Companies betting NFT marketplace can dominate NIL endorsement space

On3 imageby:Eric Prisbell02/04/22


As the NIL era continues to quickly evolve, two companies — The Players’ Lounge and Icon Source — are engaging in a partnership with a shared conviction: That the NFT marketplace, which includes a variety of athlete-led perks for consumers, can soon dominate the NIL endorsement space, surpassing traditional sponsorships. 

Their partnership comes on the heels of The Players’ Lounge, a digital startup created by former Georgia football players Ty and Trent Frix, Keith Marshall and Aaron Murray, dropping a Georgia-centric NFT collection (non-fungible tokens) called DGD Mafia (Digitally Generated Dogs) the day before the CFP National Championship Game. It gave select Georgia athletes 50 percent of all profits of NFTs featuring the Bulldogs’ artwork that were sold.

Eleven Georgia players signed on. The limited edition of 4,500 tokens sold out in less than four hours. Consumers also received access to exclusive message boards, monthly podcasts with former and current players, future NFT drops, an annual DGD Mafia tailgate and merchandise and signed memorabilia.

With a vision to expand to work with athletes at other high-profile schools, The Players’ Lounge’s partnership with Denver-based Icon Source will unlock its extensive roster of college athletes. Some 10,000 pro and college athletes are under the umbrella of Icon Source, an AI-powered digital marketplace that connects college athletes with aspiring brands based on social audience demographics. The companies are next looking to work with select athletes at Texas A&M, Texas and LSU, with other schools on the horizon. The model leans on the ability of some college athletes to wield influence with fans in their respective college markets. 

“This is a great revenue stream” for athletes, Chase Garrett, founder and CEO of Icon Source, told On3, adding that the Georgia NFT drop generated more than $1 million before profits were split with athletes. “These college athletes may be superstars in their communities, but they are only in their communities. There’s just not many people outside of these areas that even can name or recognize or are really influenced by that. The opportunity to continue to drive their brand in that local community is going to be huge. I think these NFTs being attached to that, to that local community and to that alumni group, is always going to be really important.”

The NFT marketplace could prove to be a dominant NIL revenue stream for athletes who are not marquee names, for those who don’t have a laundry list of endorsement deals but whose name does resonate in a college market. There are countless examples of athletes who lack national name recognition but attract a cult following in college towns.

Icon Source will help The Players’ Lounge penetrate new markets. The Players’ Lounge will choose athletes they want to partner with, then the athletes will ramp up excitement for the NFTs by leveraging their NIL through promotions. The athlete doesn’t own the NFT, but he or she will receive half of the profits when the NFTs go to market. 

Payments to athletes go through Icon Source’s secure payment platform. Contracts are sent to school compliance officers and get disclosed. The Players’ Lounge, meanwhile, can focus on the intricate NFT artwork and putting the tokens up for sale. 

With the NIL space continuing to take shape, Garrett and The Players’ Lounge see untapped potential for athletes to monetize their brands in connection to the NFT marketplace. The success with the Georgia-centric tokens last month only increased their optimism surrounding revenue potential for athletes. Garrett said this is a model that can be scaled quickly, driving a lot of dollars into the hands of college athletes.

“Everybody at Icon Source left really great opportunities to disrupt the space for the next 100 years, not for the NIL launch,” said Garrett, the former athlete marketing manager at Red Bull. “And so, with choosing an NFT partner, we wanted to find somebody who’s doing it the right way, that in 10 and 20 years is going to just continue to grow and dominate.”