By RALPH D. RUSSO
BUFFALO, NY — This March madness, basketball players can monetize their shining moments.
The NCAA last summer lifted its ban on athletes making money on their name, image and likeness. Since then, all sorts of business opportunities have sprung up, from small online sponsorship deals to nationwide sponsorship campaigns to booster-funded collectives that can pay athletes thousands of dollars.
The NCAA Tournament is a chance for new stars to emerge, like New Mexico State’s Teddy Allen.
Allen scored 37 points in an upset against UConn on March 17, flexing, dancing and waving to Huskies fans.
On the evening of March 18, t-shirts and hoodies were available for purchase online featuring a graphic of Allen, the words “BYE BYE” and the score and date of the Aggies’ first victory in the NCAA Tournament since 1993.
“Everyone understands how crucial it is to really capitalize on the moment. Like it’s happening. Like it’s the talk of the town. Like it’s trending on Twitter. It’s time to really make a strong message,” said Hunter Pomerantz, co-founder of The Players Trunk, an online merchandise store for college athletes to sell their gear and memorabilia.
Pomerantz, a former student-manager of the Syracuse basketball team, said The Players Trunk was reaching out to athletes and offering them a contract to cut apparel sales. He declined to say what percentage goes to the players.
Shirts sell for $29.99 and sweatshirts for between $49.99 and $59.99. Pomerantz said the contract only covers sales of the gear and all they ask of the athletes is to promote the merchandise on their social media accounts.
Before the tournament even started, The Players Trunk started making money on March Madness.
The company produced shirts and hoodies for Wisconsin goaltender Chucky Hepburn, whose bank shot in the final seconds against Purdue sealed the Big Ten regular-season title for the Badgers, and David Jean-Baptiste of Chattanooga, who sent the Mocs to the NCAA Tournament with a long buzzer-beater in the Southern Conference Championship Game.
The sale of goods is only the tip of the earning potential for March shooting stars.
Jim Cavale, CEO of INFLCR, a company that works with thousands of college teams and athletes on a range of NIL programs, said there is a potentially lucrative market for NFTs and related digital collectibles. at March Madness.
But it takes planning and coordination and the current state of the NIL market is not set up to allow athletes to take advantage of it effectively.
The NCAA does not have uniform and detailed rules governing NIL compensation. The association has asked its member schools to follow state laws where applicable or create their own rules in states without legislation.
Many athletes are prohibited from using their school’s marks and logos in their NIL activities. In some cases, they cannot work on NIL offers while representing the school.
The Players Trunk gear with Allen’s image makes no reference to New Mexico State, but uses the colors of the Aggies basketball uniforms.
Additionally, licensing agreements between the NCAA and media rights holders CBS and Turner place restrictions on what athletes can use to create content.
Even though content can remove legal hurdles, it takes quick work and insight to capitalize on newfound fame.
“You still need to be informed enough and take enough initiative or have help to be informed and take enough initiative to get the most out of this new value,” Cavale said.
This first March Madness with NIL is likely to set a blueprint for schools and athletes to better position themselves for sudden stardom in the years to come.
“This will be the last year that kids aren’t completely ready for this,” said Blake Lawrence, CEO of Opendorse, another company that works with schools and athletes to run NIL activities.
Lawrence said the confusing nature of NIL’s current rules and regulations is holding the market back.
He said a national brand wanted to advertise around the men’s and women’s tournaments using athletes whose teams advanced from the first round to the second round.
So a player like Allen could have appeared in a March 19 commercial after his big game on March 17. But there were questions about whether athletes would be allowed to take part in NIL activities on road trips, representing their schools.
“Once they started navigating that kind of stuff, they decided it was too difficult and so they decided not to go through with student-athletes at all,” he said.
For now, t-shirts and hoodies will have to do.