July 14, 2024
The Secret To Navigating The NIL World

The college game is changing fast, as in July of 2021, the NCAA adopted a set of rules that enabled collegiate athletes to profit off of their name, image, and likeness (NIL). This event marked a monumental victory for college athletes all over the world.

“I think it’s huge to have the opportunity to make money off your name. We, as college athletes, put in so much work and sacrifice so much of our social lives, bodies, and minds. So, we deserved to be compensated for our efforts,” Dre Davis, a former Seton Hall guard who recently transferred to Ole Miss, told me in an exclusive interview.

A common reason that was cited by the party that was against paying collegiate athletes was that it would remove the passion from the game that differentiate them from the pros. However, it turns out that this line of thinking was a mere logical fallacy.

“It’s more motivating for us. It’s motivating to know that we are actually going to get rewarded for all the work that we put in,” Davis revealed. “NIL enables us to take care of our families and not have to worry about finances while we are in college. We can focus on basketball and keep the main thing the main thing.”

Davis, who is preparing for his fifth season of college basketball, has benefitted greatly from this new structure, as his new NIL deal with Ole Miss makes him one of the highest-paid players in college basketball.

But how do players like Davis get these deals? Who handles the money for these universities? And how will the recent addition of revenue sharing change the NIL landscape even more?

To answer these questions (and a whole lot more), I sat down with Davis’ agent, Noah Reisenfeld (Young Money APAA’s Executive Vice President of NIL & Business Development), to understand the ins and outs of college sports’ greatest mystery.

A Whole New World

The first thing to know about this process is that all the money gathered from a university’s boosters is housed in what is known as the “collective.”

“The collectives are the entity that houses all the money from the boosters,” Reisenfeld explained during an exclusive interview. “It’s basically like the ownership of the team. The head of the collective is like the general manager.”

The collectives notify the coaches how much money they can offer to a certain player, and if, after some negotiating, the coach decides that they need more money, they need to get it from the collective (this happened when Davis was in talks with USC this past transfer portal season). So, with that bit of background information now understood, let’s see a general outline of how this courtship works.

Normally, a player will announce their intent to enter the transfer portal. From there, the head coach of the university (or one of his assistants) will contact that player’s agent with an offer based on their interest level and the money granted to them by the collective, and from there, the two parties negotiate. Sounds simple, right? Well, kind of, but there’s a lot more nuance to it than that.

For instance, from the agenting side, the initial phone call with a coach is much more of a calculated maneuver than a casual conversation.

“At the end of the first/second call, most coaches ask what our number is. Personally, I don’t like to give a number at that point,” Reisenfeld explained. “I’ll say something like, ‘Hey, Coach, where we’re at with you right now, we’re just not ready to give a number.’ And what that does is we don’t scare anyone away by saying too much, but we also don’t sell ourselves short. This also allows us to get to the bottom of the basketball situation without having money involved.”

When Reisenfeld says he’s getting “to the bottom of the basketball situation,” he’s referring to his investigation of whether or not the potential suitor’s roster will help maximize his client’s long-term success.

“A lot of agents like to get on the phone and immediately talk about money,” Reisenfeld told me. “For me, I’d rather build a relationship with the coach first and get a sense of the roster and what the role will be for my client. For me, the basketball fit is the number one thing. Then, we factor the money into it.”

This gets at the overarching of Reisenfeld (and Young Money as a whole). They aren’t in the business of earning their client a quick buck. They’ve seen too many cautionary tales of athletes going broke after their playing days are over. Their goal is to avoid this and to help their clients create a sustainable lifestyle.

“There will be times when one school will offer more money, but another school will give my client a better chance of making it to the next level. By selecting the latter offer, yes, my client and I will be getting less money right now, but we have a better chance of getting the big cut later on,” Reisenfeld explained. “You can’t be shortsighted in this business. You need to be thinking long-term.”

“At Young Money, our goal isn’t to get our clients fast cash. We want to help them build generational wealth.”

And just like a good basketball player is committed to his team’s on-court principles, Davis is fully bought into Young Money’s philosophy.

“It’s not about the fast money. Fast money is cool, but you have to think about the long term. [Reisenfeld] and I have always been on the same page about that. I feel like that’s a big reason why we are such a great fit.”

Now, this doesn’t mean you settle for pennies on the dollar. You need to balance two variables (fit and offer) to find the perfect fit for your client. Interpreting where this balance lies requires a certain level of instinct.

“I think a lot of this stuff is having good people skills. And I’m not talking about regular people skills. I’m talking about agency people skills,” Reisenfeld shared with me. “It’s little things like knowing when to say a lot or knowing when not to say much, listening more than you speak, speak more than you listen, etc.”

This brings us back to the rapid change going on in college basketball, and, by extension, in the agenting industry. Akin to how the pace-and-space revolution changed the way the game is played, NIL has changed the way successful agencies are formed.

Back in the day, agencies almost exclusively dealt with professional athletes, grown-ups. Now, with NIL in the mix, a large part of every agency’s client base is comprised of young adults. Young adults who need a young voice they can relate to.

“I think that, in today’s world, if you aren’t surrounding yourself with people that are connected to the younger generation, and I’m not saying people in their 30s, I mean people who are in their 20s and highly motivated, it is really difficult to navigate the NIL landscape,” Reisenfeld admitted.

“If you’re an older agency and you don’t surround yourself with youthful minds, you are going to go extinct.”

For Young Money, Reisenfeld (24) has been that voice, using his youthful vigor to land his clients over three million dollars in NIL money since December.

You may be wondering how someone so young could be tasked with so much responsibility. But no man is an island, and Reisenfeld has strong mentorship guiding him throughout the way.

“I owe a huge deal of my success to Adie von Gontard (Young Money’s Co-Founder and CEO),” Reisenfeld acknowledged. “He has been in this business for a long time and made a lot of huge deals at the NBA level. He’s been a great mentor for me.”

How Revenue Sharing Factor Into All This?

Starting next cycle, players (and their agents) will be able to profit via booster money and through a negotiated percentage of the university’s revenue. The way Reisenfeld framed it, the booster money is like a base salary, while the revenue sharing is analogous to a 401K (in that your earnings are tied to your team’s success).

According to Reisenfeld, the addition of revenue sharing will also force universities (at least Power Four schools and prestigious Mid-Majors) to build out more robust infrastructure for handling these finances.

“I don’t think you will just be negotiating with the collective anymore. Each team will have more people on their staff to handle the collective money and the revenue sharing. There will be appointed general managers, assistant general managers, and kind of a whole front office built out.”

The NIL world is a simple yet complicated beast. It requires patience, strong negotiation tactics, and the willpower to deny short-term gratification in return for long-term fortune.

At first glance, this whole process can appear overwhelming, especially when you are a young athlete being exposed to large sums of money for the first time. But as Davis will tell you, the process becomes much more manageable with great people behind you.

“I know there is a lot of distrust/uncertainty around agents. I definitely had that during the two years I went without one. But I’ve learned that it’s all about finding the right one that works for you and makes you feel better. [Reisenfeld], [von Gontard,] and the rest of the Young Money staff, they all took care of me. Everyone there gave me their honest opinion about the situation, and it was a massive help throughout this process.”

“So, it isn’t that agents are bad. It’s about finding the right fit for you. I found the right fit for me in Young Money, and it’s been beautiful for me.”

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