Out of every challenge comes opportunity, and as we look ahead into 2020, there may be no bigger opportunity on the horizon in the college space than what could be occurring with “NIL,” the ability for college athletes to effectively use their own name, image and likeness for commercial gain. Starting with Governor Gavin Newsom and the State of California, municipalities are increasing looking to find legislation that will give student athletes the ability to market their themselves, just like any other individual who is not playing college sports. What will that look like and how will that work remains to be seen, but there are businesses starting to take shape to help students along the process.
One of them is Colorado based Studentplayer.com. Founded by Zach Segal, a former Ultimate Frisbee player at Brown University as an undergrad and NYU as a law student, who has grown a substantial business in real estate, Student Player is a platform that will raise funds to enable student athletes to be compensated for their athletic and social achievements, by brands and other interested businesses, by using their name, image, and likeness in endorsements.
The platform is open to anyone competing on the intercollegiate level and will be driven by consumers seeking to help recruit the best athletes and support his/her team’s players. Simply being on a given team will not entitle an athlete to payment: compensation is earned in exchange for the player’s endorsement. Eligibility for sponsorship offers will be determined by the team that an athlete plays for and the position that he/she occupies. The dollars go to the athletes as they find ways to engage in entrepreneurial activities, not just for playing a sport at a school, so it rewards business and entrepreneurial opportunities combined with athletic success. Segal and his team have already raised more than $100,000 on the platform.
How did someone not vested in sports business come up with the idea and how is it going? We asked Segal to lay it out.
SportsMedia Report: How did you come up with the concept?
Zach Segal: After California passed the Fair Pay To Play Act, and the NCAA affirmed the decision to allow student athletes to benefit from their name, image, and likeness I knew that real change would occur. I, like many others, worried that if students got off the field/court and spent their remaining time taking meetings and chasing endorsements that they would have no opportunity to focus on their studies. Our crowdfunding model, with brief sponsorship obligations, gives fans a voice and preserves the “student” in “student athlete”.
SMR: How does your platform get compensated in the transaction? Or does it?
ZS: Student Player will not receive commissions on donations made through its platform. All money contributed, net of any third party processing fees, will go towards sponsorship offers consistent with the website’s terms and conditions. Student Player expects to be able to support the business through ad revenue: promotional content on the website, links on the downloadable contribution totals, and endorsements by players.
SMR: What has been the biggest surprise since you launched this?
ZS: Jason Leonard, Oklahoma’s Executive Director of Compliance, statement to Greta Anderson of Inside Higher Ed: “why someone would contribute to (Student Player) is beyond me.” Mr. Leonard may not want to contribute himself, but if Oklahoma fans want their team to recruit the top players then hopefully they will. If Oklahoma’s fan base does not step up, and those at Nebraska and Texas do, the Sooners will get crushed!
SMR: Have you heard from schools, or athletes or even parents, wanting to know more?
ZS: Yes. One school, MSU, Mankato, asked to have itself removed from our website after its Men’s Hockey Team received a contribution. I sincerely believe that the request was due to a misunderstanding of how our site works. Their letter and our response are available here.
Athletes and parents have reacted positively and are excited to learn more. A common question is “if for some reason the laws don’t change, what happens to our contributions.” Fans should know that there is no scenario where Student Player would keep their contributions. Our “worst case” scenario would be to donate the money to the school/athletic department corresponding to the team that each contributor intended to support.
SMR: Why would schools, or companies like IMG or Learfield who have a stake in the business, be doing something like this?
ZS: I really don’t know what their plans are. I know that our plan is simple; to be a great resource for hardworking and entrepreneurial student athletes and reward their success at the right time with what they deserve; fair compensation for their endorsements. If someone puts the money in, the sponsorship offer will be there. We are fulfilling opportunity outside of what a school or its reps can do.
SMR: How will you vet sponsors to make sure there is nothing nefarious going on?
ZS: We will work closely with all prospective sponsors to learn about the nature of their desired endorsement and ensure that there is nothing nefarious going on. In an era of social media, authenticity is going to be key and we are not here to play games with athlete’s futures.
SMR: Have you seen others trying something like this? If so, what is your sell to be different?
ZS: We have not and really think as an early adopter that we have carved a niche that will keep growing. Our platform is going to be the most unique and easiest for fans and athletes to use. The formula is right there.
SMR: Do some schools have a distinct advantage because of size? Is it possible to be fair and just to any athlete regardless of size of school? Any examples of a small school that has suddenly cut through the clutter?
ZS: The size of a school’s fan base is certainly relevant, but intensity may prove to be an even more important factor. I am excited to see how it all shakes out. At this moment, there is no small school that has cut through the clutter, but we are still in the early days.
SMR: What does this business look like a year from now?
ZS: It is hard to answer that with certainty since we can’t offer sponsorships to players until it is legal and permissible to do so. Ideally, the NCAA, congress, or both, will have applied California’s standard to the nation and we will be making sponsorship offers to players.
SMR: What is your biggest worry as this scales up?
ZS: Success is never a worry. We continue to refine and adjust our model as the opportunities arise and we listen to both smart people around us and the marketplace. Is it early in the game? Yes, but the game is being played right in front of us and we are here to seize the opportunity and grow with those who deserve it most; student-athletes who right now still do not have full clarity on when they will be able to benefit from their name, image, and likeness.