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Last week, college athletes across all levels of NCAA membership were told they can now finally monetize their name, image and likeness. While athletes will have plenty of opportunities to earn money from autographs, camps, speaking engagements and product sales, the majority of deals over the last few days centered around athletes monetizing their social media platforms.
There are a lot of platforms an athlete could potentially use to make a little money. They could sell sponsorships on their Twitter or Instagram pages. They could start a blog on Wordpress. If they're more interested in video content, there's always YouTube or Twitch.
Most of those networks are ad-supported. An athlete could also theoretically make money by monetizing a much smaller audience, and produce content that lives behind a paywall. That's what I do with Extra Points, after all. An athlete could also potentially use Substack for a newsletter, or Patreon or Gumroad for other projects.
That's not a complete list, by the way. There are plenty of other large social networks grabbing market share in the Creator Economy. One of the largest new entrants? OnlyFans.
So what is OnlyFans, exactly? Well, here's how the company describes itself. Via their About page:
OnlyFans is the social platform revolutionizing creator and fan connections. The site is inclusive of artists and content creators from all genres and allows them to monetize their content while developing authentic relationships with their fanbase.
Well, that seems innocent enough, right? It's just a social platform that allows content creators to directly sell content to their biggest fans. And right now, it's quite a large social network. The site reports an audience of over 50 million registered users, and back in December, reported 500,000 new users joining every day.
So what kind of content are we talking about here? Well, OnlyFans is happy to point out that all sorts of individuals use OnlyFans, from musicians to cooks to fitness instructors, just like other social media networks. But there's a certain type of content that OnlyFans is far and away best known for.
Unlike most other social media networks, OnlyFans allows adult content. So there's a lot of porn on the network.
So that means athletes can't use it, right? Well, not exactly.
Much to the chagrin of the NCAA, there isn't a uniform, national standard for NIL rules. Many states have their own laws as to what is permitted for athletes, and failing a local law, schools can create their own guidelines. While each school and each state have rules that are a bit different, they tend to share many things in common, including prohibitions on various "sin" industries. No alcohol. No drugs. No adult entertainment.
Some schools might elect for more restrictive rules. Take BYU, for example. Their school policies dictate that athletes may not enter into agreements with companies that are not compliant with the school's Honor Code. That means no gambling, no tobacco, no booze, no adult entertainment, etc.
But is OnlyFans adult entertainment? It doesn't manufacture any pornography. It just happens to host a lot of it. What if an athlete creates content that has absolutely nothing to do with porn? Would that be okay?
I asked BYU's compliance office, and an athletic department compliance officer told me that the school has defined OnlyFans, internally, as an adult entertainment company. BYU would view any content creation on that platform, no matter what kind of content it actually was, as non-compliant.
It would make sense that BYU would be especially conservative about this sort of thing. It's an unabashedly religious institution with one of the most comprehensive honor codes in all of D-I athletics. No athlete at BYU would be surprised to learn that the school won't let them operate on a platform overwhelmingly associated with content the school strongly opposes. I would not be surprised to hear similar recommendations from staffers at places like Baylor, Lipscomb, Liberty, etc.
But those are private schools. What about public ones?
That might be a different story.
I reached out to compliance officers at three other public schools, in Florida and North Carolina. Staffers at all programs told me that based on their reading of their state laws, a college athlete would not automatically be forbidden from operating an OnlyFans account.
That doesn't mean that schools are recommending athletes actually do that, of course. Both schools told me that their athletes have already participated in brand awareness and brand education programming, and that schools have made it clear to athletes that deals that might technically be permitted could have other consequences, from scaring off potential other partners or future employers, to embarrassing teammates, and more. Just because you can take a deal, after all, doesn't mean that you should.
Other compliance professionals have told me that even in states with explicit rules against athletes working with say, adult entertainment or gambling companies, defining exactly what those companies are could potentially be a challenge.
Take, Barstool, for example, a company that has aggressively sought to sign college athletes, offering them free merch and opportunities to expand their own personal brands. But Barstool is also owned by a gambling company and aggressively promotes gambling across their digital content. At what point does a digital media company become, in the eyes of a compliance official, the NCAA, or anybody a gambling company?
One compliance professional described things like this. If an athlete signs a deal to promote a major hotel chain, nobody thinks that would raise a red flag. Major hotel chains sell a lot of alcohol, a lot of pornography, and may even have on-site gambling, but to a consumer, those aren't considered core parts of the business. When you get into the weeds for certain other businesses, the line isn't always immediately clear. Eventually, somebody is going to sign a deal that requires some internal lawyerin' about what industry a business is really in.
You know who else agreed that athletes should probably avoid OnlyFans? People who create content for OnlyFans.
I actually talked to two individuals who create content for OnlyFans, and both of them told me, for similar reasons, that they would not recommend any college athlete use the platform.
For starters, there are financial and logistical challenges. Unlike Substack, Gumroad, and other creator economy-type companies, OnlyFans takes a 20% cut of the revenue. That might not seem like much when you compare it to say, YouTube, but YouTube has an algorithm and platform to actually help you grow your audience. Both creators I spoke to said that content discovery on OnlyFans is a challenge, and their audience tends to come from other platforms.
OnlyFans can charge a premium for creators that don't have a ton of other social network options. Most networks, after all, don't allow porn. But everybody allows for music distribution, or cooking tips, or football highlights, or anything else a college athlete might produce. They would likely make more money, and find it easier to grow their audience, using another platform.
Both performers also agreed that this is a social network that is perceived as being for porn. So if you're using it, well, people are going to assume you're involved in porn. If an athlete didn't want to welcome that assumption, OnlyFans wouldn't be a good fit for their content.
I think compliance professionals and OnlyFans content creators are right. My recommendation? Not every deal is a good deal
I'm going to write a longer newsletter about what I'm seeing and hearing about the NIL marketplace later this week, but I've already seen enough to comfortably offer this advice: not all deals are worth doing.
I can understand why a college student might think it might be funny to do a deal with a company that maybe you wouldn't want to tell your parents about. After all, I was once a college student myself.
But I've been in this business long enough to know that the internet can take a long time to forget stuff, and that opening some doors could very much close other ones. It could close doors to other partnerships, other professional relationships, other opportunities. It might not even be for very much money.
If you want to make money on the internet by creating content, I'd recommend you look towards more conventional networks. You'll probably make more money. It'll probably be less stressful. And you'll save your compliance people a lot of headaches.
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