A University of Wyoming soccer player hosts a hometown summer camp for kids – some who attend the same elementary school she did – making a little extra money to take back to the UW in the fall.
The local car dealership partners with a Cowboys football star, who agrees to sign autographs the week after a Hail Mary pass clinches a Saturday afternoon win.
The corner grocery store owner in a rural small town asks a UW basketball player from his community to share the store’s weekly deals on his Instagram account, in exchange for a gift card for groceries.
Each above scenario is possible after a NCAA rule change in June allowing collegiate athletes to accept benefits and earn money for their name, image and likeness.
“Student athletes across the board at all divisions can now profit off of their name, image and likeness,” said Frances Reimers, a Wyoming native and UW alumna who leads Firestarter, a personal branding firm based in Alexandria, Va.
“Student athletes can now conduct themselves as if they were a professional athlete, being open to speaking engagements, sponsorship opportunities, endorsement opportunities,” she continued. “They can start nonprofits, they can do charity events, they can do appearances, whereas until July 1 of this year, they hadn’t received that opportunity.”
In May, UW’s athletics department announced that it selected Firestarter to conduct brand, marketing, public relations and entrepreneurial-focused courses for its student-athletes, which will be offered this fall and spring through the department's existing professional development “Excellence at 7220” program. Reimers will be in Laramie to help, as the more than 400 student-athletes at UW navigate – or choose to opt out, which is also acceptable, she said – the chance to profit from their name, image and likeness in light of the NCAA rule change.
The policy change also provides Wyoming businesses with the opportunity to engage with student-athletes to help promote their products and services like never before, Reimers said. As the conversation has evolved, Reimers has reached out to businesses across the state to educate entrepreneurs about the potential opportunity to partner with student athletes.
“Largely, I have learned that most businesses are unaware that this is even an option to them, unless they have a student-athlete in their own family. Most have no idea that they could even entertain this conversation,” she said. “So a lot of my conversations have been, ‘This is a new marketing avenue you can go down,’ and that has been very interesting.”
Peter Prigge, assistant athletics director for compliance at UW, called the change a “slow-moving train” that has been coming for about a year and a half. The university has created a publicly available policy, guiding how and when students can monetize their name, image and likeness in response to the change. UW athletics will be hands-off when it comes to facilitating partnerships between student-athletes and entrepreneurs, he said, but they are leading the charge when it comes to understanding what can and can’t be done.
“This is a great opportunity for student-athletes,” Prigge said. “We sent a letter to local businesses saying, 'Here are a couple rules and things to keep in mind' … and we are trying to educate athletes to think local.”
While the change is a massive one – a complete paradigm shift – Reimers said it happened in an anti-climactic way. In essence, the NCAA allowed for the change as more and more states passed laws allowing for it. Wyoming’s legislature has no law on the books regarding student-athletes and their name, image and likeness, so the university crafted its own policy.
“We did research on state laws and policies at places like Ohio State, Florida, California, Colorado, looking at our region and larger states that have led the charge on this,” Prigge said. “We wanted our policy to be student-athlete friendly, while also being aware that there could be a (future) state law about this.”
The UW policy allows for student-athletes to receive compensation for their autograph or personal appearance, and compensation for teaching or coaching skills or athletic techniques in their sport on a fee-for-lesson basis, among other allowances.
Student-athletes can’t receive compensation for athletics performance, or pay for play, and they can’t receive compensation as an inducement for enrollment at UW. Student-athletes cannot use institutional marks, or logos, in paid content or advertisements without the express written permission from the university, and they can’t miss class, academic obligations or team activities for promotional activities.
It is important for businesses to understand the limitations on student-athletes based on the policy, Reimers said.
“They will not be able to wear their jerseys of any kind in appearances, and they will not be able to wear a University of Wyoming sweatshirt. They cannot be in any logo garb whatsoever,” Reimers said.
But there are plenty of examples of what can be done, and many make sense for local businesses.
“These athletes can appear in commercials, be a voiceover on a radio spot, they can appear and sign autographs at your dealership,” she said. “They can give speeches at events, they can host charity functions. They can host camps of their own.
“It is really anything that a professional athlete can and does do, these athletes can now do. They can represent products, be influencers, all of that is on the table, so long as they are not engaging in anything that promotes gambling, firearms, alcohol or tobacco,” Reimers said.
Prigge said that the deals need not be high-dollar, either.
“Think small. This doesn’t have to be a $50,000 deal,” he said. “We are seeing local grocery stores that are doing things – there are two athletes working with a grocery store, doing social media posts for them, helping out and promoting, maybe making an appearance or two, and they are getting a gift card for $200 in free groceries per month. It can literally be an exchange of benefits.”
One of the best ways to reach student-athletes about a potential partnership is through social media, Reimers said.
“Not surprising to this generation, reaching out through Twitter or Instagram might be the shortest route. That will likely yield you the fastest response,” Reimers said, adding that she will also act as a conduit between businesses and student-athletes. The first year, she said, will be a learning experience.
“This first year is truly going to be a trial by fire of what works and what doesn’t, and we will continue to keep developing it as we go along. I think heading into this year, UW is as poised as any other Division I program to give all their student-athletes the education they need,” she said.
If a business owner does want to create a partnership with a student-athlete, Reimers said being direct is the best approach.
“When you reach out to them, make it very clear what you are offering. If you are offering commission through the use of a code, be very clear about that,” she said. “If you are offering dollar compensation, be very clear what it is you are expecting the student-athlete to do. Is it recording a voiceover for a radio spot? Signing autographs at your dealership? Be very clear in what it is you are asking them to do, and what the level of time commitment and compensation is.”
All opportunities will have to be reported to the UW compliance office. Now, though, is the time for Wyoming businesses to step up to the plate, she said.
“In a state where our university is the closest thing we have to professional sports, this is a great opportunity,” she said. “For people in Gillette, Sheridan, Jackson to utilize those student-athletes from their towns, to use them for outreach campaigns and visibility options in a way that they never thought about before, we have the opportunity to keep the hometown school spirit going.”