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FSU jumps out ahead of NIL with comprehensive plan

Florida State student-athletes have grown up on social media. Whether they have known it or not, they have been building their personal brand while connecting with family, friends and fans on Twitter, Instagram, Tik Tok and other platforms.

They have also begun to learn in the classroom, taking classes at FSU’s Jim Moran College of Entrepreneurship. A rotating group of professors in various disciplines have instructed on marketing, brands and launching new products. The professors and students have also taken on what has at times been a moving target: Teaching to name, image and likeness legislation that will be law on Thursday, July 1. 

But these are important and necessary steps as they help to educate athletes, coaches and administrators. 

“I started one of my first businesses at age 40, and the mistakes that I make, they can make now at 18, or 19, or 20, and learn through those,” said professor Lanny Lewis, whose experience is in product development, retail and business startup. “When they’re in their mid 20s, or early 30s, maybe they’ve already gone down several business opportunities. We encourage them to kind of take these risks in a safe place. We’re here to support them in any way that we can. And kind of see what unfolds.”

Everyone is curious to see what unfolds beginning Thursday when Florida’s name, image and likeness (NIL) law becomes effective. Florida and a group of other states, including Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee, will allow student-athletes to engage in these activities:

Use their social media to promote a product or service, whether it’s a business they started or they are a paid endorser on behalf of a company.

Run a camp, do instructional videos, advise youth (in person or via Zoom or FaceTime) and act as a paid expert in their sport.

Interact with youth as a mentor.

Sign autographs for pay.

Create merchandise with their name or jersey number.

“Will the star quarterback or leading scorer who is averaging 26 a game for basketball, might they have a chance to be a spokesperson for a car dealership? Probably,” said former FSU athletics director Dave Hart, now a consultant to college administrators. “But they may not be afforded the same level of compensation as the women’s soccer player who has 200,000 followers on Tik Tok. It’s going to be a mixed bag of opportunities, but the opportunities will be real.”

Endorsements for many athletes won’t be in the thousands. They may not even be in the hundreds. Depending on the size of an athlete’s social media following, it could amount to $30 or $50 for a post on Twitter or Instagram. But even some extra spending money is welcomed by athletes.

There are plenty of questions relating to compliance, recruiting, conflicts of interest and an overall lack of balance state by state until there is federal legislation. The NCAA has asked Congress to take action but the reality is the NCAA waited too long, knowing the legislation had been voted upon in various states with a July 1, 2021 effective date. Delay by the NCAA has brought about some level of uncertainty as a few states are evaluating executive orders by the Governor to level the playing field. The NCAA is also meeting this week to discuss options.

What will happen on Thursday? The sky won’t fall.

“It’s not going to be the death to college sports,” Seminole Boosters Inc. CEO Michael Alford said. “Remember when they thought cost of attendance was going to be the death? No. We went about our business. It was the right thing to do. …

“The train is coming. You need to figure it out. And support it. I’m in favor of it. But with the right checks and balances in place.”

On Thursday, a few athletes will legally begin to pursue business deals. Coaches, administrators and professors at FSU have long been working on a plan.

“Education, empowerment, we’re going to elevate their knowledge, their personal brand, their earnings potential, and then their professional readiness,” said Jim Curry, FSU’s senior associate athletics director. “We were pretty intentional at the start that we didn’t want to promise millions because we know that’s not going to be the case.”

The immediate question with NIL was whether college campuses had experts to tackle an issue that legislatively was a moving target but was also new ground. As it turned out FSU had a built-in network of experts, professors like Lewis and Srikant Manchiraju at the Moran College of Entrepreneurship and Luke Hopkins in the business school, to name a few. Lewis and Manchiraju are among those who teach FSU’s two for-credit classes, one designed for freshmen and another for juniors. Incoming student-athletes began taking NIL classes in the fall semester and in the spring semester, with more this summer.

FSU also hired Apex and partnered with INFLCR to collaborate on a comprehensive program to help with educating athletes on the opportunities available to them. Curry said it’s a “comprehensive plan for comprehensive excellence,” a collaborative effort took more than a year in what has been a campus-wide collaboration. Under Florida law, FSU administrators won’t be involved but they have set up a network to educate and help athletes earn NIL money.

“The cornerstone principle from the start of this process was to educate our student-athletes, and education plays a central role in every aspect of Apex,” FSU athletics director David Coburn said. “By partnering with the FSU College of Business, the Jim Moran Institute and INFLCR, we will provide a complete educational process from which our student-athletes will benefit immediately and throughout their lives.”

Through INFLCR, athletes will receive help in growing their brand, create content, track social media metrics and engagement as well as determine the value of a post. It will also help FSU with reporting and disclosure. 

While it’s obvious scrolling through Twitter and Instagram that FSU football players typically have the most followers, softball star Sydney Sherrill (25,000 followers on Instagram) and soccer star Jaelin Howell (14,900 followers on Instagram) could easily be marketable, too.

“I don’t think a lot of people are gonna really get to know what it looks like until it’s in full swing, but I think it’s a great opportunity for all student athletes to profit off of name, image and likeness,” Howell said. “And I think, going forward, Mark (Krikorian) and the rest of the staff are going to come up with a great plan in order to maximize the real benefit that we can have from that.”

A few FSU athletes have taken two Twitter to offer their services on or after Thursday:

https://twitter.com/jordantrav13/status/1408917995636809733

FSU’s administration realized early that NIL would not be limited to just high-profile sports like football and basketball. Or just men’s sports. Opportunities are there regardless of the sport, although the size of an athlete’s social media following is a significant factor.

“We have a department-wide solution for all of our student athletes across all sports,” Curry said. “And I think we all kind of saw this spring, and throughout the year, that there’s opportunities in our Olympic sports in this NIL space. And it was important for us to deliver education and programming and resources to all of our student athletes as we did this.”

One of the concerns is not just determining the value of an athlete’s social media post but how to handle the desire of a local business to pay well above market value for an endorsement. Alford has been part of an NIL working group for more than a year and wonders if a business initially could endorse “through your heart,” and pay an athlete multiple times the going rate. Alford does think the market will eventually correct itself.

Another concern is what happens when an athlete is asked to do an endorsement but has a poor performance in a game or maybe loses his or her starting job. An athlete may fear losing an endorsement and say, “Coach, I have to start.”

“That’s going to be real pressure on the coach,” Alford said. “There’s going to be instances where the student has endorsements they’re going to lose tied into playing time. That’s something our coaches have never experienced.”

But NIL could also influence a student-athlete’s actions. An arrest, even a minor charge, could bring attention to their actions but also the company or product that is being endorsed.

“They’re going to learn real fast if I have a negative influence on the brand I’m representing it’s going to affect my ability to go out and get endorsements,” Alford said.

There could also be advantages on a state-by-state basis until there is a federal law or NCAA legislation, which the organization appears to be rushing into place ahead of the deadline. There are likely aspects of NIL that administrators and coaches haven’t planned for but FSU administrators feel they have covered as many bases as possible within the framework of the state’s NIL law.

Curry said the goal of FSU’s program is to “educate, empower and elevate.” Lewis sees a number of opportunities through social media but also entrepreneurship. It’s possible an athlete could also brand his or her likeness on T-shirts, selling them through social media or in-person events like FSU’s Market Wednesday.

“With NIL coming, it kind of levels the playing field so that a student-athlete, if they want to build a brand and sell T-shirts and their likeness, or any brand that they come up with, it’s fair game,” Lewis said.