The Game Face podcast, from Kristi Dosh and Linktree.

NIL deals also aren’t all just about benefiting the athlete. There have been quite a few athletes who have used NIL to support either their own charities and non-profits or other causes that matter to them. One recent one Dosh spoke to on Game Face is USC QB Mo Hasan. Hasan co-hosts his own podcast, Momentum (with former Vanderbilt receiver Justice Shelton-Mosley, who Hasan played with there before transferring to USC), and is the founder and CEO of food waste reduction non-profit Second Spoon, which has partnerships with USC, Vanderbilt, LSU and the University of Miami. Dosh said her conversation with Hasan was notable, because this isn’t a new venture for him; he founded Second Spoon in 2018. But NIL is giving him some new opportunities to boost it.

“Mo is interesting because Mo formed the charity long before NIL existed, he did that while he was at Vanderbilt, he’s now at USC. It was something he was passionate about; it was a problem he found and solved at Vanderbilt while he was there and then was able to take to USC. He was already doing it, but NIL has given him the ability to amplify it. It’s also given him the ability to take the food truck he has for the charity and use that as his podcast studio, which is the coolest thing.”

“He was someone I identified because I was reporting on student-athletes who had their own podcasts. I had not previously been aware of Mo or what he was doing. Through researching, I found his podcast, I found he was doing it in the food truck, and then that traced back to the charity. And I think it’s really neat the way that some student-athletes like him have been able to use NIL to amplify something they were already doing before.”

“That’s been really interesting to see and to tell those kinds of stories. I saw one about the Iowa center [Tyler Linderbaum] who donated $30,000 in NIL money to the children’s hospital there. And there have been so many of those stories! Buddy Boeheim donated a whole week of Cameo [appearances] to charity.”

Another much-discussed trend with NIL has been deals for groups, like a particular school’s starting offensive linemen. Dosh said she’s seen arguments for and against them; she doesn’t buy all the criticism, but she does think it’s worth keeping an eye on if those wind up continuing year to year and become a notable recruiting edge for schools.

“I think there are arguments on both sides of those deals. There’s the argument of ‘How can every one of them individually be worth the same rate?’, because one of them has more social media followers than the others or is in a position that gets more media coverage. Some are household names, some aren’t; how can we say they all have the same market value? That being said, we see [group-licensing] deals like this in sports all the time. …It’s not so much looking at ‘Does every individual on this team have the same market value?’, it’s about the value to the brand of engaging an entire team versus engaging one individual, so on the whole, I’m okay with these group deals, and I haven’t seen anything that concerns me.”

“But where I think the gray area starts to happen is ‘How does this impact recruiting?’, where, if I’m a recruit and I’ve seen that XYZ school had three different team-wide deals last year, I could probably bet that those would be around next year and kind of guess at what I would make at that school.”

She added that NIL opportunities at one school versus another isn’t necessarily as important of a recruiting discussion as some claim, though.

“In actually talking to high school juniors and seniors about this, not one of them has told me that NIL has made any impact on their decision at all. Now, do I think they’re totally ignorant of it, no. But they care about who they’re going to play for, the coach, the traditions of the program, where they’re going to live, if a school has a certain major. If NIL is a piece of the pie, of the decision-making process, I think it’s a very small piece, if at all. For some of these guys, it’s not at all.”

We’ve also seen NIL deals specifically focusing on highlighting lesser-known players, like Rich Eisen’s partnership with Gorilla Glue to spotlight a “Toughest Player on Planet Earth” each week of this college football season and restaurant chain Walk-Ons and protein bar company Built Brands each striking deals for walk-on players specifically (nationally and at BYU respectively; Built Brands’ deal has some components for scholarship athletes as well, but their paying of tuition for walk-on players is particularly notable). Dosh says she thinks it’s great to see a focus on less-prominent names.

“I love it. Some of that, if you start digging in, goes to the founders of the companies, like those who were walk-ons. Or maybe they were a volleyball player, so they have something specific for volleyball players. A lot of that goes to people wanting to support someone they have something in common with. But I think that’s the beauty of NIL; it wasn’t reserved for just the top one percent. I got pitched a story recently about a women’s track and field athlete I’d never heard of before, at a school that’s not an enormous school, and she’d already made $20,000 on NIL through one of the marketplaces. I love that story. I think it’s great that they’ve been able to find these ways to monetize.”

Dosh said it’s also worth keeping in mind that the NIL landscape may change in the years ahead, though, and today’s unusual deals carry a lot of their value in up-front media coverage. That won’t continue if a lot of deals are done along the same lines. So that may spur further innovation, and it may also spur a shift to deals where the brand gets a benefit from the athlete over a longer period rather than just with up-front media focus.

“I think that this first year of NIL is going to look different than future years for a number of reasons, but one of those is that there’s a lot of value for these brands in just the PR around these things. So if you do something unique or different, it’s more likely that a journalist is going to pick it up. So there are some things being done that I think are being done mostly for the PR. And most of the value is happening in the first few days of the deal being announced and not sort of anything that’s going to happen after that. That sort of effect, I think this first year might have a bit of that, but then I think we’re going to see some of those deals go away.”

Dosh said she appreciates that NIL is at least an option for all college athletes, and with Game Face, she’s trying to offer tips that may be relevant to those in any sport at any level. And with it being a free podcast, she thinks it can hit a wider audience than just the schools she might speak at normally.

“What I really like about this is the system is accessible for all student-athletes. We’ve seen a lot of companies pop up focusing on education for student-athletes, but most of them are doing individual deals through universities. I’ve spent a lot of my time this fall talking to Division II universities, and most of them haven’t been able to afford some of these bigger companies that might come in and do educational programming, and they have like, one person who works in compliance, or one or two people who are in academic support. So they’re struggling to put together programming and educational resources for their student-athletes. And I’ve spoken a lot to Division II, so that’s top of my mind, but I imagine a lot of that’s happening at Division III or maybe even at the FCS level in Division I. This is accessible for everybody, anybody can get on their phone and listen to this podcast.”

“And as I ask the questions and as we plan guests, I’m thinking about ‘How do we cover those foundational blocks that apply to everybody?’ I don’t want people to listen to this and think ‘This person has two million followers, of course they’re getting deals.’ Those people can still be great examples and have great tips and great lessons we can learn from because they’ve already been doing deals, but the things we’re teaching are applicable to everybody. So I’m really excited to bring that opportunity to every student-athlete, for free, every week.”

[Kristi Dosh and the Game Face podcast on Linktree]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.