No sooner had Kevin Ware shattered his tibia on national television than he was elevated into a figure of inspiration -- and transformed into a marketing opportunity.
You’ve probably seen the “Ri5e to the Occasion” t-shirts, which Adidas, in conjunction with the University of Louisville’s athletic department, is selling for $24.99. (Update: The shirts are currently sold out.)
So who’s making money off these shirts? Adidas, obviously, and also the NCAA, whose Final Four logo is emblazoned on the back. Louisville, recognizing the potential public-relations disaster here, said yesterday that it had “proactively decided to waive any traditional licensing royalties revenue” from the shirts.
So the school won’t be receiving any money from the sale of the shirts? Not exactly. Louisville has asked that its cut of the royalties be donated to the school’s scholarship fund. In other words, they’re still getting their money. Now Louisville can simply allocate money that would have been earmarked for scholarships toward other expenses -- such as, say, Coach Rick Pitino’s annual base salary of $3.9 million.
A lot of people are no doubt buying these shirts out of a well-intentioned desire to help a gifted young athlete who may have just had his basketball career cut short before he could even make it to the pros. What they may not realize is that the NCAA’s amateurism rules prevent Ware from seeing a dime from the sales.
The good news is that change may be coming through a federal antitrust lawsuit. Brought by former UCLA All-American Ed O’Bannon, the suit challenges the NCAA’s right to profit from the names, images, and likenesses of the people who play the games without compensating the players themselves.
If O’Bannon were to win, a player like Ware would be able to contract with Louisville to receive compensation for any use of his likeness. Right now, Ware and his family would be getting a share of the proceeds from the shirts occasioned by his injury. And the people buying them would really be helping him, not just pouring more money into the pockets of Adidas, the NCAA and, yes, even the University of Louisville.
(Jonathan Mahler is a sports columnist for Bloomberg View.)