USC announces partnership to help athletes seek NIL opportunities

Amid the ongoing arms race for name, image and likeness in college football, USC hasn’t exactly stormed out of the gates and flaunted its NIL firepower. Even as the football program became a central figure in spring’s NIL drama, USC stayed on the sidelines as the race heated up elsewhere, as coaches squabbled, schools ceded influence to donor collectives and top recruits reportedly signed multi-million dollar contracts.

USC still has no intention of wading into these murky waters. She still doesn’t have a donor collective, much to the chagrin of her fans. But nearly a year into this new NIL era, USC believes it has made a major step forward on this front and on Wednesday announced a partnership with media outlet Stay Doubted, which is forming a third-party agency, BLVD LLC, to bring USC – Represent athletes and facilitate NIL business on their behalf.

“There’s just no such thing in our sport,” said USC football coach Lincoln Riley.

USC will not dive into that pool per se. The school will not technically play a direct role in brokering these deals. Instead, all arrangements are made directly between BLVD LLC and USC athletes, allowing the school to bypass any pay-for-play exam.

These agreements cannot be offered to prospective student athletes, with whom brokering NIL business would violate NCAA rules and state law. But top recruits will no doubt be made aware of the NIL infrastructure that would be made available to them upon arrival.

All USC athletes have the opportunity to register for this NIL representation and these agreements do not prevent them from pursuing other outside NIL opportunities. The likes of quarterback Caleb Williams, who already has substitution and a robust NIL portfolio, can expect to further advance their NIL plans.

But for those locked out of the NIL world in its wild first year, USC’s plan aims to help spread some of the wealth while keeping the possibility of a donor-led collective at bay.

The partnership won’t stop wealthy donors from creating a third-party collective someday, but USC hopes its approach can achieve many of the same results as a collective — without the same risk of violating NCAA rules.

“We have patiently studied the NIL environment, both within our program and nationally, to inform our decision-making,” USC athletic director Mike Bohn said in a statement. “We believe every student-athlete should have access to NIL support resources and currently only about 3% of our student-athletes have engaged professional service providers. We strive to support our student athletes in every way, including in the NIL area.”

That could mean anything from setting up sponsorships to merchandising deals to membership subscriptions that would give USC fans exclusive access to NIL-related performances, events and memorabilia, among other things, for which the named athlete would then be compensated.

That’s a far cry from where the landscape was last summer, just before the floodgates opened on the Nile. Almost a year earlier, USC formed BLVD Studios in partnership with creative agency J1S with the intention of helping athletes build their brands in “college football’s media capital.”

Those plans have had to evolve in a hurry since then, but many of the same parts remain. For one thing, J1S founder Michael Jones also happens to be the CEO of Stay Doubted.

“Since NIL’s inception, the focus has been on creating long-term sustainable structures that place student-athletes at the forefront of opportunity and industry-leading resources,” Jones said in a statement. “This arrangement achieves that and more. Los Angeles’ economic power is a differentiator that is second to none.”

This advantage was always intact. Now, as Riley put it, USC feels it has “a NIL program that is second to none.”

Only time will tell if that is the case. But nearly a year into the NIL era, USC has finally taken its first big swing.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/usc/story/2022-06-15/usc-third-party-media-agency-athletes-seek-nil-opportunities USC announces partnership to help athletes seek NIL opportunities

Emma Bowman

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