This is an excerpt from Please Like Me, BuzzFeed News’ newsletter about how influencers are battling for your attention. You can sign up here.
Colleges now want to manage student-athletes’ influencer careers
Oh, how quickly we can change our tune when a new stream of profitability presents itself.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association announced last week that it will temporarily allow student-athletes to take sponsorship deals and make money off their own images and likenesses. The NCAA will work with Congress in the interim to develop new official policies on a national level. Until recently, athletes were barred from making any additional income while in school in the name of maintaining some sanctity of amateurism in college sports — despite the fact that players and their talent helped schools build multimillion-dollar businesses.
Last year I wrote about how student-athletes were some of the first influencers. Many of the influencer business models we see today rely on how effective an influencer is as a brand ambassador. Student-athletes are incredibly good brand ambassadors for universities, but they have never been allowed to be compensated for it. (In the newsletter from September 2020, I wrote: “These new influencer models make it hard to ignore the disparaging ways some students are treated. And it may be time to finally ask ourselves why. If your answer is, ‘Because that’s what’s written in the NCAA rulebook and how things have always been done,’ perhaps it’s time to amend some policies.”)
It seems the Supreme Court is subscribed to Please Like Me! Just kidding. But I am of course elated to hear about these new policies. They’re long overdue.
Almost instantly — in some cases, the very next day — official college accounts and their reps began tweeting about the news and how they were planning to cash in. “The future of college athletes earning potential starts today!” said @DanHartleb, the head coach of the University of Illinois baseball team. LSU quickly packaged this promo video to get future student-athletes hyped about their future earning potential.
The University of Texas soccer team took the opportunity to promote its “Leverage” program, which was created in anticipation of the changes to the NIL (“Name, Image, Likeness”) policy to work with UT student-athletes to build their personal brands.
“There is no better place to build your personal brand than the city of Austin and the University of Texas,” said women’s soccer head coach Angela Kelly in a promotional tweet for the program.
The loosening up of NIL rules is a move in the right direction. But the sudden tonal change for colleges is jarring, considering how supportive most colleges with powerful athletic programs have been about the NCAA's restrictions for their players in the past.
“No better place to build your personal brand than [UT Austin]”?? That’s emphatically untrue. Until last week’s Supreme Court ruling, there were myriad better places for young people to build their personal brands than UT Austin. It’s just now that the rules have changed, schools want to retain as much of the branding and earning potential from their players as possible. They went from saying “rules are rules” to “let us help you make money!”
I reached out to UT Austin about this marketing push.
I’m sus about their motives because, once again, I don’t believe these colleges have their athletes’ best interests at heart. But that’s America — and that's how we run our education sectors as businesses.
Corporations are also running wild with signing student-athletes lately. Degree Deodorant has committed $5 million to student-athlete campaigns and announced in a press release sent to BuzzFeed News that it has already inked deals with 14 students across the country. Cameo also sent us an email saying it is anticipating bringing a roster of young talent onto its platform.
If money were the only reparation for decades of an unjust policy, I’d maybe feel more optimistic about these sudden changes. But the swing in the other direction is so dramatic I’m looking at it cautiously, and I hope student-athletes do too.
If you’re a young person who’s going to benefit from new NIL endorsement opportunities, get your money — you deserve to, now that it’s finally legal. But considering the legacy of NCAA policies and who they’ve ultimately served, I’d be a bit wary of the language some schools are now using to harness your earning potential.
Does TikTok have the star power to take on Cameo?
TikTok is making a play for Cameo’s proven formula with its new Shoutouts feature and, to be honest, it’s a smart move.
Cameo made its name by offering us mere peasants access to top-tier celebs for a hell of a lot less than it normally costs. For a measly $100, I could book Sisqó to wish me a pleasant thong day. The company is now valued at $1 billion, so of course TikTok wants in on the market.
While Cameo does have quite a few mid-famous TikTokers on its roster as well, Shoutouts cuts out the go-between so you can request your videos on the same platform that you watch content. But the addition of Shoutouts also highlights something that TikTok has tapped into so well — social media can make anyone famous.
Cameo tends to swing for well-known American celebs, but Shoutouts looks like it will let just about anyone with a decent following get in on it, based on the testing it’s doing in Turkey. That means niche influencers, who have small but loyal followings and would never get picked by Cameo, could potentially make some cash. It’s also a good way for creators who aren’t part of TikTok’s revenue program to finally be able to make money without needing to be huge on the platform.
The big money question is whether A-listers will buy in. TikTok’s user base used to be mostly regular teens, but now in addition to made-on-TikTok stars like Charli D’Amelio and Addison Rae, there are now also actors and musicians participating such as Ryan Reynolds and Britney Spears (#FreeBritney!!).
For now, it seems unlikely that agents and managers want to add another piecemeal yet time-consuming revenue source for their clients. Cameo also now offers live video chats, which TikTok doesn’t yet have an answer for. But never say never.