Bronny James, son of Lebron and a top NBA prospect, endorses headphones and sneakers, for which he is paid millions of dollars.

Maddie Niles, a sophomore on the Lawrence High School field hockey team, endorses a brand of maple products, for which she is paid in maple syrup.

Lawrence High sophomore Maddie Niles has struck NIL marketing deals with three companies, including Hilltop Boilers Maple Syrup of Newfield, which pays her in product. Michael G. Seamans

Both are part of a new era in high school athletics, one in which prep athletes can leverage their local or national popularity into endorsement deals. And even though their circumstances are wildly different, both are better off under the new rules.

Elite athletes like James stand to make millions, finally getting a piece of the pie generated by their talent and hard work.

Others, like Niles, may not strike it rich — but they’ll pick up valuable experience, and maybe open a few doors for themselves.

It’s all the result of a Supreme Court decision in July 2021 that found the NCAA had unfairly built “a massive money-raising enterprise on the backs of student athletes who are not fairly compensated,” as Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in a concurring opinion.


As Travis Lazarczyk of the Press Herald recently reported, the ruling opened the way for amateur athletes to benefit from their own name, image and likeness, allowing them to sign endorsement contracts just like their professional counterparts, with some limitations.

It has been a long time coming. Big-time college athletics generates billions of dollars in revenue for conferences and schools, as well as media, sneaker and apparel companies, and very little of it goes toward the athletes themselves.

Now, just as CBS Sports uses the names and likenesses of college basketball stars to promote its broadcast of the Final Four, those stars can now do the same for themselves.

And in many cases they won’t have to wait until college. Since the Supreme Court’s ruling, at least 25 states have passed laws allowing high school athletes to enter the “name, image and likeness” marketplace as well.

Elite athletes, like Bronny James or Arch Manning, the No. 1 football prospect in the class of 2023, have found that their endorsements are worth millions.

It’s hard to see those valuations as anything but fair. That the money has been there all along; at least now more of it will go to the people who are generating it.


It’s also no different in other sports or in other industries. Young tennis and golf stars are able to leverage their talent and exposure into endorsement contracts well before they turn 18, as are actors and other performers, including the legion of young stars on YouTube.

The situation is much different for athletes like Niles. Maine high school field hockey is not generating millions of dollars in revenue. Nike and Under Armour won’t be showering endorsement deals down on Maine athletes anytime soon.

While those big deals get attention, most contracts signed under NIL policy will be small ones. Niles, for instance, has deals with an activewear company and a local high school sports broadcasting studio, as well as the Maine-based maple syrup producer. Riley Geyer, a Cony High graduate who is a student athlete at Norwich University, is paid in gift cards from a pizza shop and diner in exchange for promoting the restaurants on social media.

Besides keeping the athletes well fed and maybe giving them a little bit of walking-around money, the deals offer a valuable foray into entrepreneurship, allowing athletes to get to grips with the business world.

They also give athletes a chance to promote themselves for the next chapter in their lives. They can use the exposure to get noticed by college coaches, or to build a following based on their own interests.

That sort of deal can do a lot of good for a student athlete — even beyond free maple syrup.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: