NIL turns one: After a year of radical change, what happens next?

Former Rutgers guard Geo Baker said “NIL was the first step of whatever comes next.” Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY Sports Former Rutgers guard Geo Baker spent the final summer of his college basketball career last year preparing for post-student life. He launched a clothing line, set up basketball camps and Cameo accounts and started learning to invest.

Baker, a third-team All-Big Ten guard, says he earned roughly $50,000 in the first year that college athletes were allowed to make money from the rights to their names, images and likenesses. He said he learned to read contracts, file taxes and made a point to sit in on meetings or speak with executives at any company he endorsed.

“You get to learn some things and see how businesses operate, and you can apply that yourself if you go down that road,” Baker said.

Anecdotes about the first year of radical change in college sports are as abundant as they are disparate and dangerous. The opportunities for entrepreneurial-minded young adults to earn money and learn how to manage it are real. The droves of athletes sending tweets for free products or minimal payment are real. The headline-grabbing, seven-figure deals that have purportedly incentivized transfers or commitments are (even if at times exaggerated) real as well. It’s all happening all at once.

Data detailing how athletes, schools and sponsors are using the new market is hard, if not impossible, to find. No individual or anecdote has proved to be emblematic of the past 12 months or provided a singular answer to where the world of college sports is headed.

More questions than answers remain one year after impending state legislation forced the NCAA to dramatically change its approach to amateurism . What is clear, though, is that the college sports industry isn’t going to move backward. And if there is any universal truth to what the NIL era has wrought, it is that the athletes themselves have realized their power to shape where it goes from here.

“NIL was the first step of whatever comes next,” Baker said. “Once you give athletes that power, and they understand they have that power, you can’t take that away. I don’t think we’ll ever go back to athletes having less of a say.” What happened in Year 1?

Two separate revenue streams have emerged from the same spring since the largely unregulated marketplace for college athletes was established last July. One follows the initial intention and spirit of the new NIL rules, allowing athletes to cash in on their fame. The other follows the inevitable forces of a competitive market and the letter of the law, allowing athletes to cash in more directly on their athletic ability.

The first stream, which includes social media campaigns , traditional advertising , hosting camps , starting businesses and more , has grown steadily since last summer. Companies that help athletes and schools find and track endorsement deals say the number and value of deals continues to increase as brands get more comfortable with investing their marketing budgets in college athletes.

On INFLCR, a software platform used by more than 200 colleges, the average dollar amount of a transaction is 51% higher in the first half of 2022 than it was in the first six months after NIL rules changed in 2021. There have been more transactions completed by users on the platform in the past three months than in any other quarter of the NIL era. According to the founders of MOGL, a similar software company used by 3,000 athletes and more than 1,200 brands, their average deal size has tripled since March — growing from $124 per deal to nearly $400.

Baker said he and other athletes he knows had to figure out the right prices to charge for social media posts or appearances by trial and error, and that those numbers have grown since last July.

While no NIL data set is comprehensive, and industry experts doubt that all athletes are reporting all of their deals to schools, information from NIL-centric companies helps paint a picture of who is making money and how. On Opendorse, a tech platform that works with more than 80 Division I schools, football players account for 49.9% of the money changing hands and 29.3% of deals. Men’s and women’s basketball players are next in line in terms of money earned on the platform (17% and 15.7%, respectively). No other sport tops 5% of the total money earned.

This doesn’t mean that individual athletes from other sports, especially women, aren’t finding lucrative ways to benefit […]

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