May 27, 2020 - Sports

How much college athletes could earn as social media influencers

Data: Opendorse; Note: * = incoming freshman; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Data: Opendorse; Note: * = incoming freshman; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The NCAA's proposed rule change that would allow student athletes to earn money off their name, image and likeness (NIL) should result in major financial opportunities, most notably on social media.

Why it matters: The emergence of this new revenue stream could alter the landscape of recruiting, with athletes potentially factoring earnings potential into their college decision.

The state of play: I spoke with Blake Lawrence, CEO of Opendorse — a social publishing platform that helps athletes build their brands — to get a better understanding of the landscape, and requested earnings estimates for a sample of 12 student athletes (see above).

  • The estimates are "based on actual data from the last decade of providing the technology behind millions of dollars of transactions between brands and professional athletes," according to Lawrence, and they fluctuate based on factors like school, social presence, and athletic success/name recognition.
  • The success/name recognition factor explains why Texas' senior QB Sam Ehlinger and Clemson's incoming freshman QB D.J. Uiagalelei have such drastically different potential earnings despite the relative similarities in position, program prestige and social presence.
  • Lawrence acknowledges that his company's expertise in the area has its limits, saying, "As we get into year one, two, three of the NIL era, the data will shift from assumptions to reality."

Between the lines: College gymnastics offers a unique wrinkle given that gymnasts tend to peak in their teens and, in some cases, achieve national or even global stardom years before they arrive on campus.

  • 2012 gold medalist Jordyn Wieber won the all-around title at the 2011 world championships and received countless offers from potential sponsors, but she was forced to decide between accepting those lucrative deals or keeping her college eligibility and not making a dime.
  • Under the proposed rule change, athletes like Wieber who are already household names in high school could ostensibly have their cake and eat it, too.

The bottom line: College students who don't play sports have complete freedom to earn money as influencers, so the new NIL rules would merely allow athletes to do the same — though there are clear risks in opening up the multi-billion dollar influencer marketing industry to amateur athletes.

Go deeper: NCAA backs allowing college athletes to be paid for names, images and likenesses

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