Name, Image and Likeness Likely to be a Boon for Nebraska College Athletes

July 1, 2021, 7 a.m. ·

Adrian Martinez throws at football against Ohio State
Adrian Martinez, Nebraska’s quarterback, is one athlete looking to make some moves – just off the football field this time. He’s now hosting a podcast and has released three episodes. (Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics)

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The idea wasn’t new in Nebraska, but it’s now possible here and everywhere else: Student athletes, under interim NCAA policy approved earlier this week, are now able to monetize their name, image and likeness.

"It'll forever change college athletics," said Blake Lawrence, a former Nebraska football player and now CEO of Opendorse, a Lincoln-based company that works with athletes all over the country with endorsements and social media.

Lawrence has been at the heart of name, image and likeness, or NIL, since he founded his company in 2012. For him, the obvious impact on the horizon of college athletics is what makes the playing field so unique: recruiting.

“It will become the leading discussion in each recruiting pitch – no matter which sport, no matter which level of the NCAA," he said. "And with a nearly a billion dollar a year market popping up overnight, it's going to create an entirely new layer to the student athlete experience and the college sports experience for fans and brands for years to come.”

David Berri, a Southern Utah University professor of economics, who studies sports economics, echoes a similar sentiment.

“It's not going to be anymore: 'Come to our school because we have the right culture, and you're going to win championships,' or whatever the hell they tell them," Berri said. "Now, it's going to be: 'Come to our school because you'll make money doing this.'”

The question that remains to be answered is who the big buyers – or businesses that will pay high dollars for advertising and other business ventures – will be in the Cornhusker state. With Nebraska's legacy of strong fan support, the demand for related business will be strong. Regardless if Runza or Valentino's decide to advertise with Lexi Sun or an incoming five-star men's basketball recruit, NIL will likely change college sports forever, as the days of free autographs could be coming to a close.

Adrian Martinez, Nebraska’s quarterback, is one athlete looking to make some moves – just off the football field this time. He’s now hosting a podcast and has released three episodes. As for other opportunities to make some cash, he’s still trying to figure that out.

“I don't know what the landscape is gonna look like. I really don't," he said. "And this is coming from a guy who is really intrigued and feels like he has a great opportunity to seize this moment in time, but I don't know what it's going to look like. And I don't know if that's going to mean reading ads, or if it's going to mean social media stuff. I do know that I'll be willing to do it. I'm excited to do it."

He said he's keeping the idea to help the podcast make a little money a secret – at least for now. It appears he and his teammates will make use of sponsored videos posted to Twitter. Cam Taylor-Britt, a Nebraska defensive back, was the first in February 2020 to post a video with a branded logo. He recently posted another video and will likely make use of a deal Opendorse signed with Twitter in early June to allow athletes to monetize video posts.

One would imagine many businesses in Nebraska are champing at the bit to advertise with student athletes, pay them to speak at an event or hire them for a private lesson. Runza announced on Wednesday the Nebraska-based fast food chain would pay the first 100 in-state athletes who support the company’s rewards app on social media.

CHI Health won’t advertise unless an athlete can speak firsthand about CHI’s services, a spokesperson said. First National Bank Omaha, another longtime athletic supporter, said in a statement last week that it’s too early to tell what FNBO's plans are with NIL. A few other businesses said the same. The Nebraska Soybean Board said it had considered sponsored messaging with former athletes who have ties with agriculture but does not have interest in doing business with current athletes.

Husker men's basketball players, Trey and Bryce McGowens, released the first episode of a weekly podcast the brothers will co-host.

Lexi Sun, a high-profile Nebraska volleyball player, told the Wall Street Journal she’s had several business inquiries via Instagram. She also launched a clothing line named "The Sunny Crew" on Wednesday night.

“For women's sports, this was really huge because right now women have really limited opportunities to make money off of a sports and that is entirely due to a history of discrimination," Berri said. "Women were banned from playing sports a century ago. They were not invested in terms of sports until after Title IX. Even after Title IX, there's still huge disparities in the investment.”

Berri graduated from Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln, and he’s noticed that you don't need to be a great athlete to be a great influencer. This presents a new opportunity for female student athletes. Lawrence noticed the same thing – especially when national pundits discuss who will likely make the most money from these new NCAA bylaws.

"They forget the fact that this generation of students – not just student athletes, just this generation of students – are using technology to build up massive online audiences that has really nothing to do with their sports performance because they're creative," Lawrence said. "They're content creators; they're video creators. They create podcasts, or they do live streams. They stream on Twitch, and they've got this audience.”

Lawrence said that Opendorse's projections suggest the top 10 athletes that will have the most earning potential at a given school won't be from the most popular sports: mens' basketball and football.

Chloe Mitchell, a volleyball player at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, became the first college athlete to make money from her likeness after the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, or NAIA, beat the NCAA to allowing NIL monetization in late 2020. The then freshman volleyball player made her money with her extensive reach on social media and digital platforms.

Despite a long history of athlete compensation in Nebraska, there’s no record of an NAIA athlete at Peru St. College, Hastings College, Midland University, Concordia University and Doane University monetizing their NIL.

Former Nebraska Sen. Ernie Chambers initially proposed the idea of paying college athletes back in the 1980s.

Additionally, former Nebraska and Arizona State quarterback, Sam Keller, had also been one of the pioneers behind the NIL battle. In 2009, Keller filed a lawsuit against Electronic Arts, a video game producer, and the NCAA over college football and basketball games and the use of players' likeness in the video games. Keller won his battle in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which effectively canceled the video game series.

As Nebraska's football and basketball teams have largely struggled in recent years, NIL could be Nebraska’s path to Tom Osborne- and Bob Devaney-era success, Lawrence said.

“Name, image and likeness rights monetization is the path for Nebraska to stand out again because the fan base and the support for Nebraska is undeniable," Lawrence said. "The love for the student athletes that come to Nebraska is unwavering. And when a fan can now directly support student athletes by compensating them for autographs, or having them be the spokesperson for their business, Nebraska is going to be in a position to stand out from others in the Big 10 Conference, from others across the country.”