BOISE, Idaho — NIL. It is the acronym currently taking collegiate athletics by storm.
It stands for name, image and likeness, and for the first time in NCAA history, the governing body is allowing student-athletes to profit off their own popularity. NIL is an avenue for local, regional and even national businesses to compensate collegiate athletes they deem are beneficial to the marketability of their respective company.
Often times this means schools in bigger conferences and in more populated cities have the resources that players can benefit from most.
So, that begs the question, how is and how does Boise State Athletics plan to keep up with the NCAA's largest programs?
Eight months in to the NIL area, the amount of questions and lack of initial direction on the NCAA's behalf have been overwhelming. Although a school is not allowed to provide an athlete NIL compensation, there is little policing of who is offering money, along with when, why and how much.
"The things we continue to hear is, 'I don't know where to start.' Whether that an athlete or that's business, whether it's a school," Boise State Associate Athletic Director for Business Development and Revenue Innovation, Mike Walsh said.
At most universities, the current model forces student-athletes to do the work themselves. That often means outsourcing -- and paying -- a third-party to create connections and marketing opportunities.
Boise State, on the other hand, has set up an infrastructure they strongly believe will streamline NIL opportunities, and make them more powerful for everyone involved.
“Because we’re at that lower price point, we’re also able to pass along those saving to the student-athletes,” Walsh said. "The way we've got it set up is that we have eliminated so many of the hurdles that we feel like are in the way.”
Walsh is the associate athletic director of the new business development and revenue innovation unit for Boise State Athletics. His group is currently working with 90 Boise State student-athletes, who have benefitted from roughly $45,000 in NIL deals since Jan. 1. Of those deals, approximately $20,000 have gone to female athletes.
"I really do feel, like, with all of the different pieces we've brought together with this unit - the creative agency side, soliciting NIL deals, group licensing, all those offerings, this is very unique, and we definitely feel like we're at the forefront [of college athletics]," Walsh said.
One of the most-unique elements of this setup is the potential for co-branded opportunities; a union between a company, a student-athlete, and the university.
Last week, Boise State senior tight end Riley Smith was at the core of one of the most unique NIL experiences we have witnessed so far. What appears to be a relatively innocent video shoot at Albertsons Stadium, was unique for many reasons.
“It’s pretty cool that I get to do this,” Smith said. “Because they’re already a previous sponsor with Boise State football, it allows for different opportunities.”
A simple conversation created an opportunity for Riley.
"One of my friends, she works over [at Lithia Ford] and kind of put me in contact with their manager," Smith said. "I got to sit down and kind of sell myself and sell my brand to him. He thought it was a good opportunity to work together."
From there, he worked hand-in-hand with the business develop and revenue innovation unit.
By doing so, Smith was able to wear his football jersey, sport the Bronco logo, and shoot a commercial with Lithia Ford on the most well-known playing surface in college football. That exact arrangement would have been nearly impossible for a third-party marketing company to accomplish.
"We have a great resource system," Smith said. "They also help us out with showing us the way and different businesses that are willing to work with us."
In exchange for his time, Lithia Ford is providing Smith with a new Ford F-150, which he will receive in May. Smith will have to pay taxes on the vehicle as long as it remains in his position.
“That’s really out guiding principle in all this,” Walsh said, “is to be the most student-athlete friendly NIL program in the country. That means bigger cuts of royalties, better opportunities, and not middle men. That’s were it really becomes advantageous to us.”
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