Marketing deals seep from NCAA to high school sports

CLEVELAND — Ian Jackson and Jonuel “Boogie” Friend are among the brightest stars in high school basketball, and now there are business deals to prove it.

Teenagers and friendly rivals in New York City profit off their names, images and likenesses through marketing contracts commonly known as NIL deals. Those contracts have begun to trickle down to the high school level after the NCAA decided last year to allow college athletes to monetize their stardom.

So far, seven states have approved deals for prep athletes. Other states, like Ohio, continue to debate whether the NIL will taint high school sports.

Jackson and Flender, both named top college prospects for the graduating class of 2024, are paid a percentage of sales of a merchandise company’s products that carry their likenesses and four-digit monthly checks with to post about the brand on social media.

Jackson, 16, said he was saving up the money he made from merchandise company Spreadshop and several other deals to buy a home for his family.

“I want my family to live in a better place,” Jackson said.

Flanders, 15, also said he wanted to help his family.

“It’s a big deal,” he said. “All the hard work finally paid off.”

In Ohio, high school principals began voting on May 1 on whether to change the bylaws of the state high school athletic association to allow athletes to sign agreements.

“A lot of us at OHSAA and school administrators don’t like NIL,” said Tim Stried, spokesman for the Ohio High School Athletic Association. “We hope we don’t have to deal with this, but it’s not going away. We can be involved in shaping it, or do what the NCAA does and fight it until something else happens.”

Karissa Niehoff, chief executive of the National Federation of State High School Associations, said NIL rights for high school athletes could prove damaging, but she tempered her criticism, saying, “I don’t think we’re going to see a lot of that.”

High school “is not about a chance to earn a living, and we hope it will stay that way,” Nihoff said.

The NIL deal issue for high school athletes follows a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last June that said the NCAA cannot limit education-related compensation benefits for the country’s nearly 500,000 college athletes. Since then, Alaska, California, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Louisiana and Utah have enacted laws or policies that allow zero compensation for high school athletes.

Jackson attended Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx and was represented by his AAU coach. Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains, New York, hired a marketing consultant to help Fland and other students at the school with NIL transactions.

Generally, college and high school athletes can use sports agents to market their names, images and likenesses, but they are not allowed to hire an agent to represent their profession without jeopardizing their eligibility. The standard fee for a marketing agency is 15-20% of an athlete’s NIL deal.

High school athletic associations in states that allow NIL deals prohibit students from using their school names and team logos in their deals.

In Florida, high school athletes are not allowed to benefit from their star status. But senior volleyball player Lenny Higgins of Carrollwood Day School in Lake Magdalene struck a deal after the season to donate her earnings to a concussion center that treats her.

After suffering numerous concussions in her sport, she signed with Q30 Innovations, a Connecticut company that makes devices that help reduce brain damage. She donated her earnings to the USF Concussion Center in Tampa.

Higgins will continue her volleyball career this fall at Oglethorpe University in Brookhaven, Georgia.

“Brands will continue to see female student-athletes achieve their goals in unique and authentic ways, as the biggest names don’t always mean the best success,” Higgins said.

According to the latest data collected by Opendorse Deals, company officials say the company has helped 100,000 college athletes conduct NIL deals with third parties, and so far, the average payout is small. The data shows that Tier 1 athletes with at least one deal make an average of about $664. For a Tier II athlete, that’s $59, while a Tier III athlete is only $43.

According to Opendorse data, nearly 70% of transactions involve social media posts.

Ohio University sports business associate professor David Ridpath sees opportunities for student-athletes for financial gain as a civil rights issue. Athletes are not employees of the school they attend and shouldn’t be restricted from earning money, he said, adding that the amount won’t be huge, but could “put a few extra bucks in their pocket.”

“In my opinion, it’s all positive,” Reidpath said. “College and high school athletes are not employees and should not be restricted to any market in which they are valuable.”

Basketball prodigy Mikey Williams is one of a handful of high school athletes to sign a lucrative NIL deal.Williams, who will play his senior year at San Isidro High School in San Diego, signed a deal with the footwear and sportswear maker puma While attending a Florida sports academy, the amount was undisclosed.

Former Texas high school football star Quinn Ewers is another exception to the average earner. The touted quarterback opted to give up his senior year to advance to Ohio State last year, a move that allowed him to sign a reported $1.4 million NIL deal before arriving on campus last summer. Last season, Ules made just two pointless snaps for the Buckeyes before opting to move to the University of Texas.

There are potential pitfalls in NIL trading at both the high school and college levels, said Matthew Mitten, a professor of sports law at Marquette University in Milwaukee, which he calls “the last bastion of amateurs.”

Mitten noted that alumni and supporters of the University of Texas announced in December that starting in August, up to 16 football offensive linemen who received scholarships would each receive $50,000 to support charities.

“It almost became a de facto payment,” Mitten said.

Mitten and others wondered how NIL opportunities might have an impact on the forbidden but not uncommon practice of recruiting athletes in high schools. He raised the possibility that wealthy alumni from private high schools might replicate the University of Texas alumni model.

Mitten and others say parents of high school athletes need to be educated about the NIL deal to protect their children when the opportunity arises.

“I think they’re going to have to be careful,” Mitten said. “There are many legal issues that minors and their parents and guardians are not familiar with.”

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