‘NIL Summit’ to be held at College Football Hall of Fame

Almost seven months into the first year in which college athletes can be compensated for the use of their name, image and likeness within NCAA rules, the money and opportunities are out there. Front Office Sports, an online publication covering the sports industry, offered a projection that $579 million will be spent on NIL deals through the first 12 months (ending June 30) that they’ve been permissible.

A marketplace that monied could use a physical gathering point, and a sports marketer who co-founded an agency that connects college athletes and brands for NIL deals is planning a conference for that purpose to be held in June at the College Football Hall of Fame.

“We’ve had lots of conversations, and people say that there is definitely a need and a thirst for this,” Jason Belzer, CEO and co-founder of the Student Athlete NIL (SANIL) agency, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We’re excited to help serve that.”

Belzer said that his group (another SANIL co-founder is Atlanta sports marketer Vince Thompson) has a five-year partnership with the Hall of Fame for the event, titled NIL Summit. It’s his hope that it becomes a recognized conference within the NIL sphere as much as events such as Comic Con (comic books) or South by Southwest (film, interactive media and music) are in theirs. Belzer’s goal for this summer’s conference is for at least 700 college athletes to attend.

“As the keepers of college football’s rich history, we are honored to serve as a venue where student-athletes can learn how to maximize opportunities in this new NIL frontier,” Hall of Fame CEO and president Kimberly Beaudin said in a statement.

Belzer said that he has envisioned a conference for college athletes to share ideas and have conversations about the future of college athletics from the time when he was running track at Rutgers. The advent of NIL has provided a framework for such an event. It’s his hope that the event can be an opportunity for growth and networking; the three-day event (June 13-15) has multiple tracks for participants to follow, including social-media marketing, brand management, entrepreneurship, influencer marketing and career development.

Belzer has lined up representatives from Facebook, Instagram, the talent agency Wasserman and professional athletes to share their insights on brand building, influencing, partnering with companies and like topics in keynote addresses, panels and workshops. Meta, the company name of Facebook (which owns Instagram) is an event partner, as is Wasserman. There will also be an awards program recognizing the athletes for their NIL usage.

“The goal of this event is to not just have somebody come in and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to teach you how to do X, Y,Z,’” Belzer said. “It’s to have the brands and the organizations who are the subject-matter experts leading that curriculum.”

Belzer called Atlanta the “mecca of college sports” because of the slew of championship-level events that it hosts, as well as for the number of companies that are involved in college sports on a sponsorship level, such as Home Depot, Coca-Cola and Chick-fil-A.

“I know it is going to be huge for Atlanta,” he said.

Any college can send up to 10 athletes to the event, which carries a $500 registration fee. (Belzer said that the event will not make money off of athletes. “That is not our intention or goal in this,” he said.) NCAA rules permit schools to cover the costs of attending. The event also will invite a group of athletes from historically Black colleges and universities to attend at no cost.

The title sponsor is INFLCR, a software platform used by hundreds of college athletic departments (including Georgia Tech, Georgia, Georgia State, Georgia Southern and Kennesaw State) and thousands of athletes that is a major player in NIL.

Of athletes at schools served by the platform (more than 200 at the Division I level) who disclosed their NIL deals to their schools, 29% have been football players, followed by track and field athletes at 10% and men’s basketball players at 8%, according to information provided by company founder and CEO Jim Cavale. The male/female breakdown is 59/41. The mean average compensation for each deal was $1,291. The median was $51, meaning that there were as many deals worth less than $51 as there were worth more than that.

While there have been lucrative deals for many athletes, Cavale sees a learning opportunity for athletes at the end of the first year of NIL. He recalled how, on the day that NIL became permissible by NCAA rules, perhaps hundreds of college athletes posted social-media messages that declared themselves open for NIL business but were barely distinguishable from one to the next.

“As if, like, on July 2, a bunch of money was just going to show up in their bank account,” Cavale said. “That’s not what this is. And they’ve learned that, and they’ve seen the success stories and learned that this is going to be a real business they have to build. Not only do they have to play well on the field and court, but they have to take initiative with their brand on social media and do this thing in a way that is going to be some extra work, but there could be extra opportunity and money there.”