Georgia Tech athletes awaiting start of NIL era

Jordan Yates has a shirt he’s going to put on sale. He’s also ready to accrue financial benefits from the growing popularity of his TikTok account. When the NCAA opens the doors Thursday for college athletes to be able to be compensated for the use of their name, image and likeness, Yates is eager to find out what’s on the other side.

“I think it’s pretty cool,” Yates told the AJC this week. “It’s good for everybody to be able to profit off their likeness and everything like that.”

Yates is among the more prepared and interested among the roughly 425 Yellow Jackets athletes in the realm of using their NIL to put money in their pockets. And, with the new age about to arrive, some plans have become more clear. But so much more remains an uncertainty.

“I’d say a couple of us (on the football team) have plans, but I think everybody’s just kind of figuring it out because it’s all so new,” Yates said.

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The popularity of Yates’ account on TikTok – a social-media platform on which users can make and share short videos, mostly combining music and humor – could be an avenue. As of Wednesday, Yates had 47,700 followers to his account, which consists mostly of humorous takes on life as a college football player. That’s almost as many as the official Georgia Tech football account (51,900). Social-media experts say that his following puts him on the cusp of being what is called a “micro-influencer.”

Beyond possibly being paid for his content by TikTok through its Creator Fund – Yates said he could be paid about a dollar for every 30,000 views – brands might seek him out as a potential ambassador. Yates, who also has his own YouTube channel, said that he has been approached by a few clothing companies to be an endorser. The deals could potentially be as simple as free apparel, but it’s a start, and certainly ahead of where college athletes have been until this point.

Yates also has plans to sell merchandise, such as a T-shirt. He’s not alone. On Tuesday night, Tech safety Juanyeh Thomas got a head start, posting from his Twitter account an image of a T-shirt that he will be selling starting Thursday. It features his nickname “1Way” over an image of praying hands on the front with the message “There is something inside you that the world needs …” on the back.

In the post, he wrote that the T-shirts are a way to earn money, “But that isn’t why I’m doing this. … This is a great cause for kids/teens/grown ups to help them know that they are special and send out a message to the world.”

As of Tuesday, Fans Meet Idols, an Atlanta-based company, had 26 Tech athletes from the men’s basketball, football and volleyball teams prepared to open digital storefronts through which they could sell merchandise or services, such as T-shirts with their own images, autographs, personal appearances or video messages.

While there is anticipation that athletes will be able to land big endorsement deals based on their social-media followings or star power, the likelihood is that lucrative deals may be limited to only the most recognizable college athletes. Fans Meet Idols CEO Steve Kennedy is banking on the potential for athletes (and his company) to earn money by going directly to fans. Kennedy said that one of the athletes who has lined up with Fans Meet Idols will sell blocks of time to play a video game against him.

“Fans don’t care about how many followers you have, or how big your brand is,” Kennedy said. “They’re already a fan of yours because of who you are.”

Kayla Kaiser, a middle blocker for the volleyball team, is one who plans to use such a storefront. A two-year starter for the Jackets, Kaiser has a TikTok account even more popular than Yates’; she had 79,200 followers as of Wednesday and had accumulated about 435,000 views from her 22 videos created in the month of June.

“It’s pretty big among our generation,” Kaiser said of TikTok.

Credit: Danny Karnik

Credit: Danny Karnik

Growing her account and building her brand have been priorities as the NIL era dawns. Kaiser tries to post daily, aiming to become a face in the online volleyball community by creating what she calls relatable content.

For both, the TikTok Creator Fund wouldn’t be a gushing revenue stream – Kaiser would be paid about $15 for her 435,000 views at that rate. But there’s no reason their audiences (and incomes) can’t continue to grow.

@kaylaikaiser_

it’s the times where u can’t laugh when u reallllly want to lol🤭💀 #athlete #sports #volleyball #basketball #clubsport #collegeathlete

♬ silly goofy shemar - willgrahamsdog

And, combining that with influencer deals that she might be able to obtain, there’s the potential for more. Kaiser said that she has brands in mind that she’d like to represent – there were some that had reached out previously – and she planned to contact them as soon as possible.

“If you have any extra, (NCAA) compliant income that’s legal and we can get money from it, it’s going to help us, especially in-season where we can’t have a conventional job due to the hours that we’re practicing, going to class, traveling,” Kaiser said. “Having a job online and being able to be compensated via our NIL is going to help us a lot.”

With the start of the NIL era, Tech officials are not sure how many Jackets athletes will try to cash in. It may be that the more popular route for them might be holding camps or giving clinics or private lessons.

The department has sought to educate its athletes, including a five-part online course in June.

“There are going to be some that want to do it and take that on and take that opportunity, and other that are going to say, ‘I’m satisfied with my college experience and what I’m doing,’” said Simit Shah, Tech’s assistant athletic director for special projects, who is overseeing the department’s NIL efforts.

The department will steer clear of being a part of any deals between athletes and companies, but has tried to educate athletes on matters such as brand building, starting their own companies and the Georgia state law governing NIL. Many Tech alumni who’ve launched their own companies have offered to share their wisdom with Jackets athletes, Shah said.

“We’ve got the ability to take them to a higher level, instead of, ‘How do I get a few hundred dollars in my pocket?’” Shah said.

That also is the broader vision that Yates has, beyond TikTok stardom or hawking T-shirts – to help launch himself past his days as a Tech quarterback.

“I don’t really have a complete plan, but I think it will definitely set me up for opportunities after football,” he said.