NIL Deals for High School Athletes Are Here – Promotional Product Companies Should Capitalize

The Friday night lights were in full effect.

On an early September evening that started off mild and cooled off, my 11-year-old second son and I went to watch our local high school football team.

Dylan plays junior football. For him and his teammates, high school players are about half way up NFL stars on the cool scale.

So it didn’t surprise me much when Dylan asked me if I would buy him the jersey of the star tailback of our high school team, which had a game freak bulldozing and juking defenders en route to several affected.

I told Dyl that they didn’t sell jerseys for specific high school players, but that I would get him something else if he wanted. “I really wanted his jersey,” he said, disappointed.

The experience made me think of merchandising and high school athletes.

It sent me down a research rabbit hole that led to this belief: the evolving dynamics of “Name, Image, and Likeness” (NIL) rules for amateur athletes provide growing opportunities for distributors and decorators of promotional products to produce derivative products on behalf of the high school star. athletes.

Of course, it is common for our industry to supply high school uniforms and branded clothing. It would be something different – ​​merch specifically for the personal brands of standout athletes who want to monetize their popularity and make more attractive recruits to colleges and universities.

If that sounds crazy, or even a little gross, then forgive me for saying: you’re a little out of touch.

You’re likely aware that college athletes can now make money from their name, image and likeness, following a 2021 Supreme Court ruling and subsequent policy change from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which previously prohibited players from enjoying their NIL. Under the new policy, college athletes can endorse products and create/sell their own merchandise.

What you might not know is that a rapidly growing number of high school athletes are also making money from NIL offers.

Some involve top athletes with a national presence: Bronny James, the eldest son of LeBron James, signed with an underwear brand and published a collection earlier this year. Others are more localized: a Vietnamese restaurant, MT Noodles, announced in July that it was offering Lao-American basketball player Jalen Langsy a approval opportunity.

Meanwhile, teenage soccer player Bayliss Flynn became the first known Minnesota high school athlete to sign a VOID contract this spring when TruStone Financial decided to pay her thousands of dollars to promote credit/debit cards and encourage smart spending among North Star State teens. .

“We are now in the new normal – an open and free market”, lawyer Mike Caspino told Yahoo Sports. Caspino has worked on NIL deals for dozens of high school athletes over the past year. “It will only get bigger.”

And why wouldn’t it be?

Students who excel in high school sports have always been generally popular or at least known locally – a reach that many are extending through social media and increasingly intense mainstream media coverage of school athletics. It’s a recipe for raising starlets – certainly on a grassroots and niche level, and even more broadly for true Blue Chip athletes.

Within this mix, promotional products/merchandise can provide significant branding and revenue generation opportunities for these athletes.

Think about that local stopper I mentioned earlier. Now maybe I wouldn’t have been able to purchase the exact replica of my son Dylan’s jersey if the player/partner wasn’t authorized by the school to use their logo/trademarks etc. But if the player had his own line of merch, I’m sure Dyl would have dug in to get a T-shirt or a hat. “Yeah, that would be great,” he confirmed when I asked him.

Given the potential, I think distributors/decorators could check out things like personal branding logos for players and help them create product lines. Perhaps the items could be sold through an online store – a digital store that social media savvy teens can promote through the various platforms they might be active on. As you may know, some YouTubers get massive views by going to local high school games and sharing the experience. Featured players could promote their online stores filled with merchandise when highlighted on them.

There could also be co-branding opportunities. Local restaurants or other businesses pay athletes to endorse them, then sell rally shirts or napkins or stadium cups with the company and player image. Perhaps most attractive from a sales volume perspective, promotion pros can connect with agencies, attorneys, and other professional teams who work with high school and college athletes on NIL, becoming thus the reference supplier of companies for their lists of athletes. It’s a ready-to-use business pipeline.

The list of opportunities could grow. Of course, as distributors/decorators pursue them, it’s important to note that there is no single NIL standard for high school athletes. Guidelines vary from state to state, and in some states NIL for high school players is prohibited.

With Washington, DC, 17 States have confirmed that they allow high school athletes to remain eligible and benefit from sponsorship deals and merchandising sales. Other states are actively considering allowing NIL offers for high school athletes and it’s likely it will eventually, according to legal and marketing experts.

Distributors/decorators who start working with athletes now and delivering winning solutions will have the experience, case studies and testimonials to become a go-to merch partner as NIL opportunities for high school gamers proliferate at across the country. I would now plan the game to have a presence in the nascent market.

Christopher Ruvo

director of digital information; Publisher, PromoGram

Chris directs ASI Media’s news coverage, leading the creation of daily articles, in-depth reports, podcasts and videos that tackle the most important topics in the promotional products industry. His writing and multimedia work has won him numerous regional and national awards, including the 2019 and 2022 Neal Awards for “Best Single-Author Work”.

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Rozella J. Cook