FLORIDA FOOTBALL & RECRUITING COVERAGE
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis made news on Friday when he signed the so-called “name, image and likeness bill” into law.
California and Colorado recently passed similar bills, but Florida’s will be the first to take effect on July 1, 2021.
“As soon as the bill that’s now law becomes effective, it will allow any college athlete who is enrolled at a university in the state of Florida to seek to procure endorsement opportunities, marketing opportunities, any opportunities where they would be licensing their names, images and likenesses for commercial use in exchange for payment,” said Darren Heitner, a lawyer and sports law professor at UF.
While endorsement deals with local car dealerships and restaurants are probably the first things that come to mind, Heitner said the bill left the door fairly open as to the types of deals athletes will be able to negotiate.
The biggest restriction that remains on athletes is that the compensation must come through a third-party, he said. They still cannot accept money from athletic department employees or boosters. The goal behind this restriction is to prevent top boosters from setting up players with endorsement deals and essentially creating a pay-for-play scheme.
The compensation must also be consistent with an evaluation of the athlete’s value, he said. They can’t be paid more than the value they bring to the company just because they’re athletes. It’s unknown how this evaluation will be conducted.
There will also be some categories, such as alcoholic beverage companies, that will be off-limits for athlete endorsements, but these exact categories will need to be defined prior to July 2021, he said.
As long as all of these conditions are met, athletes are free to engage in whatever endorsement deals they want. Something as simple as signing a photo at a restaurant in exchange for a free meal could be allowed if it’s determined that a free meal is fair compensation for their autograph. The compensation doesn’t have to be cash; it can be whatever the athlete and company want as long as it’s a fair trade.
“Sky’s the limit,” Heitner said. “I think we’ll see deals in a variety of categories. The more traditional categories of companies that associate with athletes include shoe and apparel brands. That’s one thing that the NCAA said it’s not sure is something it wants to allow by way of its 31 pages of recommendations that was published a couple of months ago. That will not be off-limits in the state of Florida by way of the execution of this bill and signing into law.”
Of course, endorsements aren’t just about filming commercials, using a product exclusively, and slapping an athlete’s face on an advertisement in the local newspaper anymore. Social media plays an increasingly large role in the sports industry. College athletes will have the opportunity to make money by advertising a product on social media. The number of followers they have and how they engage with their followers will help determine their marketability.
“I think quality over quantity is very important, not necessarily posting about every little thing that you’re doing throughout the day,” Heitner said. “I think there is such a thing as oversaturation and then decreasing the quality of the content. Most importantly is thinking twice before publishing anything. You could publish 100 pieces of content and destroy the value that you’ve created over those 100 pieces with one post that you make that you regret. So, I think it’s very important to be very careful and cautious before posting anything because I’ve seen it just destroy athletes’ brands before.”
The NCAA drew severe criticism in 2017 when it declared UCF kicker Donald De La Haye permanently ineligible after he profited off of YouTube videos and refused to pay back the money. Monetized YouTube videos are expected to be allowed under the bill that passed on Friday. UF freshman defensive lineman Princely Umanmielen regularly posts videos on his YouTube channel, so he’ll have the opportunity to make money if he wants to.
While every star player has marketability, Heitner expects the starting quarterback to be the most valuable athlete at Florida and most other schools as well.
Gator athletes will have access to state-licensed agents and attorneys to assist them in procuring endorsement deals, he said. Agents will have to complete a separate licensing process with the state’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation to be able to negotiate endorsement deals for college athletes. It will still be illegal for agents to attempt to persuade college athletes to forgo their collegiate eligibility and sign with them.
Heitner’s not sure how much agents will be involved, though. Some athletes might not want to go through agents, as agents will want commissions on every deal they negotiate. Some agents might not even be interested in negotiating deals for college athletes since they’ll likely be worth less than the deals they can negotiate for professional athletes.
Skeptics of the name, image, and likeness movement often argue that allowing some star players to potentially earn $500,000 or more while other players make nothing could lead to rifts and fighting within programs. Heitner is hopeful that won’t happen because he thinks there are already disparities among players, such as recruiting rankings, the number of scholarship offers they received and NFL potential. Adding endorsement deals to the mix will only more clearly define the gaps that already exist between players.
The NCAA announced in April that it supports proposed rule changes from a working group to allow all college athletes to profit off of their names, images and likenesses. However, a vote on the legislation might not happen until as late as Jan. 31.
For the time being, the Gators enjoy a unique recruiting advantage. While other schools can promote the potential of their football players being able to earn money through endorsements in the future, Florida has a concrete law that it can pitch to recruits, and they wasted no time in doing so.
Moments after DeSantis announced he was signing the bill, UF Assistant Director of Creative Media Kevin Camps tweeted a graphic that states that “all brands aren’t created equal.”
— Kevin J. Camps, Sr. (@kevinc_sr) June 12, 2020
Minutes later, 2021 defensive end prospect Keanu Koht posted a graphic sent to him by the Gators’ recruiting department that emphasizes how the Gators are helping their players build their brands.
The message is simple: come to Florida, and we’ll help you build your brand to make you more marketable, which in turn will lead to more money through endorsements.
Whether the Gators can take advantage of the new bill remains to be seen, but if they fail, it won’t because of the governor’s lack of effort.
“For all of our great high school players, stay in state,” DeSantis said. “I see people going to Alabama and Clemson, and I know they've got good programs, but there's nothing better than winning a national championship in your home state. So maybe this will be an added incentive.”