Skip to content

The Name Is the Game

Professional athletes have long been able to be paid for endorsing brands and products. Celebrity athletes can make a lot of money through their name, image and likeness, or NIL.
Historically, college athletes didn’t have the same opportunities. If they tried to profit from their own name, image or likeness, they risked losing NCAA eligibility.

But a landmark Supreme Court case, new NCAA policies, an explosion of new state laws, and new programs from colleges and universities changed all that. Now, student-athletes can be paid for NIL activities without losing their NCAA eligibility.

NIL opportunities are expanding exponentially. Marquee student-athletes and those with big social media followings can draw very lucrative deals with brands and earn millions of dollars. Even modest NIL deals can help student-athletes offset their college and living expenses, or just provide them with more discretionary income.

NIL opportunities can play a role not only in athletes’ decisions about where and for how long to attend college, or whether to transfer to a new college, but also in their marketability and earning potential in their professional athletic careers. College athletes also use these NIL endeavors to further charitable activities.

But inking NIL deals isn’t always a layup for athletes or brands. Brands, agents and athletes must play by several different—and evolving—rulebooks or risk making unenforceable deals, violating state laws or being declared ineligible to play intercollegiate sports.

State laws on college athlete NIL rights and deals vary widely. School guidelines often limit the kinds of products athletes can endorse and may require athletes to notify their school or get approval for deals. Guidelines may also restrict or prohibit the use of facilities, school and team names, logos, and other intellectual property. Additionally, schools and teams may have rules for player behavior—both on the field and on social media.

Loeb & Loeb has helped high-profile college athletes, collectives, brands and agencies develop effective playbooks for navigating this potentially lucrative but unsettled area of law. We’ve drafted NIL contracts for student-athletes covering social media, appearance and other obligations; formed and guided collectives through the tax-exempt application process; and advised brands and agencies on how to structure representation and endorsement agreements so they comply with NCAA regulations and applicable state laws.

The NIL space is rapidly evolving, garnering significant attention from federal policymakers, the NCAA, colleges and universities, and of course student-athletes. While the rules may change over time and legal challenges will continue to arise, one thing is certain: Knowing the current state of play is essential to winning the college NIL game. Loeb & Loeb is here to help.