Despite NCAA Fears, College Football Remains Extremely Popular In NIL Era

For years, NCAA officials proclaimed that fan interest in college football was linked to the players being unpaid.  However, with less than 48 hours remaining until kickoff of the NCAA College Football Playoff National Championship game between the University of Alabama and the University of Georgia, fan interest has arguably reached a new all-time high – even despite college athletes on both teams now serving as paid product endorsers.

As of this evening, the cheapest ticket available to attend the NCAA College Football Playoff National Championship game on Monday night is on StubHub for $345. Meanwhile, tickets for some of the better seats in Lucas Oil Stadium are going for closer to $2500 a piece.

To see ticket prices for the NCAA College Football Playoff National Championship this high—especially with the game being played in Indianapolis, Indiana during a national health pandemic—largely rebuts any of the NCAA’s claims that allowing the athletes to earn money would lead to loss of fan interest. If anything, fan interest in the NCAA College Football Playoff National Championship is higher now than before the athletes served as product endorsers.

For NCAA leaders, this reality is a double-edge sword. On the one hand, NCAA leaders could alas let go of any bona fide fears they may have had about the effect of athletes’ NIL rights on fan interest. However, on the other hand, those NCAA leaders who proclaimed that the sky would fall with the passing of NIL laws have now been fully exposed like the proverbial Chicken Little.

This is perhaps good news for the college athletes’ rights movement. With NIL reform now firmly entrenched in many state laws, the potential next steps for reforming college sports may include efforts to garner direct pay from colleges to athletes, as well as potentially college athlete unionization. And, not surprisingly, some NCAA leaders are now claiming that it will be these further changes, rather than NIL, that harms fan interest.

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Yet, as we witness first hand that fan interest in college football remains strong in the NIL era despite NCAA leaders’ repeated doomsday claims to the contrary, it becomes increasingly difficult for any reasonable person to take the NCAA’s leaders seriously when they now proclaim that it will be the further financial reforms to college sports that will keep fans home.

The fact that college football fans are selling out Lucas Oil Stadium for this year’s NCAA College Football Playoff National Championship game reinforces the reality that fans enjoy college football because the on-field product is good. Whether the college athletes playing in the game are made to take a vow of poverty is not the driving factor behind fan enjoyment.

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Marc Edelman (Marc@MarcEdelman.com) is a Professor of Law at Baruch College’s Zicklin School of Business, Sports Ethics Director of the Robert Zicklin Center on Corporate Integrity, and the founder of Edelman Law. He is the author of “A Short Treatise on Amateurism and Antitrust Law” and “The Future of College Athlete Players Unions.

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