Learfield continues to be a power broker in the NIL Era, connecting schools and sponsors with athletes.
Some of the most notable NIL campaigns have been produced with the assistance of the leading college sports rights holder. The company works with nearly 200 Division I athletic programs and conferences through exclusive multimedia rights deals.
Learfield released its first NIL impact report on Thursday. The company has assisted with athlete endorsement campaigns while creating original content and assisting in group licensing in the NIL Era. In data released by Learfield from the 2022-23 academic year, athletes have earned more than $8 million through the company’s sponsors while over 250 sponsorships included an NIL activation.
More than 1,000 athletes have been “impacted” by a Learfield sponsorship.
Much of Learfield’s NIL success has come through its Allied+ program, which provides schools with an on-campus business manager who finds ways to incorporate athletes into marketing campaigns. Ten universities are members the program: Alabama, UAB, Arizona, Colorado, NC State, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Western Kentucky and Wisconsin.
“NIL has provided great learning opportunities for our student-athletes giving them real-world experience in business, brand management, and financial literacy,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said in a statement. “Our student-athletes have enjoyed much success engaging in local and national marketing campaigns with Learfield partners.”
Brands that have worked with Learfield on marketing deals with athletes include Dunkin, T-Mobile, Cheez-It and Zips Car Wash. Of the more than 250 brands that inked NIL deals, 41% were new to the college space. All deals are executed on Opendorse, which serves as Learfield’s marketplace.
NIL collectives have become increasingly popular since the inception of name, image and likeness, with more than 200 now in existence. At the FBS level specifically, donor-driven organizations are essential in retaining and attracting top talent. A growing trend has emerged, too, with collectives securing official sponsorships as a way to advertise in front of fans and work closely with athletic departments. According to Learfield, more than 50 collectives across 45 institutions have signed sponsorship deals, which also allow the organizations to use the school’s IP.
Learfield’s role in group licensing
Learfield also has a division of its business called CLC, which is the nation’s leading collegiate trademark licensing company. Through a partnership with OneTeam Partners, which works in group licensing, the two entities have been able to offer licensing opportunities for athletes to leverage their NIL with collegiate logos.
For jersey sales, for example, OneTeam takes 30% for its role in facilitating the deals. Each school negotiates its own royalty, while the athletes’ royalty is 4% of sales. All royalty rates are the same for college athletes, similar to their professional counterparts.
According to Learfield, the number of licensed operators producing NIL products has more than doubled, while retail sales for branded NIL merchandise grew by more than $10 million. Past jersey sales and licensed deals include trading cards and custom merchandise.
Learfield recapitalizes, reduces debt by over $600 million
In a decisive win for the company’s future, Learfield reduced its outstanding debt by over $600 million while securing $150 million in new equity investment earlier this month.
The college sports rights holder had debt accumulated over time, but specifically for three distinctive reasons. The Texas-based firm’s spending on acquisitions ultimately led to a merger with IMG College in 2018. The COVID-19 pandemic brought much of college sports to a halt including fans in seats. Contracts with institutional partners that were structured over market value also proved to be notable, too.
Learfield operates with five divisions: LEARFIELD Amplify, CLC, Paciolan; Sidearm Sports and its multimedia rights business. With the new $150 million investment, the company plans to grow in these five aspects across the business.