The Georgia Bulldogs made college football history this week, winning their first championship in more than 40 years by beating the Alabama Crimson Tide.
The win was a watershed moment for the team as it lost to Alabama in the 2018 national title game and in this season’s SEC championship game — but also for the University of Georgia and its alumni, who had been waiting four decades to win the title again, and for the players.
With the new NIL ruling, the student athletes benefit from the win beyond just bragging rights and a big win on their résumé. They can use this storybook ending as a brand building moment as they begin to monetize their names, images and likenesses.
According to Excel Sports Management, among the athletes to benefit the most from the championship game are Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett 4th, the former walk-on who left Georgia to attend junior college and returned as backup before finally securing the starting quarterback position; Alabama quarterback and 2021 Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young, and Georgia cornerback Kelee Ringo.
The sports management and marketing agency created a rubric to quantify a student athlete’s increase in popularity based on organic conversation that athlete generates. Adam Grossman, vice president of business insights and analytics at Excel, explained the figures are the agency’s attempt to create a universal language that athletes, representation and companies can use to measure an athlete’s impact on a brand. Some factors include the sport and team an athlete plays, their social media presence, media coverage and their future professional career.
Grossman measured the athletes’ overall value year-to-date from Jan. 11, 2021, and found Bennett had the highest value, followed by Young and then Ringo. However, 49 percent of Bennett’s value came in from the period of the semifinal game — when Georgia beat Michigan — and the final game. For Young in the finals period, his value increased 59 percent and Ringo’s jumped 83 percent thanks to his record-setting and game-deciding interception.
“What we find is events can change an athlete’s trajectory,” Grossman said. “Spotlight moments have been on the field but it could happen off of the field. Deal announcements are where you’ll see conversations change.”
Casey Muir, senior director of client management for Octagon Football, believes that being on the main stage is enough to pay good dividends for student athletes. “I think from Monday night was a launching point for a lot of those guys,” he said.
In addition to Bennett, Muir mentioned Alabama wide receiver Ja’Corey Brooks as an athlete to win big after the game and Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter to generate interest.
James Denman, head of innovation and marketing officer at Yard NYC, said games of this caliber and the teams themselves serve a marketing function but athletes can’t do it alone. “In some ways, it’s not always just down to the player,” he said. “The gatekeepers at the game almost help highlight the key moments. They help build the myths. The myth is what sustains your longevity and marketing potential.”
Denman named players like Doug Flutie and his miracle Hail Mary pass to win for Boston College over the Miami Hurricanes in 1984 and Tim Tebow’s time as a Florida Gator, which Denman said keeps Tebow in memory more than his time in the National Football League.
“Marketers find the narratives, media create the myth a bit and you as a player slip into that,” he said.
Some players have been able to slip into that, like UConn basketball stars Paige Bueckers signing with Gatorade and StockX and Azzi Fudd signing with Stephen Curry for his SC30 organization. There is also Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara, Jackson State quarterback Shedeur Sanders and University of Michigan tennis player Andrew Fenty who, along with seven other athletes, partnered with Tom Brady’s new Brady collection, as well as Reilyn Turner, who recently signed with Nike in their first student-athlete partnership.
Though bigger companies have moved quickly on NIL, Denman sees the new ruling as a “huge opportunity for emerging apparel brands.” He said brands could align with an athlete and follow their journey from the very beginning.
“If I’m an apparel brand and want to align with an athlete then college is an interesting place to play because you’re on a journey with them,” Denman said. “You have smaller budgets but look for potentially deeper engagement.”
And what better place for brands to start than with this week’s college football playoff national championship game?