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IOWA CITY — University of Iowa athletes have profited off their names, images and likenesses at a rate that is “very on par” with athletes from other Power Five programs, according to a company working with hundreds of athletic departments on NIL.
Jim Cavale, the CEO of INFLCR, said “about 10 percent” of Iowa’s student-athletes are “active” in seeking opportunities to profit off their NIL — short for name, image and likeness.
That rate is “pretty much the average across the country at the Power Five level,” Cavale said.
Social media is a major factor in how much one of the hundreds of Iowa athletes can make off NIL. Cavale estimated an athlete has $0.80 in annual earning potential per social media follower, and that can rise above $1 for athletes competing at a high level like at Iowa.
That could mean a lot of money for some of Iowa’s marquee athletes.
Iowa women’s basketball star Caitlin Clark, for example, has about 63,000 followers between Twitter and Instagram. Iowa wrestler Spencer Lee has 163,000 followers between Twitter and Instagram.
Josh Gordon, a senior instructor of sports business at the University of Oregon, said it’s still early to determine the exact value of a college athlete based on social media following.
“It’s going to take some time to shake out,” Gordon said. “It’s going to take time to build the big data set to really see, ‘Are these apples to apples?’ Because most of the data is coming off pro athletes and what their visibility looks like.”
Iowa has seen quite the variety of NIL activity.
Clark became the first collegiate athlete to partner with Hy-Vee in October, joining the eight-state grocer’s list of athlete endorsements that includes the Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes.
Iowa men’s basketball guard Jordan Bohannon had one of the first NIL deals — an agreement to sign autographs and take photos with fans outside a fireworks store. Cue a pun about the NIL era starting off with a bang.
Tyler Barnes, Iowa football’s director of recruiting, said the staff’s initial concern with NIL would be potential “jealousy in the locker room.” That hasn’t been the case, though.
“Are guys going to be curious why they're not getting paid when player X is getting paid?“ Barnes said. ”Everybody is really genuinely happy for guys that are making money here. … It really has not been a distraction for our guys.”
A patchwork of state laws and NCAA rules effective July 1 have allowed athletes to profit off NIL. It’s a “really tenuous” solution, though, Gordon said, and he doesn’t anticipate Congressional action before the 2022 midterm elections.
Looking ahead, Cavale expects the 10 percent figure at Iowa and other Power Five schools — the percentage of athletes seeking NIL deals — “will continue to grow.”
“You need your first movers to have success and show their peers what it takes and what's possible financially,” Cavale said. “That’s what’s happening right now.”
At the same time, Gordon said pursuing NIL opportunities might not be in every athlete’s best interests although “everyone’s instinct is to hop on the train.”
“It’s a really personal decision for student-athletes to decide whether or not it aligns with both their short- and long-term goals,” Gordon said. "Building your voice, building your brand — that takes effort, energy and time.”
Barnes said NIL was “definitely a topic of conversation” with Iowa recruits during the summer.
“I really think that’s just because it was new to everybody,” Barnes told reporters in October. “Recently it hasn’t been a huge topic of conversation. … I’m not getting as many questions about it. Neither is our staff.”
Xavier Nwankpa, a five-star football recruit committed to Iowa, said the prospect of profiting off NIL in a state where he already has a strong brand “didn’t really affect” his decision to stay in-state.
“I’m going to play football and go get my degree,” Nwankpa said. “That was a little influence, but not too much.”
Still, Barnes said the staff showcases Iowa’s “FLIGHT” NIL program to recruits on visits along with talking about what current players are doing with NIL.
More NIL resources could be on the way, too.
INFLCR recently launched local exchanges with 10 schools that act as online storefronts for businesses to connect with athletes for potential NIL deals.
The system automates the tax and compliance reporting system as well. Cavale said it does not facilitate or negotiate the NIL agreement, though, which would be an NCAA violation.
"Iowa doesn’t have it yet, but hopefully they will soon,“ Cavale said. “We expect most of our 200 schools to add it within the first six months.”
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