The NFL Players Association regulates agents for the purposes of negotiating contracts with NFL teams. The NFLPA does not regulate agents for the purposes of handling marketing rights for players. That loophole could soon be creating an interesting dynamic, with several states (like Texas and Florida) poised to allow college athletes to generate revenue from their names, images, and likenesses as of July 1.
Per a source with knowledge of the situation, some agents already have begun approaching college players regarding the possibility of representing them in their efforts to market themselves. Some agents, per the source, already are offering six-figure marketing guarantees to college athletes. Some players have been offered, we’re told, $500,000 as an advance on future marketing earnings.
For example, an agent will offer to represent a player for marketing purposes, and the agent will advance an exorbitant sum against which the player’s future marketing earnings are credited. For years, some agents have provided such marketing guarantees as part of the broader effort to sign players for NFL contract purposes. With NIL laws soon becoming effective in several states, agents are focusing solely on marketing deals for now, with those same guarantees.
For the agents, it provides an introduction to the players for future business dealings — specifically, their NFL contracts. If a player who remains multiple years from entering the draft hires an agent for marketing purposes, that agent already has a clear foothold for the potentially more lucrative relationships once the player turns pro.
Efforts are underway to make the NCAA, the NFLPA, and various state legislatures aware of the issue, in the hopes that rules will be promulgated in order to prevent agents from essentially funneling cash to players that will be credited against marketing earnings, and that as a practical matter will make those players more inclined to hire those agents when the window opens for entering the draft. Right or wrong, those agents will gladly fork over significant sums now under the guise of marketing advances in order to lay the foundation for representing those players when they head to the NFL.
For the agents who do it, there’s a calculated risk. The player who receives a guarantee may never realize the marketing dollars to pay it off. Likewise, the player may never become an NFL prospects who earns significant dollars through his draft position or his subsequent NFL contracts. In turn, the agents who don’t do it will operate at a real disadvantage, since the agents who make the marketing guarantees will have a clear head start on the broader business relationship.
It remains to be seen whether the various organizations with the power to oversee such transactions will do so. The NCAA may not care; as long as the players are earning money elsewhere, the inevitable reckoning for colleges that generate billions from the players’ efforts can be delayed. The NFLPA also may not care. Indeed, the union has allowed agents to use marketing guarantees as an inducement to sign draft-ready players for years.
Ultimately, it depends on whether state legislatures will get involved in the issue or, more broadly, whether the federal government will pass a law that creates a uniform set of standards regarding whether and to what extent agents can distribute significant payments to players on the promise/potential that those players will ultimately earn sufficient marketing dollars to offset the marketing guarantee — and on the hope that those players will eventually hire those agents to represent those players later.
However it plays out, it’s an unintended but hardly unforeseeable consequence of the effort to allow players to make money not from playing college sports but from capitalizing on the fame generated therefrom. Maybe the NCAA, the NFLPA, the state legislatures, and/or Congress will be fine with it. Maybe they won’t. Either way, it’s an issue that quickly is coming to the forefront, because agents are capitalizing on the ability to establish relationships with college athletes who otherwise are months if not years from otherwise being eligible to be recruited by NFL agents.