Stack Sports, Opendorse, and High School NIL

On July 1, 2021, the first day student-athletes were permitted to legally profit off their name, image and likeness (NIL), the sports world was fixated on the college game. It was the beginning of a new era.  

As Opendorse led the July 1 NIL conversation around the country, they were also engaging with the next generation at Elite 11 finals in Los Angeles.

Opendorse Co-Founder/CEO Blake Lawrence educated the top high school quarterbacks in the country, including Ohio State commit Quinn Ewers who announced shortly after the event that he intends to forgo his final high school season to join the Buckeyes.

A month later, the Opendorse team was again connecting with future stars, this time at the Area Code Baseball Games in San Diego. Founded in 1987, the Area Code Games have long been baseball’s premier showcase event featuring the top players in the country, most of whom are currently committed to college and others who will turn pro after the 2022 MLB Draft. 

Opendorse’s relationship with both events comes through its partnership with Stack Sports, which creates SaaS solutions that power more than 50,000 sports organizations worldwide. Along with its tech and administrative functions, Stack Sports hosts key events around the country like Elite 11 and Area Code Baseball. The discussion surrounding new realities of brand building and NIL preparation for high school student-athletes has taken center stage with Ewers and others trailblazing as laws and guidelines change rapidly. 

High School Student-Athletes and NIL 

As is the case at the NCAA level, high school NIL monetization policies are currently determined on a state-by-state basis. At the high school level, NIL policies are set by both state legislation and high school athletic associations. Overall, as it stands now (Aug. 19, 2021), most states do not allow high school athletes to accept NIL deals, including Ewers’ home state of Texas. California is one notable exception as its policies contain language that allows for NIL monetization.

San Diego native Mikey Williams, one of the top high school basketball players in the nation, announced on July 22, 2021, that he had signed with an agency. The expectation is that Williams could make millions prior to ever stepping foot on campus. 

“The NIL rules provide a new opportunity for someone like me who has put in so much energy and effort into building a community,” Williams, who has over 5 million combined social media followers, told ESPN in a statement. “I am excited to be the first high school athlete to make this move. I love to hoop and I love engaging with my fans and look forward to continuing to share my journey with everyone.” 

Ewers and Williams are the exceptions, not the rule; high school student-athletes should tread lightly. 

National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Executive Director Karissa Niehoff has stated that college NIL laws do not affect how high school athletics are governed, and violation of state NIL policies are punishable by suspension of up to one year. Athletes and families should remain in consistent contact with their coaches and school administrators to ensure they are remaining compliant and following state laws and policies. 

What Should High School Student-Athletes Do in the NIL Era? 

Even though it’s safest for high school athletes to refrain from NIL activities at this time, it’s important to think ahead. During the college recruitment process, student-athletes should ask questions about NIL policies and resources provided by institutions. They should research current student-athlete deals and project how that might fit their goals. By engaging and exploring before NIL becomes a reality for them, student-athletes will be set up for success when they start their freshman season. 

Before arriving on campus, prospects should prepare by determining their approach to developing and growing their personal brand. Working alongside their parents and closest supporters, athletes should have a plan, sharing hobbies and interests via social media as they connect with and are active in their communities. They should ensure their social media accounts are clean and free of inappropriate content, which includes likes. Having a strong, clean social media presence and personal brand will be appealing to brands and set high school stars up for success in the future. 

NIL monetization is no longer a distant idea for high school athletes; it’s a genuine reality and imminent opportunity. For Opendorse, supporting Elite 11 and Area Code Baseball is a way to help the stars of tomorrow. Just like on-field work, building a brand takes time, effort, and intention. 

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