From a quick glance, it looks like Thursday’s enactment of name, image and likeness (NIL) rules and laws across the country is the opening of a vast territory in the wild west.
A better frontier-like description might be that of a gold rush with prospectors — student-athletes, companies and organizations that bring the two together — racing forward to potentially make fortunes. Or at least a little previously NCAA-banned spending money.
Some college athletes have already started leveraging their brands. LSU offensive lineman Kardell Thomas hung out his virtual shingle as it were Monday on Twitter and Instagram, inviting “collaborations and partnerships that are interested in using my name, image or likeness (NIL).” Expect announcements of deals as early as Thursday all over the college landscape.
Gov. John Bel Edwards is expected to sign a bill Thursday allowing the state’s college athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness. The measure, which has had the backing of LSU officials and glided through the Legislature like Kayshon Boutte running a post route, will make Louisiana the 23rd state with such a law.
If the landscape looks from the outside as though it’s been turned upside down, imagine being a student-athlete inside trying to navigate it. A Baton Rouge firm called MatchPoint (MatchPointConnection.com) has set itself up to be a conduit between people and companies seeking to build their brands together.
Started by Henry Hays, who already owned his own local sales consulting firm, MatchPoint has built out a team that includes former Dunham School boys basketball coach Jonathan Pixley and long-time Baton Rouge radio talk show host Charles Hanagriff.
Hanagriff, who stepped away from his popular daily lunch time radio show on WNXX-FM 104.5 in May to pursue this new opportunity, is the firm’s director of media relations. We met for lunch Wednesday at a restaurant just off the LSU campus, exactly the sort of place that you might imagine will be seeking out endorsement deals with LSU student-athletes in the near future.
Hanagriff pulls out his phone and quickly scrolls to MatchPoint’s app, which is sort of like an app for a dating service. It takes a person’s likes and preferences – be they an athlete, musician, social media influencer or whoever — and brings up companies and entities they are likely to be a good endorser for in terms of product, service or likes. Through the app, the person and company can come to a deal for a certain amount of social media interaction or for services. MatchPoint collects the fees for the person doing the endorsing and earns its own fee from that.
“LSU is educating their athletes but is not acting as an agent,” Hanagriff said. “We’re not either. We’re the conduit. We give complete reporting to the schools so they know the brands (the student-athletes) are representing.”
The benefit for both sides is the elimination of the potentially dizzying array of calls and connections that would otherwise have to be made.
“Say you’re a prominent athlete at LSU who wants to endorse a product,” said Hanagriff, who continues to keep his hand in the local radio scene with regular appearances on former partner Jimmy Ott’s Gametime evening show. “Where do you start? Do you start by calling (Raising Canes founder) Todd Graves? That’s not realistic. This allows you to be on your phone to make matches. These kids are on their phones 27 hours a day.”
MatchPoint certainly isn’t alone. There are other companies out there doing the same thing through an app portal, such as Denver-based Icon Source. And many top tier athletes are expected to sign with major talent agencies such as CAA and IMG.
There are LSU athletes who will earn windfalls from NIL, such as All-American cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. or Tigers gymnast Olivia Dunne, who believe it or not has the largest social media following of any current LSU athlete. Hanagriff refers to them as the top 3%. MatchPoint will work to make the big deals with the big names, but also with the student-athletes who are just looking for a few hundred dollars for an appearance at an event or conducting a private camp.
“It’s something these kids have earned,” he said. “Every person in the country has the rights to their name, image and likeness except for college athletes. It’s fundamentally wrong and the courts have agreed.
“They said paying the athletes would destroy the Olympics. No, it enhanced it. Was it odd at first to see pro basketball players in the Olympics? Yes. But we warmed to it quickly. Will it be strange to see a college athlete endorse a brand on social media or TV? Yes, but we will adapt. It doesn’t mean we won’t have LSU football in the fall. It’s giving these kids a chance to make money off of something they’ve earned.”