It is rare to witness history being made, and it is even rarer to be at the center of it. The latter is where North Carolina's junior quarterback Sam Howell finds himself this season.
On July 1, the NCAA implemented a reversal of its long-standing policy against athletes profiting from their name, image and likeness (NIL). The decision represented a turning point in the decades-long battle to allow college athletes to earn money for the value they provide to their school.
For the first time ever, college athletes would be able to earn money from brand deals. The decision opened the floodgates for thousands of athletes across the country to seek personal deals with companies.
“I was the amateurism guy — let’s keep college football separate from the NFL," North Carolina football head coach Mack Brown said. "And then my wife said to me an artist in college can get paid for their art, a musician can get paid, and that seemed fair to me."
The current NIL guidelines have allowed some of the nation’s most marketable athletes to sign lucrative deals that could range up to seven figures.
And Howell, as one of the best college quarterbacks in the country, has been one of the largest beneficiaries of the new freedoms available to athletes.
The ACC Preseason Player of the Year and Heisman hopeful has inked multiple deals throughout the fall, with brands such as Bojangles and trading cards company Super Glow. These deals have been structured to give Howell a feeling of security while maximizing potential future earnings.
“What was important to Sam — and what we have implemented in his strategy — is making sure that all of his partnerships are season-long with the potential to be career-long,” Dan Everett, Howell’s marketing agent, said.
In his partnership with Super Glow, Howell has also sought out more than just a typical brand deal. The agreement includes a guaranteed $100 for every card he signs, as well as a 50 percent royalty for every card sale.
“To be able to have my team work hand in hand with Super and do something completely unique in the card space is really cool,” Howell said in a statement. “The Super Card team has made me feel like an owner, giving me creative input and royalties on all products. It really made this partnership a no brainer.”
Howell’s deals, though, have shown that he has deeper motivations than purely monetary gains. He has engaged in philanthropic endeavors such as his partnership with TABLE, a nonprofit working to provide hunger relief and nutritional services to children in Orange County.
“Each partnership is either philanthropic or charitable in nature or is teammate-inclusive,” Everett said. “Specific to Sam, (TABLE) was a non-profit in the Chapel Hill area that helps feed hungry kids and that was a passion, it was something that is near and dear to Sam’s heart.”
Howell is also among some of the first star athletes in the country to take the initiative to involve their teammates in brand deals. His most recent sponsorship with SOS Roofing involved six teammates.
“On multiple of his deals, at the end of negotiations, he’s reduced his compensation and allocated some of that compensation to include other teammates,” Everett said. “You see it with his first Bojangles commercial that he did, you saw it again when he did the activation with SOS Roofing, and we will have another big endorsement announcement at the end of next week and that will also be teammate-inclusive.”
As the college world begins to process the seismic shifts caused by NIL changes, Howell’s deals, among others, signify college athletes taking advantage of their star power through powerful brand partnerships.
The future of college sports is likely permanently changed due to the ruling made this past summer, and Howell finds himself as one of the athletes leading the charge toward the new age of semi-amateur athletics.
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