In last weekend’s non-conference men’s hoops tournament, the Roman Main Event, five athletes were working for the event in addition to playing.
Thanks to the NIL deals, they were hired as “ambassadors” to promote them.
It was the first time that college athletes themselves were paid to market college games. And it won’t be the last: The Hula Bowl, a playoff football all-star game, has announced that it will also be launching a NIL program.
“For us, as [event] operator, this is an exciting new way to expand our events to work with a select group of players for promotional value, ”tournament organizer Roman Main Event and bdG Sports senior director Jon Albaugh told FOS.
Will athletes promoting events like all-star games or non-conference tournaments become the norm?
A pioneering tournament
The organizers of the Roman Main Event had their eyes on the NIL long before July 1. Albaugh said they had consulted on the O’Bannon v. NCAA, which helped pave the way for NIL athlete rights.
Event planners believed a NIL program would make sense as they could recruit athletes from all four teams in strong markets – No.4 Michigan, Wichita State, Arizona, and UNLV .
They chose Hunter Dickinson, Dalen Terry, Adrien Nunez, Dexter Dennis and Bryce Hamilton, who used social media to highlight the tournament and touted the promo codes to their fans.
“It takes the clutter out of the stuff that we’re trying to get fans to know about,” Albaugh said. “It was great.”
Even two weeks before the tournament, Albaugh had already called the program “100%” successful. “We recouped our investment on promotional value for sure, adding a bit of pickup at national outlets… that’s just a bonus,” he said.
An All-Star Game Pro-Athlete
The Hula Bowl, to be held in January at UCF, was created to give athletes “one last shot” to impress NFL scouts, Hula Bowl general counsel Jason Davis told FOS. They also wanted to help the athletes in their efforts off the field.
But unlike the Roman Main Event, the organizers are keen to hire athletes who won’t take part in the match and who may not even play football.
Since the NIL rights of senior graduates “may not be so viable,” the Hula Bowl will enlist subclasses that have a “big presence” on campus, Davis said.
With a few months to go until game day, Davis’ squad haven’t fleshed out all the details. But they plan to ask athletes to participate in in-person events, like signing autographs.
A successful program will be in intangibles.
“We want to help these kids with their new NIL rights as much as possible,” Davis said. “What if they get excited about the Hula Bowl and spread the word about what we’re doing… I think a rising tide lifts all boats.”
A new frontier
As long as an event organizer is not a school or conference, they are eligible to run NIL offers. Davis and Albaugh both believe these programs may become commonplace in the future.
And with more time to plan, they can be even more successful, said Albaugh, although he believes only certain events would really benefit. His team considered making the program with a mid-major tournament and lesser-known players. But it probably “didn’t make that much sense.”
Davis believes it would be a mistake for game developers to ignore NIL. “Most of the time it is the students themselves who draw the crowds,” he said.
“It only makes sense to partner with them in a mutually beneficial relationship. And I think that’s the way it’s going to be in the future.