Student-athletes explore name, image, and likeness opportunities

Closeup of WSU student-athlete Dallas Hobbs holding a football.
Dallas Hobbs

For most of his collegiate career, Dallas Hobbs lived a dual existence.

There was the Washington State University football player and mainstay on the Cougar’s defensive line. And then there was the student entrepreneur who owns a multimedia design business, co-hosts two podcasts and has a small ownership stake in a start-up brewery. 

In the past, “I couldn’t post on my personal twitter page and say, ‘Hey, I’m a freelance graphic designer, and I’m looking for clients,’” said Hobbs, 24, a redshirt senior and online MBA student at the Carson College of Business. “You weren’t allowed to solicit customers like that.” 

In July, the National Collegiate Athletic Association adopted an interim policy that allows college athletes to benefit financially from their name, image and likeness as long as their activities are consistent with NCAA rules and relevant state laws. It was a watershed decision, said Marie Mayes, director of the Carson College’s Center for Entrepreneurship (CfE).

“Student-athletes can do endorsement deals and seek out sponsors. They can get paid to make an appearance at the local car dealership and sign autographs,” Mayes said, “and they can actively promote their businesses while identifying themselves as college athletes.” 

Besides the new earning potential for student-athletes, the policy change created an opportunity to deliver business education across the WSU Pullman campus, she said. 

In anticipation of the NCAA decision, Mayes and CfE Assistant Director Asa Brown developed a 1-credit entrepreneurship class for student-athletes interested in opportunities related to name, image and likeness. The class debuted in summer to 41 incoming freshman and transfer students, covering topics such as intellectual property, personal branding and digital marketing, finance and contracting, and life after sports.

Mayes and Brown brought in industry partners in media, law and technology as guest speakers. The class will be repeated throughout the year, and it’s open to all WSU student-athletes. 

An entrepreneur and athlete

Student-athletes place sticky notes on a whiteboard as part of a class exercise.
Student-athletes work on attributes of their personal brand during a class exercise. (Photo courtesy of WSU Athletics.)

Hobbs, who majored in fine arts and digital technology and culture as an undergrad, recently set up a limited liability company for his business ventures. Since he’s been able to promote his work, Hobbs has seen an uptick in prospective clients for his firm, Hobbs Design. He’s also the director of marketing and design for Common Language Brewing in Spokane.

Mayes and Brown answered Hobbs’s questions about creating an LLC and connected him with Aziz Makhani, a certified business advisor at the Small Business Development Center in Pullman. They’ve also worked with Cami March, a WSU student golfer, on a business plan for the app she’s developing.

“Now I can put that I’m a WSU golfer and an app founder in my bio,” March said. “It gives me the opportunity to show that I’m well rounded and more than just an athlete.”  

Before the policy change, March was limited in what she could share publicly about dwn, an app that helps friends connect for social activities, such as eating out, hiking or going to a movie. 

“If I wanted to post anything about the app on Instagram, I would have had to scrub my entire account of any WSU or WSU golf-related posts, including me in Coug gear or with the team,” said March, 21, a junior majoring in social science.

Achieving financial goals 

Cami March

Immediately after the NCAA decision, Boost Mobile announced a deal with Fresno State basketball players and twin sisters Haley and Hanna Cavinder, who leveraged their social media following into a lucrative sponsorship. It was one of several large contracts with college athletes that made headlines.

Most student-athletes won’t land six-figure deals. But there are plenty of other opportunities out there, Mayes said.

“Sports camps are really exciting area,” she said. “Lots of student-athletes will hold sports camps in their small towns. Or, if they work at a camp, they can be paid for that, which was prohibited in the past.”

During the class, Mayes encouraged student-athletes to think about how profiting from their name, image and likeness could help them achieve financial goals—whether that’s graduating debt-free or saving money for a down payment on their first home. 

“We also talk about the practical implications of earning more money,” she said. “That includes budgeting, tax implications and whether their earnings will affect their financial aid or eligibility for Pell grants.”  

Through the classes, Mayes wants student-athletes to develop the business acumen and financial literacy that will benefit them now and into the future. 

“It’s more fun to learn about business when you have opportunities to make money,” Mayes says. “They can see the relevance of it in their lives right now.”

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