It’s now been two weeks since name, image and likeness (NIL) became something college athletes could benefit from financially. Though we don’t follow NIL in a comprehensive way, we do watch it pretty carefully as it relates to football. We’ve had notes about NIL signings in our Rep Rumblings reports, and we’ve got the deals, partnerships and endorsers for almost 200 plays in our NIL Grid, which we try to update multiple times weekly.

Here are a few initial thoughts.

  • Agents are clearly using NIL as a gateway to recruiting top players long-term (Steinberg Sports, CAA, Rosenhaus Sports have all signed players to NIL deals). Kudos to the NFLPA for making it crystal clear that contract advisors can get involved in these deals; very often, the NFLPA chooses to stay out of the big issues, which does nothing to help make things clearer and easier to understand.
  • Major sports entities (Barstool Sports, Outkick the Coverage, others) are trying to sign masses of unknown players on merch-only deals; local restaurants are doing the same, trading food for social media hits. It’s a fairly cost-effective way to get into the game without a major commitment while the market sorts itself out.
  • Of course, it’s also worth noting that these relationships are not necessarily forever. About 10 percent of active NFL players fire their agents annually, so it’s logical to presume the same will take place on the NIL side. Right now, many of these players eagerly signed exclusive-rights deals with companies expecting a financial bonanza, but if that’s not in the cards, will they look elsewhere? It seems like a good bet.
  • Schools’ boosters have clearly started using this a legal recruiting tool (Miami, Fla., and Oregon boosters, for instance, have made big moves to enhance their programs with the help of boosters).
  • Also, schools are clearly already using NIL in recruiting (dozens of incoming high-schoolers are already on Cameo and other platforms).
  • Major combine trainers are expressing concern that players will require concessions in costs if they market that the players are working out there. Putting players’ likenesses on social media has always been a major thrust of top training facilities. Nothing attracts tomorrow’s stars like today’s stars.

There have been three main eras dictated by two inflection points in the agent industry in the 20 years since ITL has been around. The eras, as I see it, were the Age of Big Negotiators; the Age of Big Recruiting; and whatever this one turns out to be.

The transition from the first to second era took place with the passage of the 2011 CBA, which dumped the big signing bonuses and led to big fee reductions and big training-plus packages, all as an inducement to sign players that would get to second deals. Now that we’re in the Era of NIL, I’m not smart enough to know where things are going, but I do feel smart enough to know the ground is moving quickly under everyone’s feet.

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