Following a landmark Supreme Court decision last year that opened the door for college athletes to make money, sponsors have scrambled to nab the highest-profile NCAA players. But Adidas is playing the game differently.
Rather than exclusively going after individual sponsorship deals, Adidas announced Wednesday that it will create a name, image and likeness (NIL) network for up to 50,000 college athletes to become paid endorsers for the brand.
Adidas did not say how much college athletes will be paid, but the program will be open college athletes at 109 Division 1 schools. Adidas says the program will be a “sweeping, equitable network” and will roll out over the next 12 months.
Adidas is the first major sports brand to create a program for paying college athletes. Its archrival Nike (NKE) announced in December that it signed a sponsorship deal with UCLA sophomore soccer player Reilyn Turner, the company’s first-ever student athlete sponsorship.
By opening the floodgates to tens of thousands of student athletes, Adidas’ systematic approach could make it an attractive option for college players looking for endorsement deals. That could help Adidas get a leg up on its competitors, which have so far entered the field primarily with a “tap an athlete on the shoulder” approach.
College athletics rake in billions of dollars through sales of tickets and merchandise plus lucrative TV contracts for high-profile sports like football and basketball.
But the NCAA has long argued that restrictions on student athletes are necessary to ensure they maintain amateur status and don’t blur the line between college and professional sports.
Supporters of the students say the players have been exploited and barred from the opportunity to monetize their talents.
The Supreme Court ruled last year in a unanimous decision against the NCAA’s restrictions on education-related perks for student athletes.
“Nowhere else in America can businesses get away with agreeing not to pay their workers a fair market rate on the theory that their product is defined by not paying their workers a fair market rate,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in a concurring opinion. “And under ordinary principles of antitrust law, it is not evident why college sports should be any different.”
Multiple bills have been introduced in Congress since 2019 to address college athlete compensation. States have also passed NIL-related laws.
CNN’s Faith Karimi contributed to this article.