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Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated
Richard Johnson

NIL’s Next Era Looks Like Michigan Football’s Lakers Outing

Much of the discourse surrounding name image and likeness compensation is painted in a negative light with cautionary tales and sky-is-falling anxiety about the broad direction of college sports. There’s the ever-evolving debate of pay for play, or how it’s used as an inducement for visits or commitments, but there are also the regular transactions that show the system can work as a normal exchange of services, specifically in the social media era.

Consider the Los Angeles Lakers’ 133–112 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Dec. 28. A few Michigan football players were in section 102 with prime seats to take in the action. The seats routinely retail for over $500 on the secondary market, but thanks to NIL, when Trevor Keegan requested a few tickets, UM’s Champions Circle Collective was able to make a quick deal for a few players (Zak Zinter, Cornelius Johnson and Keegan among them) to receive tickets in exchange for an Instagram story.

“We’re able to kinda get creative when we're putting together services that we perform for brands or entities in exchange for whether it's monetary compensation like cash or it's in-kind like a ticket to a game,” Jared Wangler, the co-founder of the Champions Circle collective affiliated with UM says. “Being able to leverage the student-athlete’s platform is an incredible way to put a deal together. So, usually, people think NIL, they think of a commercial or you know a Wheaties box or a T-shirt but the power of social media and essentially looking at those platforms as assets that those athletes have created are unique ways to utilize and leverage NIL.”

The transaction is a run-of-the-mill agreement for any Instagram influencer. Keegan, who has over 21,000 followers, doesn’t exactly see himself as an influencer, but he fits the bill here.

“I've never been a guy to always post on social media and get my name out there, but there's been some companies that have asked me to do a lot of posts or Instagram reels and stuff like that,” Keegan said.

Screenshot of Trevor Keegan’s Instagram story.

Sports Illustrated

Screenshot of Zak Zinter’s Instagram story.

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Screenshot of Cornelius Johnson’s Instagram story.

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Champions Circle uses the tech platform INFLCR to disclose that a deal has been made. It all seems pretty normal, and it is in every other part of the entertainment industry where individuals can earn compensation for their likeness. But all of this was prohibited activity by NCAA rules until 2021. Wangler, a Michigan fullback who graduated in ’18, could not have participated in such an arrangement when he played.

The system isn’t perfect, and it’s one of the multiple items in a recent memo from NCAA president Charlie Baker that is going to be addressed in a push for comprehensive change in how college sports operate (an effort Wangler is in favor of). NIL has success stories that go beyond the headlines about million-dollar deals. One was on display a few rows behind Lil Wayne Thursday night. 

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