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The aftermath of the first upset began with jumps and joy, and whoops and cheers, the euphoric soundtracks of March. They boomed out of a Saint Peter’s Peacocks locker room on Thursday night, as the size of the giant they’d slain sunk in. There were fist pumps and delirious smiles. Then interviews and fans to greet. And then, when head coach Shaheen Holloway finally retrieved his phone, there were 791 texts.
For star players, there were messages of all kinds.
“Which is awesome,” said Doug Edert, the mustachioed guard who had 20.
And which, in this new era of college athletics, represented opportunity.
The NCAA now allows athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness. Since rules and laws changed last summer, experts have predicted March success would be rewarded with commercial partnerships. On cue, after St. Peter’s stunned No. 2 seed Kentucky, Banks said that brands had “reached out.”
Then he essentially explained why capitalizing on instant stardom will be more difficult than some might realize. “I didn't really get to read 'em all, and really look into it yet,” he said of the messages and NIL possibilities. The NCAA tournament moves too quickly for that.
Banks and Edert had to sleep. They arose Friday for a walk-through, then a news conference, and more. They prepared for Saturday's matchup with Murray State, which concluded with another surprising victory for the Peacocks. They sifted through the notifications, but when their head coach was told that they had, Holloway half-joked: “You just got Doug and Daryl in trouble. They not supposed to have [their] phones.”
They had roughly 45 hours in between the biggest games of their lives, and therefore zero hours to negotiate with companies. “They can’t record a commercial between games,” Zach Soskin, an athlete brand builder, pointed out. Instead, their situations highlight the obstacles between Cinderellas and financial rewards.
But those rewards are out there, awaiting the right moments and main characters.
“The lifetime value of a Christian Laettner shot, it’s insane,” Soskin said. “It’s massive. It’s millions.”
Being ready critical in taking advantage of NIL opportunities
Before last summer’s rule change unleashed the NIL era, the men’s NCAA tournament made everyone besides the players rich. That was especially true whenever a small-conference program like St. Peter’s punched above its weight class and toppled an unsuspecting heavyweight.
Previous NCAA tournament upsets have generated tens of millions of dollars worth of media exposure for victorious universities and benefited them in far-reaching ways. Freshman applications have often skyrocketed. So have alumni donations, and ticket and merchandise sales.
More often than not, the winning coach has also parlayed an NCAA tournament upset into a lucrative raise or a plum new job. Andy Enfield and Kermit Davis are among the many who’ve used March moments as springboards to power conference programs.
Typically, the athletes who helped deliver those moments were left with only memories.
"Now,” said Peter Schoenthal, CEO of the NIL management startup Athliance, “those athletes get to not only make that run and be remembered forever, they also get to … profit off it.”
If Christan Laettner had hit his iconic turnaround jumper in 2022 instead of 1992, experts say it might have been a $1 million moment. The Shot possessed the ideal combination of a widely recognized star, a marquee college program and the gravity of an eventual national championship run.
“I think brands would have jumped at the chance to associate with a player like that for months, if not years,” sports attorney and NIL advocate Darren Heitner said. “It’s like the perfect storm.”
While the Laettner shot might be hard for any modern-day March moment to match, experts insist that a buzzer beater could still be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars if the right player hits it in the right situation. In other words, Paolo Banchero, Chet Holmgren, Caitlin Clark and Paige Bueckers are usually going to receive more lucrative offers than a lesser-known player from a smaller school.
Experts say the first offers would likely come from memorabilia dealers who would want to pay the players to sign jerseys and basketballs, and merchandise companies who would want to use their likenesses to sell T-shirts. Other offers could come from almost anywhere — corporations that sponsor the NCAA tournament or the particular school, smaller businesses with ties to the player’s hometown or college town, even a company whose name rhymes with the player’s.
The key, experts said, is being prepared for those offers.
"If you’re not prepared,” Schoenthal said, “it can actually cause more headaches and be something that’s really a stressor as you go on in the tournament."
While some future All-Americans and pro prospects often have marketing representatives who help broker deals, most college players don’t. Companies often have to go through the school to request a player’s contact information or reach out directly via social media. Banks, the St. Peter’s guard, seemed to indicate he’d gotten direct inquiries.
It’s those players who NIL experts say must plan ahead, just in case that moment in the spotlight arises.
“If you hit that big shot in the first round, the last thing you want to be doing is scrambling to get your ducks in a row to make sure you can profit off your name, image and likeness,” Schoenthal said. “That’s going to take away from your ability to prepare for the next round and continue on that journey.”
Quick turnaround of NCAA tournament makes cashing in difficult for rising stars
If NIL experts were in charge of NCAA tournament-bound programs, players would be doing more than practicing sets and watching game film before their first-round game. They would advise every player to designate someone they trust as a point person who can sift through NIL offers and negotiate deals should opportunities come.
“The NCAA tournament happens so quickly,” Soskin said. “If you hit the shot, on your one or two days off, you can’t be negotiating the deal. You have to have someone you trust do it.”
Others in the NIL space would go even further with their pre-NCAA tournament preparation.
Longtime sports agent Leigh Steinberg suggests players prepare a portfolio and send it to anyone from advertising agencies, to NCAA tournament sponsors, to businesses owned by alums of the athlete’s school. The portfolio would include photos of the athlete, when his or her team plays, and a biography that “shows the player in the best light.”
“Did he fight through an illness?” Steinberg said. “Does he have a charity? Is there anything interesting in his background? I’d put that together and I’d get it in front of as many companies as I could.”
The St. Peter’s stars, instead, were virtually unknown. Banks and Edert each had less than 3,000 followers on Instagram, and less than 300 on Twitter. Even after Thursday’s triumph, neither’s profile exploded. Both hit clutch shots, but neither produced an indelible, viral moment.
It’s unclear if either prepared for constantly buzzing phones and unforeseeable offers. The flood of notifications, Banks admitted, “took a while to get through.”
What’s very clear, though, is that on Saturday, they extended their moment. They became the 10th No. 15 seed to shock a No. 2 in the men’s tournament.
The second gives the Peacocks a second week and, perhaps, some free hours. But for now, there is sleep to get and basketball business to attend to.
“The attention is great and all,” Edert said. “I love the support. It's a quick turnaround though. So we really have to forget the past and just focus on the task at hand.”