Military branches have entered into NIL agreements. Service academy athletes still can’t.

Paige Bueckers, star of the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team, performed in September back-Down-back Instagram posts summarizing her trip to Fort Knox. While on a military base in Kentucky, Bueckers spent time with cadets during summer training. She learned about their experiences – experiences very different from her own – while walking in the forest. She even tried on a gas mask that could come in handy in combat.

The visit — and the resulting social media content shared with her more than a million followers — was part of Bueckers’ name, image and likeness agreement with GoArmy, the U.S. military’s recruiting arm. This is believed to be the first time a college athlete has signed an NIL partnership with a military branch. Then, in October, the Marine Corps campaigned with eight college football players, including the Oregon State quarterback DJ UiagaleleiGeorgia runs back Kendall Milton and UCLA quarterback Chasing Griffin.

“NIL makes absolutely sense [for military recruiting] because of the way they can target ads through social media,” said Jeremiah Favara, a Gonzaga professor who will publish a book on U.S. military advertising in the spring. “If anyone can be persuaded, a U.S. military TikTok account that is churning out advertisements is very different than an influential student-athlete, maybe at your institution, maybe at an institution that you’re a fan of, saying, ‘Hey, I recently visited this military matter. I met with ROTC and it was really cool.” “It’s a peer-to-peer appeal, as opposed to the military being a big institution trying to talk to young people.”

NIL fun fact: This advertising campaign does not contain the names or photos of athletes

While it makes sense that these contracts with the military NIL carry with them a certain dissonance: if college athletes can earn money for using their names, images and likenesses, the military can exploit the market for recruiting purposes. But service academy athletes are unable to enter into NIL contracts.

Reason? Unlike all other college athletes, those attending the service academies are classified as employees of their respective branches of the military, which means they are subject to federal law prohibiting military members from using public service positions for private purposes (such as making money by marketing potato chips or local produce food). pizzeria). The government pays tuition and incidental expenses for all service academies students, athletes, and others. They also receive monthly stipends.

So no, Air Force’s 8-0 start to the football season did not produce any NIL cash for its players. And no, the annual December Army-Navy game, the biggest event on the service academy sports calendar, is not a springboard to NIL offers. Nathaniel Otto, a former Navy lineman, is studying law at the University of Florida and hopes to work in the NIL world after graduation. When he saw Bueckers’ cooperation with the army, he tilted his head slightly. However, he could rationalize this dissonance by thinking about his experiences at the Naval Academy.

“We really are treated as employees, which in this case means federal regulations apply to us,” Otto said. “I also think of it this way: if a Navy football player is standing in front of a restaurant, whether he’s wearing a T-shirt that says ‘Navy’ or it’s just known that he’s on the team, he can easily feel like a Navy war supports this or that. I’m not sure the same level of scrutiny applies to the University of Florida player. They are probably seen as their individual brand much more than service academy athletes.”

Bueckers is part of an evolution in the Army’s efforts to recruit young women. Favara, who explores the ways in which the military uses advertising to diversify its ranks, pointed to a Marine Corps marketing campaign in Seventeen magazine in the late 1990s. He explained that combining sports and social media is always a logical next step, especially given the military’s overt presence in professional and college sports (think the flyovers, the giant American flags during the national anthem, all the Marine Corps commercials during the Super Bowl). And then came NIL and the opportunity to work with outstanding college athletes.

In an email to The Washington Post, Laura DeFrancisco, chief of public affairs for the Army’s enterprise marketing office, said: “Bueckers was a natural fit for the Army because her supporters represent the audiences we hope to reach with Army messages. As a college student, Paige offers peer-to-peer connection for the appropriate age group.

Legal challenges that could change college sports

Andrew Wood, brand awareness specialist for the Marine Corps Civilian Recruiting Division, said in an email to The Post: “This year, the pilot program in partnership with [NIL marketplace] Opendorse was commissioned to reach new audiences and highlight the parallel values ​​held by successful student-athletes and Marines. Based on the desired value fit and taking into account audience reach and demographic considerations, Opendorse delivered candidates who were thoroughly vetted and approved.”

Opendorse ultimately recommended Uiagalelei, Milton, Griffin, Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers, South Carolina quarterback Dakereon Joyner, Nebraska linebacker Chief Borders, Coastal Carolina quarterback Grayson McCall and Oklahoma State quarterback Alan Bowman. In pay-to-post deals, athletes shared videos on Twitter and Instagram discussing how their values ​​aligned with the Marine Corps’ mission.

Griffin, UCLA’s senior backup point guard, has signed a number of NIL contracts. This month he launched its own Substack write about NIL and why schools should share revenues with their athletes. When Opendorse was sent an offer from the Marine Corps, he was surprised, saying he had never considered NIL partnering with a military branch. But the conditions checked Griffin’s key boxes.

Respect for any brand he works with is non-negotiable. In high school, he was an American Semper Fidelis and spent a week near the Marine Corps in Washington. One of his closest friends at UCLA, Chief of Staff Bryce McDonald, is a former Marine and talked to Griffin about his service. Most importantly, the money matched Griffin’s market value and was enough for him to donate a portion of his foundation to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank.

“So the deal was extremely positive for me,” Griffin said, though there was also some dissonance after he delivered his side of the deal. After like him posted his video on social media, some people opposed him advertising the military due to his polarizing reputation. He had prepared for such a reaction by considering this possibility in his risk calculations. However, instead of avoiding criticism, He she raised this issue in a telephone conversation. He understood.

“Institutions will be criticized if there is an abuse of power,” Griffin said. “Whenever there is any kind of centralized power, there are people who will speak out about it to keep it in check. I think one of the beauties of this nation is the ability to both support and push these institutions to be better.”


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