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New study shows NIL law could level playing field for all student-athletes

By: Steve Orbanek
First Published: February 16, 2021
Topics: Faculty, Feature Story, In the News, Research, Sport, STHM School

New research from STHM faculty member Thilo Kunkel shows that name,
image and likeness legislation could benefit both male and female student-athletes.

PHILADELPHIA, Feb. 10, 2021 — Earlier this month, a new federal bill was introduced that would make it illegal for the NCAA or other college sports associations to place any restrictions on the type or size of endorsements deals that college athletes could sign in the future.

In other words, all athletes would soon have the ability to profit off their name, image and likeness (NIL). In the past, the NCAA has been resistant to this change, and the NCAA Division I Council even tabled a planned vote on the topic back in January. There has been debate over how much NIL legislation would assist athletes aside from big-time football and men’s basketball stars.

However, new research from Thilo Kunkel, director of the Sport Industry Research Center and associate professor at Temple University’s School of Sport, Tourism and Hospitality Management (STHM), suggests that female student athletes and athletes from some of the less-popular college sports might also have much to gain.

Recently accepted for publication in Sport Management Review, “There is no nil in NIL: Examining the social media value of student-athletes’ names, images, and likeness” outlines the NIL value of student-athletes’ social media profiles. According to Kunkel, the research also helps justify the new bill introduced by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) and Rep. Lori Trahan (D-Massachusetts).

“The easiest way to determine the value of NIL is through social media, so that’s exactly what we sought out to do,” says Kunkel, who co-authored the journal article with Bradley Baker of the University of Massachusetts, Thomas Baker III of the University of Georgia and Jason P. Doyle of Griffith University. 

For the first part of the study, which was completed prior to the 2018 NFL and NBA drafts, Kunkel and his colleagues scoured through the social media profiles of Division I football and basketball players. This was no small data pool. In total, 7,591 football players from 55 different schools and 1,139 men’s basketball players from 71 different schools had their number of followers tracked as part of the data analysis. They then applied a CPM, or price of 1,000 advertisement impressions on one page, to each individual athlete.

“Some of the top-tier athletes skew higher, but we found there was potential monetary value for just about every athlete on social media,” Kunkel says.

The study shows that the annual social media account value of athletes with just 10,000 followers could be worth more than $5,000. For athletes with 100,000 followers, that number balloons to more than $50,000.

However, it’s not just the football and basketball players who could have a chance to cash in. In the second part of the study, Kunkel and his peers tracked the social followings and engagement of all student athletes at four institutions, which represent two top-tier and two mid-tier NCAA Division I universities: Clemson University, Stanford University, Temple University and Jacksonville University. In total, 2,130 athletes were analyzed: 821 from Stanford, 453 from Jacksonville, 441 from Temple and 415 from Clemson, examining a total of 20,978 Twitter posts and 16,453 Instagram posts.

“Some of the top-tier male athletes skewed higher, just because they’re in the news all the time, but there was no significant difference to female athletes. In fact, when we consider the median, female student-athletes actually ranked higher than male athletes,” Kunkel says. “On average, they also post more content than their male counterparts. For years, the NCAA has said that NIL would not be beneficial for female student-athletes, but our research shows that’s not valid.”

This doesn’t mean that student-athletes should plan to make a living off social media shoutouts or micro-influencer marketing, Kunkel says. However, should legislation get passed, it’s likely that almost every athlete with even a moderate social following might have an opportunity to earn some extra income.

“This opens opportunities for athletes to monetize and compete with their university for sponsorship money, as companies can go right to the athlete and just ask for a shoutout across social media instead of sponsoring the athletic department. That’s going to be the easiest way to do this, and one of the first ways we will see athletes profit off of their NIL,” Kunkel says. “Universities need to prepare for this to educate their athletes and provide guidance on staying compliant with how they can and can’t use the university brand in their personal sponsorship activities. This is just the beginning of a fundamental change of the college athletics industry with many challenges and opportunities.” 


About the School of Sport, Tourism and Hospitality Management

Established in 1998, the School of Sport, Tourism and Hospitality Management (STHM) at Temple University has a distinguished tradition preparing leaders in the sport, recreation, tourism and hospitality industries. 

Thoroughly committed to providing student-centered education and professional development relevant to today’s thriving sport, tourism and hospitality industry — STHM integrates applicable, real-world experience into the curriculum and classroom through its global network of industry partners and well-connected alumni network. Our award-winning faculty and cutting-edge research institutes engage in pioneering research, informing business practices and providing students with the knowledge and skills to succeed in these fast-growing industries. 

The School offers undergraduate degree programs in sport and recreation management and tourism and hospitality management; traditional graduate degree programs in sport business, and hospitality management; and two online graduate degree programs in executive sport business and travel and tourism. STHM also offers a PhD program in business administration with a concentration in tourism and sport.