Under the new name, image, and likeness (NIL) rules, college athletes can now earn money through endorsements while they play a college sport. Although the NIL era has been rolled out in chaotic and distasteful fashion, athlete’s who put their bodies on the line to play a dangerous sport like football should get a piece of the pie when the league’s they play in sign billion dollar TV deals. How that pie gets sliced and served is the subject of some controversy.
NIL is heating up
Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher had a “Jerry Springer” moment this off-season over NIL competition, with Saban alleging that Texas A&M “paid” for its historic 2022 recruiting class.
To be clear, A&M likely did pay for the services of many of those recruits, and seems to have offered guaranteed money before the recruits signed, an aggressive style of recruiting that is now the hallmark of programs using NIL deals to try to go from good to great.
The Tennessee Volunteers are a case study. It has been widely reported that Tennessee football has amassed a war chest for signing top college recruits, and you see the strategy paying off in the 247 rankings. Tennessee is rumored to have arranged an $8 million dollar NIL deal for elite QB Nicholaus Iamaleava to sign with the Vols for 2023.
If you can get $8 million to play for a college football team, take the money, and Mozel Tov. However, most NIL deals won’t fetch that kind of money. Even the top kids will be evaluating NIL packages separated by a few hundred thousand dollars, or less. In these scenarios, TV exposure should play a role in deciding between schools.
When TV Exposure dwarfs NIL
NIL is all the rage, and reporting on major college TV contracts is extensive, but few reporters put two and two together to quantify the value of TV exposure for NFL draft stock, as well as for personal branding. There will be times when TV exposure plus NIL outweighs an NIL deal that is more lucrative in the short term.
The kids who are on major TV networks all the time get on the radars of scouts and are more likely to go higher in the draft. Attention is the most valuable commodity in today’s distracted world. Eyeballs drive revenue, which is why social media reach is a big factor in an athlete’s NIL value.
Maybe a QB like Nicholaus Iamaleava can turn things around in Knoxville so the Vols start winning again, and gain momentum with the TV execs as a result, but it won’t happen overnight. Tennessee, like many of the schools making the biggest NIL pushes, lag way behind in TV exposure.
8 of Tennessee football’s 2021 games appeared on either SEC Network, ESPN2, or ESPNU, channels that are designed to take overflow TV inventory only diehard fans want to watch. Only one Tennessee game was featured on CBS, against Georgia. Similarly, Texas A&M had 6 combined games broadcast on SEC Network, ESPNU, and ESPN+ in 2021, which is the TV exposure equivalent of a nightclub in Cincinnati. It definitely ain’t TV South Beach, I will tell you that.
By contrast, 9 of Ohio State’s 2021 games were broadcast on either FOX or ABC on the nation’s biggest stages.
Building a personal brand
A big fat NIL deal means less if talent isn’t showcased. If you are playing on SEC Network and athletes at competing programs are playing on FOX, ABC, NBC, or ESPN every week, who is getting better value?
Millions more people will watch these athletes than their counterparts at schools with lesser brands, which in turn allows athlete’s to build their own brands, brands that can power careers outside of football.
The Big Ten’s new TV deal is likely to top $1 billion in value, and there is a clear hierarchy of games, with the biggest games airing on Big Noon Kickoff, and ABC Primetime. Massive media deals yet to be inked could pair even some middling Big Ten games with Notre Dame broadcasts on NBC. Allstate has been spending $15,000,000 on commercials during college football games in recent seasons, so what is the value of being a star player featured in the most coveted TV time slots?
The value is tremendous. TV exposure transfers the branding from the pomp and circumstance of our biggest national festivals, to the individual brand of star athletes. Big TV exposure is the single best thing football players can do to build their own personal brand, brands which have the potential to survive long after the playing days come to a close.
Smart recruits will factor in TV value, and not just NIL, in when choosing a school.