Set to begin rolling out later this year, the program will give more than 50,000 student-athletes across 23 sports and 109 Division 1 NCAA schools the opportunity to become paid affiliate brand ambassadors, it said. The network will scale up in four phases, starting with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Power-5 conference partners in the fall and expanding across all schools by April 2023.
After long prohibiting college athletes from accepting outside money—effectively shutting out the possibility of brand-student sponsorships—the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) voted in June to let student-athletes benefit from their name, image and likeness. The rule change, which went into effect days later, immediately set off a wave of endorsements.
For a while, these deals tended to be mostly small and localized in nature as the largest sportswear brands seemed to wait on the sidelines. Then, in September, Under Armour CEO Patrik Frisk confirmed to Yahoo Finance that his company would indeed sign student-athletes. A month later, ESPN reported that Puma had reached a deal with a 17-year-old basketball player. In December, Nike announced its first student-athlete sponsorship deal with UCLA sophomore Reilyn Turner.
Though Adidas lagged behind its competitors in publicly moving into the NIL space, it believes the “wide-sweeping, equitable and inclusive” network it unveiled last week is the first of its kind among major sports brands. The company has tied the initiative, which will be open to student-athletes of all genders, to the 50th anniversary of Title IX, a 1972 federal civil rights law that prohibited discrimination under any education program or activity on the basis of sex.
“At Adidas, we are committed to creating change through sport and recognize the important role student-athletes play in shaping the future,” Rupert Campbell, president of Adidas North America, said in a statement. “Our groundbreaking NIL program advances our commitments toward building inclusivity in sport and inspires athletes to realize a more equitable world. I can’t wait to see it come to life.”
WNBA star and Adidas partner Candace Parker described the network as “an incredible step forward for the growth of women’s sports” that “will have an impact on the future of college athletics and hopefully create a more equal, sustainable landscape where athletes feel supported and invested in as they grow in their college careers.”
Adidas has been marking the Title IX anniversary at NCAA basketball games throughout the tournament season, with Adidas teams wearing special “More Is Possible” tees during warm-ups. The shirts feature language from Title IX legislation on their backs. The tops became available for retail Wednesday.
“It has been a long 50 years since the passage of Title IX—and we’ve fought and played for equality every step of the way,” tennis icon and Adidas partner Billie Jean King said in a statement. “The progress we have made is incredible, but it’s time to focus on the next 50 years—and I’m proud to be a longtime partner with Adidas, who is helping to build the future of sport.”