NIL Deals for High School Athletes Are Here – Promotional Products Companies Should Capitalize

NIL Deals for High School Athletes Are Here – Promotional Products Companies Should Capitalize

Promo products distributors and decorators should look to provide branded merchandise solutions for the nascent Name, Image and Likeness market among star scholastic athletes.

On an early September evening that started mild and ran to cool, my 11-year-old middle son and I went to watch our local high school football team.

Dylan plays youth football. For him and his teammates, the high school players are about a half-rung down from NFL stars on the ladder of cool.

So, it didn’t surprise me much when Dylan asked if I’d buy him the jersey of our high school team’s featured tailback, who had a monster of a game bulldozing and juking defenders en route to multiple touchdowns.

I told Dyl they don’t sell jerseys for the specific high school players, but that I’d get him something else if he wanted. “I really wanted his jersey” he said, disappointed.

The experience got me thinking about merch and high school athletes.

It sent me down a research rabbit hole that led to this belief: The evolving dynamics of “Name, Image and Likeness” (NIL) rules for amateur athletes present growing opportunities for promo products distributors and decorators to produce merch on behalf of star high school athletes.

Sure, it’s commonplace for our industry to provide uniforms and team-branded apparel for high schools. This would be something different – merch specifically for the personal brands of standout athletes that are keen to monetize their popularity and make themselves more attractive recruits for colleges and universities.

If that sounds crazy, or even a bit icky, then pardon me for saying: You’re a bit out of touch.

It’s likely you know that college athletes can now make money off their Name, Image and Likeness, following a 2021 Supreme Court ruling and subsequent change of policy by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which previously barred players from profiting off their NIL. Under the new policy, college athletes can endorse products and create/sell their own merch.

What maybe you didn’t know is that a quickly increasing number of high school athletes are also earning money through NIL deals.

Some involve high-profile athletes with a national presence: Bronny James, LeBron James’ oldest son, signed with an underwear brand and released a collection earlier this year. Others are more localized: A Vietnamese restaurant, MT Noodles, in July announced that it was giving Laotian-American high school basketball player Jalen Langsy an endorsement opportunity.

Meanwhile, teenage soccer player Bayliss Flynn became the first known high school athlete in Minnesota to score an NIL deal this spring when TruStone Financial decided to pay her thousands of dollars to promote credit/debit cards and encourage smart spending among teens in the North Star State.

“We are now in the new normal – an open and free market,” attorney Mike Caspino told Yahoo Sports. Caspino has worked on NIL deals for dozens of high school athletes during the past year. “This is only going to get bigger.”

And why wouldn’t it?

Students who excel at high school sports have always generally been popular or at least known on a local level – a reach many are extending through social media and ever more intense mainstream media coverage of scholastic athletics. It’s a recipe for breeding starlets – certainly at local and niche levels, and even more broadly for true Blue Chip athletes.

Within that mix, promo products/merch can provide important brand-building and cash-making opportunities for these athletes.

Just think of that local tailback I mentioned earlier. Now, maybe I wouldn’t have been able to buy my son Dylan the talented back’s exact replica jersey if the player/merch partner wasn’t authorized by the school to use its logo/trademarks, etc. But if the player had his own merch line, I’m certain Dyl would have dug getting a T-shirt or hat. “Yeah, that’d be awesome,” he confirmed when I asked him about it.

Considering the potential, I believe distributors/decorators could consult on things like personal brand logos for players and help them build lines of merch. Perhaps items could be sold through a web store – a digital shop that social-media savvy teens can promote through the various platforms upon which they might be active. As you may be aware, some YouTubers garner impressive view counts going to local high school games and narrating the experience. Star players could promote their merch-filled web stores when highlighted on these.

There could be co-branding opportunities, too. Local restaurants or other businesses pay athletes to endorse them, then sell shirts or rally towels or stadium cups with the business and player’s likeness/branding. Perhaps most enticing from a sales volume perspective, promo pros can connect with agencies, attorneys and other professional outfits that work with high school and collegiate athletes on NIL, becoming the companies’ go-to merch provider for their rosters of athletes. That’s a ready-made pipeline of business.

The list of opportunities could go on. Of course, as distributors/decorators pursue them, it’s important to note that there’s no single NIL standard for high school athletes. Guidelines vary from state to state, and in some states, NIL for high school players is prohibited.

Along with Washington, D.C., 17 states have confirmed that they allow high school athletes to remain eligible and profit from endorsement deals and merch sales. Additional states are actively considering allowing NIL deals for high school athletes and it’s likely more eventually will, according to both legal and marketing experts.

Distributors/decorators that start working with athletes now and delivering winning solutions will have the experience, case studies and testimonials to become a go-to merch partner as NIL opportunities for high school players proliferate across the country. I’d be game-planning now to have a presence in the nascent market.

Images Powered by Shutterstock

Thank you for your referral

Please list your name and e-mail and we’ll contact you shortly

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.