College Athlete Endorsement Pay Gets Mild Public Support: Data Viz

Lev Akabas
·5 min read

A new Harris Poll reveals public support for college athletes being able to profit from their Name, Image and Likeness (NIL), with 70% of college sports fans in agreement. In a partnership with Sportico, the polling agency surveyed nearly 2,000 people over the past weekend on questions regarding NIL policies.

Student athlete endorsements in some form will be coming to college sports soon. Just last month, the Division I Council proposed major changes to the NCAA’s NIL regulations, which are expected to be voted on and approved in January and put in place for the 2021-22 school year.

Support for college athletes being able to earn money from their NIL is significant from college sports fans as a whole (70%), but highest among men’s basketball fans (75%). The general public is less in favor (62%). Nearly as many respondents say that they strongly disagree with athletes profiting from their NIL as those who say that they strongly agree.

Older respondents were significantly less likely to agree, with just over half (52%) of those aged 55+ in support, as opposed to 69% of those between ages 18-54.

The NCAA has argued in court that athletes being able to profit from endorsements will reduce fans’ enjoyment of college sports, in turn harming the schools and the teams. According to our survey results, most college sports fans say that it would either enhance (28%) or not change (47%) how they enjoy college sports. More than one-third (37%) of women’s college sports fans, in particular, say that it would enhance their enjoyment.

Furthermore, more than one-third (38%) of college football fans say that if the quarterback of their favorite team signed an endorsement with Nike, they would be glad to see it because the quarterback should benefit from his NIL. Fans of women’s college sports are even more in favor, with 44% responding that they’d be glad to see it.

Not all fans, however, are on board. To the aforementioned hypothetical, more than one-third (35%) of college sports fans responded that the quarterback signing an endorsement deal with Nike would either “bother” them (25%) or cause them to no longer support the quarterback and his team (10%).

Additionally, most people support some restrictions on player endorsements. Three-quarters (75%) of college sports fans (and 70% of the general public) say that players should be prohibited from endorsing certain types of companies, such as sports gambling businesses, despite the fact that universities themselves have recently begun to partner with such organizations.

Public support for these restrictions aligns with the bipartisan bill introduced in Congress back in September by Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) and Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio), alongside three Republican and three Democrat co-sponsors. The proposed legislation prohibits athletes from signing endorsement deals with companies in a number of categories, including alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and sports gambling.

The NCAA’s October proposal went a step further, adding that “schools would have the opportunity to prohibit activities that conflict with school values or existing sponsorship arrangements.”

More than half (57%) of the general public (and 61% of college sports fans) agree that college athletes should be prohibited from endorsing a company that is a competitor of a school sponsor, with one-quarter (25%) “strongly” agreeing.

This piece of survey data works against the NCAA in an interesting way. The NCAA wants Congress to grant an exemption from antitrust law so that schools and conferences can join together to limit NIL opportunities and impose restrictions without having to worry about the problem that they are competing businesses who would be conspiring. Reasonable restrictions by competing businesses, however, are not in violation of antitrust law. The data shows that the majority of people support some level of restrictions, which signals that the NCAA could adopt a set of restrictions that potential jurors would find reasonable, and thus the NCAA doesn’t need an exemption from antitrust law.

NIL has other layers of nuance as well. Upon introducing his legislation to the House of Representatives, Cleaver stated, “I want to be unequivocally clear: This is a civil rights issue. For far too long college athletes across the country—many of whom are people of color—have been denied the basic right to control their name, image and likeness.”

College sports fans, however, are divided on the subject: 48% say NIL is a civil rights issue as well as an economic one given how student athletes in many sports are disproportionately black, while 52% say that it’s not. Opinion varies greatly, though, based on demographics and particular sports of interest.

Gender equality issues may also come into play. Half (50%) of college sports fans say athletes being allowed to profit off of their NIL will not change inequities between men’s and women’s college sports, while 23% say it will reduce inequities and 28% say it will worsen inequities. Fans of women’s college sports are slightly more optimistic than general fans: 28% say it will reduce inequities–but another 28% say it would worsen them.

Ultimately, the prospect of student athlete endorsements holds much more weight if fans are in fact more likely to purchase those endorsed products. While only 43% of the general public say they are likely to buy a product if endorsed by a college athlete on a team they support, more than three-fifths (62%) of college sports fans say they would, and three-quarters (75%) of fans who follow a sport “very closely” say they would. Women’s college sports fans (79%) are the most likely to buy, followed by men’s college basketball fans (72%) and college football fans (64%).

To learn more about NIL policies, why they matter, and how they affect the future of the sports industry, sign up for Sportico’s live event on the Name, Image, and Likeness landscape starting at noon ET on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020.

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