Before the NIL era began in July, there was apprehension among its opponents that allowing athletes to do marketing and endorsement deals would lead to the downfall of college sports—that fans would stop watching, attending and following teams and leagues in the aftermath.
But according to a forthcoming survey conducted on behalf of the Global Sport Institute at Arizona State, that hasn’t been the case over the first five months. The opposite actually appears to be true, with NIL paying off in the court of public opinion, particularly among many minority respondents.
The NIL rule change has not significantly altered consumption habits or the perception of college sports among the majority of survey participants: 34% of respondents said NIL has no effect on either their opinion of college sports or their viewing habits, while 62% of supporters and 44% of opponents of NIL said they anticipated watching the same amount of college sports as they did before the rule change.
Where the NCAA’s reluctant acceptance of NIL and loose guidelines ultimately implemented had a much more tangible positive impact, though, is in the perception of college sports among minority groups.
Black respondents, in particular, see college sports more favorably today than they did before athletes were allowed to monetize their name, image and likeness, and are consequently more inclined to consume the product, with one-third of African American men reporting they now watch college sports more often.
Gender played a significant role in participants’ perceptions of who will benefit most from NIL rules. Men believe men’s basketball and football athletes will benefit most from NIL, while women think all athletes will benefit equally.
There are also racial divides in perception. White respondents believe male athletes as a whole will benefit equally regardless of race, while minority survey participants feel the rule will bring the most benefits for white male athletes. None of the demographic groups thought women, of any ethnicity, would benefit most.
Without a national disclosure database tracking all NIL deals, it is hard to know which beliefs hold true so far, but some early numbers provide snapshots: Through the end of October, 80% of the top 100 highest-earning athletes on Opendorse’s platform were men, though only 54% of the athletes doing the most deals in terms of quantity were male. On the whole, women are participating actively in NIL, but male athletes appear to be getting more lucrative offers. Yet while men accounted for 76% of the top 50 earners on endorsement deals marketplace Icon Source, their numbers dwindle at the very top of the heap. Men made up just 50% of the top 10 and none of the top three—all of whom were female.
“There is this perception anecdotally that white women are winning NIL,” Ken Shropshire, CEO of the Global Sport Institute, said in a phone interview.
He pointed to Haley and Hanna Cavinder, twins on the Fresno State basketball team with big social media followings, as an example. “Look at the Cavinder twins, who you could argue are some of the big, early winners. These are two outstanding women, not [at] the biggest name school, but they have a lot of followers … And what do most influencers look like? That could well align with what's happening.”
Data from Statista found that 84% of social media influencers in 2019 were women.
“The idea of who wins in NIL—it’s the market and what people want,” Shropshire said, adding that more data “could help them understand that maybe they should look more broadly than thinking the pretty white woman is what’s going to sell your product. Even though my marketing savvy, my reflex, might tell me that's not the right deal to do, I need to do it because I need to be part of moving society forward.”
While there is neither comprehensive data nor respondent consensus around who will benefit most, there is agreed upon support for certain restrictions around NIL. For instance, 42% supported a salary cap on NIL earnings—and, if one were to be set, many supported a maximum between $10,000 and $100,000 for college athletes.
A slight majority support a national set of NIL rules, and almost half of respondents believed the NCAA should be the organization in charge of enforcing such regulations, as opposed to the athlete’s school or the state or federal government. The NCAA’s current framework allows schools to follow state laws where they exist, and set their own standards where they do not.
While people are in support of collegiate NIL on the whole, they are much more divided on the idea of high school athletes profiting from the same opportunity, with a plurality of respondents against high schoolers earning NIL money. Among supporters of high school NIL, a majority thought earnings should be capped below $10,000, with 20% approving of a $100 cap.