May 26, 2022 - Sports

High school athletes cash in big off NIL deals

A letterman jacket with a money sign on it
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The adoption of NIL upended the college sports landscape, but it also quietly opened the door for high school athletes to begin cashing in.

Driving the news: Nike recently signed its first high school NIL deal, inking Harvard-Westlake (Los Angeles) soccer players and sisters, Alyssa and Gisele Thompson, to a multiyear agreement.

State of play: High school guidelines are determined by each state's athletic association, and similar to college, athlete endorsements can't be affiliated with their school.

  • Nine states sanction high school NIL: Alaska, California, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York and Utah.
  • Ohio voted against a measure last week, with one AD saying that "too many people were uncomfortable with the situation."

What they're saying: Many high schoolers are "brilliant entrepreneurs at a young age ... and the NIL opportunities are good ways for them to make a business out of something they do really well," Karissa Niehoff, CEO of the National Federation of State High School Associations, tells Axios.

  • Yes, but: Niehoff says the NFHS is "extremely concerned" about the possibility of the school uniform, the logo, ever becoming part of an NIL deal.
  • The purpose of high school sports, she says, "has never been for a young person to earn money ... It's for learning, growth and development, being part of a community. We hope that never gets compromised."

Between the lines: A similar opportunity for elite high school athletes to earn money arrived last fall when Overtime Elite (OTE) launched and offered basketball stars six-figure salaries. But while those teenagers forfeited their NCAA eligibility, high schoolers signing NIL deals do not.

The big picture: The vast majority of high school athletes won't land NIL deals, which are reserved mostly for the elite of the elite — teenage phenoms with national profiles and massive social media followings.

  • Williams, mentioned above, has an NIL valuation of $2.6 million thanks to his nearly six million followers on Instagram and TikTok.
  • Six other basketball players, and at least 100 football players, have NIL valuations over $100,000, per college sports database On3.

The big question: Is it healthy for athletes to focus on marketing at such a young age? It's a fair question. That said, 9-year-olds are making millions on YouTube. Why should athletes be shut out from that world?

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