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With the NCAA fully surrendering its one real purpose today by allowing college athletes to be paid for marketing opportunities, fans can now expect a floodgate of new endorsement deals to make headlines for a while. Alabama receiver Traeshon Holden became one of the first players to rush to the window and cash in on his name, image, and likeness by signing a deal with YOKE gaming. The gaming app allows fans to play video games with their favorite athletes.
The sports media business is obviously foaming at the mouth to see what happens here with all of these endorsement opportunities. The pressure has been building for decades, and now that’s out, there’s no telling what sort of corporatized product will emerge going forward. Will a few big name athletes be doing national commercials while their teammates stay broke? Will players be trying to sneak in as many free ads as possible anytime they get the spotlight on gamedays? How long before the vice industries get in on the action? Will a rogue dildo on the field now be a planned marketing hit instead of a moment of fan outrage?
As part of the sports media myself, I know I’m supposed to have a strong opinion, but I just don’t, yet. If anything, as an OutKick VIP pointed out to me Tuesday, the rule change seems like a recruiting change more than anything: paying players to come to your program is about to become a cottage industry, even if it’s still technically illegal. You’re going to see shell companies and economic “coincidences” galore. What was once a little sinful but still wrapped up in a rubber is about to become a raw dog feeding frenzy of money, gifts, and perks in the form of NIL deals. Why is your favorite cornfed, freak of nature linebacker now endorsing soy sausages? It ain’t because coach wants him to watch his cholesterol. It’s because coach knows a guy who knows a guy who owns the soy farm, and now he’s getting sacks for your rival while you’re thinking about trying veganism.
Of course, there will also be a modest gold rush from companies, especially small brands looking to make a splash, on existing talent like Holden. I sincerely hope the kids get what they can, but the frenzy feels a bit like the Beanie Babies boom already. America used to be obsessed with commercial fads before the internet made everything so accessible; it’s just in our nature to flock to exciting developments like moths. Be honest, how many of you owned a little stuffed animal twenty years ago that was worth a few hundred bucks at one point, but you held out for more, assuming the fad would never end? Paying college players won’t be a fad (because it’s not a product, per se), but it won’t be without hiccups, either. It’s effectiveness long-term will certainly be dictated by the same forces which drive all consumerism: innovation and creativity.
The boss man has already tweeted today that OutKick will be partnering with athletes this fall in some regard, and I’m legitimately thrilled to see what happens. I think good ideas will be rewarded as they always are; my only fear is that we have to slog through lots of the bad ones as well. Here’s to hoping it improves the product in ways we haven’t even considered yet.