Name, image and likeness — more commonly known as NIL — has rapidly become an integral part of collegiate athletics over the past couple of years. The adoption of NIL stems from a 2021 court case, and subsequent NCAA rules change, that allows student-athletes to monetize their personal brand and on-field accomplishments.
The concept of NIL is seeded in the revenue explosion of collegiate athletics over the past decade. Previously, collegiate athletes were considered amateur athletes, and the NCAA governing body penalized students who made money while at school from their collegiate career.
Although not professional sports, collegiate athletics, especially at the Division I level, has grown considerable. This is mostly due to revenue generated by football, and in some markets like Iowa State, supported by men’s and women’s basketball program.
In 2001, the Iowa State University athletic department saw revenue of just under $20 million. By 2007, that grew to $33 million and was funded largely by ticket sales and supported by conference revenue, fundraising, and media rights.
From 2008-2012, the amount of money that media companies paid to air games tripled and by 2014, every Division I football game was on television. Athletes increasingly became household names across the country, becoming the face of their respective programs, or the sport as a whole. For Iowa State, consider the likes of Georges Niang, Monte Morris, Allen Lazard, Brock Purdy, and Breece Hall as recent examples.
University athletic departments pumped this influx of money into their programs in what became known as an “arms race.” Facilities for athletes were modernized and the best coaches garnered higher salaries, all while student-athletes on the field were unable to benefit from their work.
The new NIL policy changed that, now allowing athletes to receive money to participate in promotional and marketing campaigns, including events, signing autographs, or endorsing products via social media.
To help support and manage these opportunities, independent collectives have been set up to support each Division I program, including in Ames at Iowa State University. On August 1, 2022, Brent Blum was announced as the first Executive Director of the We Will Collective.
The We Will Collective is not directly overseen by any University entity but is a 501c3 organization that has a simple mission: We aspire to support student-athletes that share our passion for the Cyclones and encourage them to be community-minded.
As the Collective’s only full-time employee, Blum runs the day-to-day operations for the We Will Collective. A class of 2007 Iowa State alum, Blum is a life-long Cyclone and known figure in the Cyclone community. He spent the previous ten years working for the Cyclone Radio and TV networks and served as a Director of Development for the Iowa State Foundation.
“We have a retain, not recruit goal through the We Will Collective,” said Blum, acknowledging both the importance of supporting student-athletes financially with the reality that he cannot fundraise the same amount of money as other programs.
The We Will Collective has set a goal to fundraise $3 million per year to support Iowa State athletes. This can be done through fan or donor subscriptions, fundraisers, or other traditional marketing efforts. Right now, their focus is on supporting the revenue-generating sports of football, men’s basketball, and women’s basketball. “We would love to be able to set a base level of support for each one of those athletes.”
One of the primary aspects of the Collective is to provide opportunities for athletes to use their position in the community to give back to charities and others in need. “We believe that NIL should be used to grow the character of athletes and to benefit our communities,” said Blum. “Part of what makes Cyclone Nation so special is the connection between Cyclone athletes and the community. These players come from all over the nation and world and decide to be a Cyclone; choose to be one of us. They are our highest-profile ‘celebrities’ and become heroes for our youngest fans.”
One successful partnership has been through the Ames-based Youth and Shelter Services of Central Iowa. Last year, Cyclone basketball player Gabe Kalscheur spent considerable time with YSS youth through their Ambassador Program. This year, it has expanded to more athletes giving back to the community.
“For us, it is not about just giving big sums of money to athletes, it is about finding ways for them to engage with our community and compensating them accordingly.” The We Will Collective also partnered with the Make-a-Wish Foundation and the Alzheimer’s Association.
“We believe that we can do good in Iowa and help Iowa State as well,” said Blum. “There’s no avoiding that NIL opportunities are attractive to students. We want to make those opportunities available for work that makes Iowa better and Iowa State student athletes more engaged in their community.”
More information on the We Will Collective can be found at their website: https://www.wewillcollective.com
Ames Lager, a unique beer blend from Okoboji-based brewery, West O Beer, is coming this fall. Proceeds from the Cyclone-branded beer will benefit the We Will Collective.
What is Name, Image and Likeness:
Name, image, and likeness, or NIL, is the term used by the NCAA to refer to a student-athlete and their ability to monetize their brand.
In the past, due to NCAA rules, student-athletes could not profit from their NIL. This included selling autographs, memorabilia, or being paid to appear at events or other marketing endeavors. Colleges and universities could use the individual’s NIL in marketing, merchandise, school promotion, and other materials.
In 2021, the NCAA voted on and approved a change in rules regarding NIL after a court ruled in favor of student-athletes on the topic. Previous NIL rules were suspended, and student athletes can now take full advantage of their NIL. A few of the most common ways include participating in camps, selling autographs, sponsorships, and social media posts.