The hidden industry of name, image, and likeness (NIL) is much more transparent on June 17 than it was April 22, when Ross Dellenger wrote that as many as 150 NIL platforms had been established in what he described as an oversaturated space. With exactly 2 weeks until 6 states require that colleges and universities within their borders allow college athletes to earn money from endorsements, autograph signings, and more, the leaders in the clubhouse are starting to emerge with names like INFLCR, Opendorse, MOGL, Athliance, and MatchPoint Connection among the more talked about companies seeking to capitalize on NIL opportunities. It certainly feels like there are much less than 150 companies in contention to provide services to athletic departments, athletes, and/or brands.
One company in this pack of service providers that does not need an introduction is Icon Source, which has created a marketplace that connects brands with athletes, has been offering its services to thousands of professional athletes participating in over 40 sports for 2 years and is well-positioned to make a major splash once states like Florida, Texas, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and New Mexico begin mandating that college athletes have NIL rights as of July 1. While college athletes have had the capacity to sign up and create profiles on Icon Source for some time now, and hundreds of those athletes have done so, they are restricted from negotiating and signing deals with third parties until the beginning of July and, unless the NCAA changes its bylaws by then, those deals will only be accessible to athletes in the aforementioned states.
That is not preventing companies from announcing their intention to use the Icon Source platform. Earlier this month, Atlanta-based workflow solutions company Milner Technologies announced its desire to use the Icon Source marketplace to offer a total of $20,000 to 4 female athletes in the State of Florida, including University of Florida gymnast Trinity Thomas. A few days after that announcement, men’s apparel company Onward Reserve expressed an interest in signing deals with University of Georgia athletes such as quarterback Brock Vandagriff and baseball player Connor Tate.
As noted by Onward Reserve founder TJ Callaway, the company cannot even have direct conversations with any athletes right now, but it does not mean that Onward Reserve and other brands are precluded from stating their intentions and becoming familiar with the Icon Source platform, which recently halted a $3.5 million funding round and decided to cap it at $1.6 million. The company stated its intention to raise a larger $10 million round in the near future.
Icon Source does not need the opening of the college athlete NIL market to succeed, but it will certainly create a substantial amount of new opportunities for the startup, which seeks to be the conduit between brands and athletes, providing everything from template contracts to a system that allows athletes to easily disclose opportunities to their universities. Thus far, Icon Source has had multiple brands signed up to its platform spend over 6-figures on professional athlete arrangements.
“It’s super easy. I think that’s the thing that’s good for everyone, especially college athletes,” said former Georgia and NFL quarterback Aaron Murray who is currently a free agent. “I get a quick notification on my phone, click it, get all the facts laid out including the compensation, and it’s either yes or you explain what you would want from the deal.”
Murray says that any deal would have been great for him while he was in college, whether it was a free dinner to show up somewhere or compensation to do a commercial. He is impressed by the fact that he has been able to sign four or five deals in just a month of being on the Icon Source platform despite the fact that he is not currently signed to an NFL team. I asked Murray how his agents have reacted to him being on the Icon Source platform, and he indicated that they have not viewed it as a threat, which is echoed by Drew Butler, EVP Collegiate at Icon Source
“Icon Source was built to provide for agents of all sizes. It is a resource they can utilize to expose their roster of clients to a much broader variety of brands,” says Butler, who was a punter at Georgia before playing for a few NFL teams. “With my background as a professional athlete and as a student-athlete, I fully understand that endorsement deals brought by agents create a lot of stickiness between the agent and the client. Having a platform like Icon Source to protect the athlete and keep the university transparently involved with what’s happening will relieve a lot of headaches that can come up. We will send the necessary information to the university so you can focus on getting top value for the client and not worry about a misstep that can impact them negatively.”
Today, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will meet for the second time in a week to listen from witnesses about the impact that NIL may have on college athletes should the right be recognized nationally in the future. This hearing will feature current and former college athletes who, like Murray, are likely to state how beneficial NIL rights would have been and can be while athletes participate in college. Companies like Icon Source want to be in the mix to make the brand-athlete connection even simpler should Congress get involved.