Why UNC’s ‘Group Licensing’ Branding Agency Partnership Is a Big Deal for Student-Athlete NIL Merchandising
When the Supreme Court ruled that college athletes could now profit from their name, image and likeness—now commonly shortened to just “NIL”—players treated it like a gold rush. They trademarked their names and nicknames, they partnered with brands for Instagram ads, and they started selling apparel.
Their schools, now seeing an additional recruiting avenue, started using their own branding capabilities as draws for prospects. That also creates the potential for the school being a part of the athlete’s branding identity.
The University of North Carolina has clearly made that choice, partnering with The Brandr Group to facilitate student-athletes’ branding efforts. According to Forbes, The Brandr Group will “develop licensing opportunities on behalf of the student-athletes in apparel and non-apparel categories, and other co-branded sponsorships.”
.@GoHeels launches the first-ever group licensing program for current NCAA Student-athletes, which will allow Tar Heels to benefit from NIL with UNC’s official trademarks & logos‼️
— UNC Wrestling (@UNCWrestling) July 20, 2021
The co-branding part is really what stands out, as it implies that UNC is basically saying, “Come to UNC, and you can turn your success into a brand all you want. But, that branding is going to be in Carolina Blue, and have our team name on it, too.”
That's actually a good thing for students, too. If you play at a high-profile school with a recognizable logo, like UNC, having that trademarked logo on your own licensed apparel benefits you. Seems like a win-win, right?
"This is an outstanding opportunity because it will allow our student-athletes to benefit, together, with our trademarks and logos—and to have more choices and chances to collectively benefit from their NIL," UNC director of athletics Bubba Cunningham told Forbes. "I have long supported the group licensing concept because it can positively impact so many student-athletes. I'm proud that Carolina is the first program to support college athletes, past and present, through group licensing."
The Brandr Group will work as a branding agency, finding licensing opportunities for student-athletes and working “adjacent” to UNC’s existing licensing staff.
Here’s where it gets a little tricky: This press release states that student-athletes will receive “a portion of the net revenues from co-branded programs.” What that portion is could be a deciding factor for some athletes, choosing instead to go to a school with much more athlete-friendly licensing agreements, or choosing to do everything independently without associating with the university.
To continue the Gold Rush metaphor, this whole thing is still the Wild West for student-athletes and universities alike. There are a lot of uncertainties and details that remain to be worked out. College athletes profiting from their NIL is the future, but the ways in which they do it are anything but uniform.
UNC partnering with a third-party agency to form a new licensing program is new territory in college athletics. And for The Brandr Group, its business starts in Chapel Hill, but it doesn’t end there.
“We are currently talking with 30-35 schools,” TBG founder and president Wesley Haynes told Forbes. “We expect this announcement to significantly accelerate interest from other schools. We think the path of athlete group rights in conjunction with school IP is the right approach and the opportunities it creates is what fans, licensees and sponsors want.”