June 2023

The EA Sports NCAA Football Deal Stinks: Athletes Must Demand Conflict Free Representation

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A recent lawsuit between Brandr Group against EA Sports is over the agency's demand that EA Sports operate through them and not the athlete's themselves.

Concerns arise over their relationships with certain companies that prioritize their own financial gains over the best interests of student-athletes. When universities pocket percentages of athletes' earnings in the form of kickbacks from their marketing partners, they are simply treating them as nameless commodities.

read: Athletes, If You're Going to be Treated As Commodities Use It To Your Advantage

One alarming aspect of the turf war is the lucrative deals being struck between companies and universities, often at the expense of athletes' fair compensation. These agreements frequently involve companies retaining a substantial portion of athletes' earnings, sometimes up to 30% of multi-million-dollar deals.

Take for example EA Sports' offer of 5 Million dollars to NCAA athletes as part of their college football game, a deal that doesn't pay royalties, and would net a marketing partner up to 30% or 1.5 million dollars to facilitate. These deals don't individually make sense, but at scale are lucrative if a marketing company is able to pool the profits of entire schools.

Such practices enrich these companies while leaving athletes with disproportionately lower financial returns and limited to nonexistent royalty rights. This company profits first approach not only undermines the athletes' value but also perpetuates the perception that they are expendable assets, rather than individuals with unique talents and value.

read: What Do Athletes And Commodities Have In Common?

The involvement of universities in these deals adds another layer of complexity to the conflict of interest. While universities should advocate for the best interests of their student-athletes, their partnerships with certain companies blur the lines of impartiality. And in reality, their best interests always put the university first.

By pocketing any percentage of athletes' earnings, universities position themselves as gatekeepers, potentially compromising their ability to fully represent and protect the rights of their "clients." This raises questions about whether universities are truly acting in the best interest of athletes or if their handpicked partnerships serve as a means to exploit and profit from these young individuals while using a backdoor.

Lack of Transparency and Fairness

Transparency is a fundamental aspect of any fair business transaction, yet it seems to be lacking in many of these NIL deals. While some universities and companies openly disclose the revenue splits, others remain ambiguous about the distribution of profits. This lack of transparency raises concerns about whether athletes are receiving their fair share and whether universities are actively negotiating fair market shares on their behalf. Without clear guidelines and open discussions, athletes may unknowingly enter into unfavorable agreements that limit their earning potential and deny them the royalties they deserve.

The Role of Brandr

Brandr, one of the key players in the turf war, should face scrutiny for its approach to NIL deals. Although they claim to be allies of student-athletes, their agreements seem to favor revenue distribution heavily skewed in their own favor with an incentive to preserve their relationships with universities. The involvement of universities in these agreements further raises questions about the fairness and integrity of the process.

Have athletes been afforded the ability to make an informed decision regarding their representation, or are they given no choice but work with actors handpicked by the universities?

While some schools take a more cautious and detailed approach to their agreements, others may be complicit in allowing companies like Brandr to protect their interests under the guise of offering  student-athletes opportunities.

Brand disclosures are essential in promoting transparency and accountability in endorsement deals. However, it is concerning when these disclosures reveal that certain agreements prioritize the relationships between brands and universities at the expense of individual athlete rights. In some cases, athletes may find themselves in agreements where a significant portion of their earnings, such as 30% of a multimillion-dollar deal, goes to intermediaries like Brandr, while royalties and other benefits are not adequately addressed.

No Royalities is a Big Red Flag

Brandr has the incentive to protect and preserve their relationship with EA sports. Such practices raise questions about the fairness and ethical considerations of these arrangements. By prioritizing their relationships with schools and securing lucrative deals, intermediaries may unintentionally undermine the individual rights and financial well-being of the athletes they represent. This highlights the urgent need for a collective bargaining and an independent entity that can protect the legal interests of athletes, ensuring fair treatment, transparent accounting, and equitable distribution of earnings.

The Modern Rules of Professional Conduct (for attorneys) shed light on the standards that govern conflicts of interest. Attorneys are prohibited from representing clients when there is a concurrent conflict that may compromise their ability to provide diligent and competent representation. This underscores the importance of having an independent entity that can advocate for athletes' rights, as the current dynamics may create a conflict where the athletes' interests are overshadowed by the relationships between brands, universities, and intermediaries.

NCAA Athletes Need A Union and Collective Bargaining

By establishing such an entity, athletes can have a stronger voice, fair representation, and ensure that their rights are not neglected in the pursuit of lucrative deals. This would bring about a more equitable landscape where athletes are not treated as mere commodities but as independent individuals with the right to fair treatment and control over their own earnings.

The conflicts of interest and exploitative practices highlighted in the turf war over NIL deals demonstrate the urgent need for reform. Athletes deserve fair compensation, transparency in negotiations, and the ability to exercise control over their own brand and image.

Universities must remove the conflicts of interest and remove themselves from any of their student-athletes NIL dealings.  Regulatory bodies and industry stakeholders should work together to establish guidelines that protect athletes' rights, promote transparency, and foster a more equitable landscape for college sports.

As the turf war intensifies and conflicts of interest come to light, it is essential to prioritize the well-being and fair treatment of college athletes.

To ensure a more equitable future, student athletes must reevaluate their prearranged partnerships and prioritize their best interests. Companies involved in NIL deals should adopt fair revenue-sharing models, provide transparency in negotiations, and treat athletes as independent entities with unique value.

Athletes need access to attorneys and mass non-conflicted representation, and until this happens attempts to continue exploitation will only continue.

Issa Hall, Esq

Issa has founded multiple ventures, is an author, and founding partner of Hall & Dixon law firm, with over a decade of experience in tech and law.

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