A prominent college ballplayer and some friends walk into an off-campus pizza joint and ask for the owner. The star, who boasts hundreds of thousands of social media followers, offers to livestream their dinner in exchange for the meal and maybe some T-shirts and cash.
The owner jumps at the chance, knowing the brand will efficiently reach a young, targeted, pizza-hungry audience.
What was forbidden throughout NCAA history in the name of amateurism is now allowed as of July 1. Student-athletes can make endorsements and sell rights to their name, image, and likeness (NIL) for pizza, or rewards far more complex, without losing their eligibility to play.
How this new marketplace evolves is anyone’s guess, but UNLV Athletics’ The Vegas Effect program educates student-athletes on current regulations.
The program was developed in the past year as decisions at the federal and state level opened the door for student-athletes to cash in on their fame.
“We have been preparing for the onset of NIL for the past year and have been eager to implement our Vegas Effect programming to support this opportunity for our student-athletes,” said Eric Nepomuceno, senior associate athletic director of compliance. “Given this is still in its infant stages, we are continuing to learn more about the application of NIL daily.”
The Vegas Effect, a resource for student-athletes, emphasizes financial literacy, including tax implications, and contract law in group and one-on-one meetings, but remains hands-off when it comes to specific transactions since the institution cannot solicit or negotiate deals.
Influencing more than just the game
With more than 450,000 followers on several social media platforms, men’s basketball point guard Jordan McCabe is leading the fast break in monetizing his name, image, and likeness
The personable McCabe, 23, embraced social media early. He built his following by displaying his dribbling prowess during halftime shows, appearing on The Ellen DeGeneres Show when he was 12, and consistently producing engaging content.
Like any alert guard running the floor, McCabe is assessing his options and looking for the best opportunities. Since he wants to maintain his focus on hoops, he signed a contract with Toronto-based influencer management agency Viral Nation on Sept. 2.
“They do all the behind-the-scenes work. And then I just show up and either take a picture or sign something or create a piece of content. And that’s that,” McCabe said. “I wanted to try to make my social media stuff as passive as possible where I didn’t have to be continually engaged with it.”
McCabe, who was a sports management major at West Virginia University who is now pursuing an MBA, came to UNLV with two years remaining of eligibility. He says The Vegas Effect is a beneficial tool for entrepreneurial-minded student-athletes.
“(For) those who have a passion for it, those who want to do it and put the work in to do it, The Vegas Effect then gives them outlets to learn about brand management, brand creation, and your own personal brand — how to grow, and what to do, and what to watch out for,” McCabe said. “It gives you a very good understanding and guidelines for this whole new world.”
McCabe wants to be selective about the brands he partners with. He’s looking at nutrition companies, restaurants, car dealerships, and lifestyle brands that align with his passions.
Marketing with care
The program offers student-athletes some reassurances as they learn the new rules. They learn what’s allowed under the new rules, such as being permitted to hire marketing agents; that they can be hired for personal appearances; and they can sign autographs for money. They can even use the UNLV logo and uniforms with permission on a case-by-case basis.
Student-athletes still cannot have sports agents (except when they’re draft-eligible), and the NCAA insists on two other high-level parameters: student-athletes can’t sign “pay for play” deals that reflect on-field performance and they aren’t allowed to sign contracts that are conditioned on enrolling at a particular university.
Student-athletes must disclose their deals, but UNLV’s basic awareness of a contract does not mean explicit approval, Nepomuceno said.
“In fact, we don’t want to ‘approve,’” he said. “That’s not our role here. UNLV (simply) acknowledges. They send us the activity prior to it being effective or scheduled. And we will just acknowledge that.”
UNLV will troubleshoot potential issues: Contracts cannot be based on the particular time a game is played or a race is run and marketing activities must not conflict with a student’s academic or athletic obligations.
Nepomuceno draws a firm line between education and advice.
“They know, once they start to ask me questions about business valuations, those are the things that I’m not equipped to answer. I would say that’s probably a good question for someone who is an expert in that area.”
For that purpose, UNLV has partnered with NOCAP Sports to be a third-party information hub and marketplace where student-athletes, agents, and brands can find matches.
On a campus near a global tourist destination, in a city with a well-honed entrepreneurial spirit, McCabe and other UNLV student-athletes have name, image, and likeness opportunities that other schools in the Mountain West Conference can only dream of.
But with its casinos and other prominent adult-oriented entertainment, Las Vegas also poses unique challenges when looking at businesses to endorse.
“As soon as you run around and post crazy things and things that may not be so tasteful, well then, your ability to work (is affected),” McCabe said. “Certain brands don’t want somebody who’s doing wild stuff and crossing lines. There’s a balance between being yourself and doing things that you want to do and you enjoy and also being smart about it.”
Successful athletes with large social media followings certainly make for enticing brand ambassadors, but McCabe is looking to offer something just a little bit more outside the court to solidify his own brand.
“It’s also not just about bringing in monetary value,” McCabe said. “It’s also about how can we impact and affect the Vegas community which has adopted me. I’d like to try to give back in any way I can. If businesses can help me do that, that’d be awesome.”