn University, University of Minnesota, University of Kentucky, University of Arizona, University of Houston, UCLA, and more..

Arby's, meanwhile, became the latest company to launch a NIL campaign when it signed Ohio State running back TreVeyon Henderson to its Arby's RBs campaign. The national fast-food chain says it will sponsor the first 200 running backs who successfully post about the deal on Instagram and Twitter saying "Tonight, I'm getting Arby's." Each D1 running back will receive $500 and Arby's RBs-branded swag items.

New Deals Test NCAA's NIL Boundaries

In one of the most surprising deals of the NIL era, Louisiana State University (LSU) recently inked a multi-year sponsorship deal with Caesars Entertainment, Inc., a gambling company. Under the deal, Caesars Sportsbook secured the naming rights for the new Caesars Sportsbook Skyline Club at Tiger Stadium, signage throughout the stadium, and additional signage at the school's basketball arena. Caesars also will create an annual scholarship fund to support Louisiana residents who attend LSU.

In another eye-opening deal, Florida Atlantic University quarterback N'Kosi Perry has signed what is believed to be the first NIL deal with an alcohol company for a college athlete. Islamorada Beer Company announced the partnership on Twitter.

Big Brands Go All-In on College Athletes

In terms of more conventional deals, Nike has agreed to a reported six-figure memorabilia deal with University of Oregon football player Kayvon Thibodeaux, and Dr. Pepper signed Clemson University quarterback DJ Uiagalelei to star in the company's latest television ad campaign.

Sam's Club is offering $10,000 each to 10 student-athletes with the name "Sam." The first four to ink deals were University of Central Florida track and field star Samieryah Bradwell, Georgia State University football player Sam Pinckney, UCLA gymnast Samantha Sakti (pictured above), and Southern Methodist University soccer player Sam Estrada.

"Supporting these athletes gives us a chance to connect with members in a new way, support students, and rally behind many under-represented collegiate sports,"Megan Crozier, chief merchant at Sam's Club, said in a news release. "It's a win-win."

In another perhaps unlikely deal, 90 Georgia Tech football players signed a contract with TiVo. Each player received a prepaid debit card worth $404, a TiVo Stream 4K, and other goodies in exchange for promoting the company twice on social media. The company also agreed to provide the school with upgrades to its technology and furniture in the team's video lounge.

In a unique alliance with a third party, Gorilla Glue. has partnered with "The Rich Eisen Show" to recognize "The Toughest Player on Planet Earth" each week. The winner receives an NIL partnership and $1,000 from Gorilla Glue, as well as an invitation to be a guest on Eisen's daily talk show

PlantFuel Life has announced a batch of NIL deals as part of its College Athlete Partnerships Program. LSU gymnast Olivia Dunne, Oklahoma University quarterback Spencer Rattler, and Clemson University defensive lineman Bryan Bresee lead a list of about a dozen college athletes. All of the student athletes received cash and company products. Dunne received stock options in the company, as well.

"We've invested well over mid-six figures in the entire student athlete program for PlantFuel," said company founder Brad Pyatt in an interview with Forbes.

Local Business Reward Hometown College Athletes

Not to be outdone by the national and regional brands, local businesses also have begun striking deals with athletes.

In addition to his Arby's deal, Ohio State's TreVeyon Henderson has partnered with the Ricart Automotive Group, a dealership based in Ohio. Oklahoma University quarterback Spencer Rattler also landed a deal with a local dealership and was given a pickup truck and a car from the Fowler Automotive Group.

In Florida, a University of Miami fan has promised each scholarship football player a monthly check of $500 if they endorse his chain of mixed martial arts gyms on social media. Across the country at Brigham Young University (BYU), all 123 members of the football team have been offered endorsement deals with Utah-based Built Brands. The company also offered all 36 walk-on football players scholarships, though they can use the money however they choose.

BYU women athletes are also getting a shot at making some money from SmartyStreets, a Provo-based company. They will be paid up to $6,000 a year for posting about SmartyStreets on their social media accounts and participating in company events. Over 300 BYU women athletes are eligible to participate, with the company saying it could end up spending as much as $2 million on the program.

Feature Image: Katharine Lotze / Staff / Getty Images Sport