We are all familiar at this point with the fact that NCAA athletes haven’t been able to benefit from their names being paired up with their colleges. What you may not have realized is that this hasn’t just been a rule while athletes are in college — their inability to profit from their college likenesses has extended to beyond their time in school.
Think about it: Even though they are no longer at Carolina and were/are professional athletes, have you ever been able to buy a Eric Montross, Hubert Davis, Tobin Heath, or Matt Harvey UNC jersey that specifically had their name and number on the back? With the rare exception of a Michael Jordan or Vince Carter, athletes who happened to be signed with the company that made the jerseys, UNC and the NCAA owned the sole ability to make money off those items in perpetuity. It’s one of the big reasons that we don’t have NCAA Football and Basketball games anymore (pending upcoming changes, of course), because if you're playing as Kendall Marshall in a 2012 video game, even though Kendall has long since graduated, he still doesn’t get any money from that.
This is beginning to change, however. In light of the recent court losses by the NCAA and the push for Name, Image, and Likeness legislation that is coming through both nationally and by the NCAA, schools are starting to have to find ways to address their alumni will be able to benefit off of their time while in school.
On Tuesday, UNC, along with several former athletes and the Brandr Group, announced the formation of a partnership to start working with these athletes to license their name, image, and likeness on products in a way that would allow those former Carolina athletes to profit from them. The aim seems to be to mimic the way that professional sports unions like the NBAPA and NHLPA negotiate on behalf of their members with brands to make sure the relevant members get money for the use of their names — it’s not collectively bargainable because of the individual nature of these transactions, but it’s something that requires representation and the muscle of a united front nonetheless.
So what does this mean for UNC fans? Well, the announcement had several big names that fans would recognize: Tyler Hansbrough, Mia Hamm, Heather O’Reilly, Sean May, and new head coach Hubert Davis are just a few of the names that were announced, and according to UNC, the list currently sits at over 100 former athletes from the men’s basketball and women’s soccer programs. Brandr will be negotiating on their behalf to not only create products with their name on it, but make sure the players get some portion of the sales. This means you’re now likely to see (if not wear!) a Hamm-era UNC soccer jersey in the stands at a UNC soccer game this fall, and that fans can cheer on the new UNC coach wearing one of two styles of UNC basketball jerseys, since new coach Davis was part of the group that bridged the classic jersey to the argyle that they wear today. In essence, the idea is that for these sports, and hopefully more in the near future, you no longer have to get a blank template jersey, but can truly celebrate the athlete(s) that drew you to root for UNC.
For UNC as a brand, the partnership also will serve as something for recruiting across all sports — UNC coaches can now show off that their players have a method to earn money on their name when they leave school, if and when this initiative spreads as both sides seem to intend it to. The announcement further states that by the end of 2021, there should be some merchandise out there for purchase... Yeah, that timing probably isn’t a coincidence.
There aren’t more details at this second, but UNC signing off on this does mean that the trademark UNC owns will be able to appear on this merchandise as well, and with a generational fan base, there is a real opportunity out there to create a windfall for these former players. We’ll see what that merchandise looks like...and how quickly one of those products ends up being purchased by this fan.