Navigating COVID-19 as a Professional Athlete

By: Bryce Wasserman

In March, the sports world was flipped upside down with the cancellation of March Madness and the postponement of the MLB, NBA, NHL and MLS seasons. While most of the headlines have focused on the return to play plans of the major sports leagues, coverage regarding the impact of COVID-19 on professional athletes and their daily lives has been lacking.

On June 3, the University of Miami School of Law’s summer class about the impact of COVID-19 on the sports and entertainment industries welcomed Kim Miale as a guest speaker. Kim Miale is the current General Counsel of Roc Nation Sports and represents an all-star list of clients such as Saquon Barkley and Juju Smith-Schuster. Ms. Miale provided a unique perspective on how her clients are dealing with the delays caused by COVID-19, and the various off-field issues that have surfaced due to the virus. Specifically, she focused on the lack of access to training facilities for athletes and the “make-good” clauses that are being drafted to fulfill duties in existing sponsorship agreements. In addition to the Ms. Miale’s insight, I hope to give an extra layer of perspective as a current professional athlete in Major League Lacrosse. I believe there are many similarities between my experience and those of other professional athletes.

Athletes stay at the top of their game by training in the off-season. This training is usually conducted at their team’s facilities. But because these facilities have been closed due to stay at home orders, teams and players have needed to get creative to conduct workouts. Some athletes worked out with their current teammates, such as Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen who organized a workout with his new rookie receivers. Others have worked out with fellow athletes in their local cities, such as Florida residents Lamar Jackson and Antonio Brown. On the coaching side, many have been in contact with their players for film sessions through Zoom. It seems this type of creative training will continue based on the NFL’s recent announcement stating that coaches will be allowed at facilities while players may not be allowed back until training camp.

In addition to complications regarding training, many high-profile athletes have dealt with complications relating to their endorsement deals with large brands and companies. Many of these endorsement contracts require a certain number of appearances and/or commercial shoots that are now unable to be completed. Rather than terminating the contracts and ruining relationships between players and sponsors, most agents are negotiating “make-good” clauses that will allow athletes to fulfill the obligations they owe to sponsors. For example, I had an agreement through my team to take part in eight appearances sponsored by Citizens Bank in Boston. Instead of participating in these appearances, I can fulfill these obligations by conducting two Zoom sessions with local youth programs for each previously scheduled appearance. Sixteen Zoom sessions will then equate to my eight initially required appearances. Many athletes have been using the power of their large social media following to negotiate “make-good” clauses by substituting appearances with posts on Instagram. Kim Miale explained to our class how Roc Nation’s social media department uses certain metrics to calculate how much a post on a certain athlete’s profile is worth in marketing dollars to a company. They can then calculate how many posts would adequately fulfill the obligations initially agreed upon. I believe these developments could lead to social media posts being included more often in future endorsement contracts as companies continue to develop and implement ways to accurately valuate an athlete’s social media following.

Stay at home orders have also provided athletes new streams of revenue, as they have been able to expand their brands through newer social media channels such as Twitch and Tik Tok. Athletes are using their unexpected free time to share and monetize parts of their lives such as their personal hobbies, which they could not previously share as frequently due to their intense schedules. One example of this is playing video games. With Twitch, athletes have been able to stream the video game they are playing to a large audience whenever they please. Fans and athletes both enjoy the interactions on the stream because they are outside the normal course of life as a professional athlete. Many Twitch streamers have been able to monetize their large followings by having advertisements, and I could see many athletes doing the same in the near future to create another revenue stream for themselves.

COVID-19 has changed the way professional athletes conduct themselves, both in their athletic activities and non-athletic activities. Amidst these changes, agents like Kim Miale have been able to help athletes earn money in new ways, while still allowing them to focus on their craft during these times.

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