With college athletes able to enjoy their fame for the first time, North Carolina on Tuesday opened up a new avenue for its players to cash in: group licenses for official Tar Heels merchandise.
North Caorlina is believed to be the first school in the country to launch a group licensing program for current athletes. As part of the partnership with The Brandr Group, athletes will receive a reduction in net income for the merchandising opportunities pursued by TBG with products that include the school’s official brands and logos.
Participation in the voluntary program will not restrict individual sponsorship agreements now that varsity athletes across the country are clear to take advantage of the use of their name, image and likeness from July 1.
“Manufacturers are the experts in the market for what fans want,” Tar Heels athletic director Bubba Cunningham said in an interview with The Associated Press. “So if our retailers and licensees think a jersey sale would be absolutely great, then they’re going to sell jerseys.
“Our gymnastics team posters may be what all the little girls that come to the competition want, so maybe that will be what it will be for gymnastics. For the baseball team, maybe these are collectible cards.
Sports logos, trademarks and slogans are considered one of the most valuable brand assets of a sports department and lawsuits are not uncommon as schools protect them. Athletes have long been prevented from making money with this kind of merchandise, but NIL has dramatically changed the landscape.
Cunningham said sales of Tar Heels merchandise could be tracked to compensate athletes based on the sales of their individually marketed items such as jerseys, while athletes share the money more widely for group items such as a poster featuring several athletes. Athletes could join a group of three or more in a single sport, or at least six in multiple sports.
“What we’ve found in varsity athletics over the past 30 years is that the aggregation of rights generates a larger pool for participants to share,” Cunningham said. “You do it individually, there are a handful of individuals who can do very well. But the vast majority will do better financially if you bundle the rights. “
Charles Clotfelter, professor of public policy and economics at Duke, said the group licenses for current athletes add another layer to what is already “a whole new world” with NIL licensed activities.
“Universities have taken it upon themselves to market their own names,” said Clotfelter, who has written on college sports marketing. “So now we have another set of factors that can share that, and there is some justice there.
Cunningham had previously supported group licensing models as a broader alternative to athletes pursuing individual agreements, and UNC had launched one for alumni this year for the benefit of former men’s basketball and women’s football players. He predicted that most schools would create group licensing programs for current athletes.
He also spoke of the expected return of EA Sports’ college football video game series, which the NCAA withdrew in 2013 after being sued for failing to share gaming revenue with college athletes in the game. O’Bannon case.
“If EA is to put a video game back on the market, they have to collect all the rights of all student-athletes playing football,” Cunningham said. “And the easiest way for them to do that is to have someone else aggregate the rights of those individual students and bring them to EA.”
In Michigan, the school does not freely allow the use of its marks by athletes under NIL agreements, as some other institutions are across the country. But Wolverines soccer players recently became the first to make a deal where they earn money for every bespoke jersey sold with their name and number by the M Den, the sports department’s official retailer.
Valiant Management, which was founded by former school athletes, has deals with 90 current Wolverines and has extended the opportunity to all players on the football team.
The M Den was successful in delivering the plan as an official school retailer with a Nike deal that allows them to order and sell bespoke jerseys.
“It puts Michigan in a unique position when the competition does it, but I can see both sides,” said Jared Wangler, a former Wolverine football player who co-founded Valiant. “But I can see both sides because there is a risk of watering down the brand.”
In Syracuse, basketball player Buddy Boeheim – the son of longtime coach Jim Boeheim – encountered this obstacle while filming a promotional video before his image appeared on a box of Three Wishes cereal.
Former Syracuse student and basketball fan Ian Wishingrad – who developed Three Wishes with his wife and has it in 2,000 grocery stores nationwide – filmed the video last week in Boeheim’s home gym. But he had to position a rack of balls to hide the word “Syracuse” on the ground.
“I hope this will really work for us,” Wishingrad said. “We’ll see how it goes. If it’s very successful, that proves it’s a very good thing for us.
The player dubbed “Buddy Buckets” was “a little surprised at first” by the offer, while his mother, Juli, negotiated the deal after sifting through the offers. He intends to donate money to local charities and said the goal for the future member of the basketball team to collect profits. A team camp for children is scheduled for early September.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “It’s a crazy time, but I think there are so many good directions you can take. As long as you’re doing it the right way, I think it’s a really good thing.
AP Sports Editors John Kekis and Larry Lage contributed to this report.