Why Swimming Needs to Adapt in the World of NIL

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Why Swimming Needs to Adapt in the World of NIL

Over the past two years, there has been a lot of discussion in the world of athletics on why college athletes should earn compensation for their name, image and likeness. While undoubtedly any athlete should have the right to compensate under those categories, NIL also provides a unique opportunity for the growth of athletics as a whole.

Take for example the sport of swimming, a sport that often finds itself trying to bring in a new fan base other than the one that tunes in every four years for the Olympics. NIL allows the sport of swimming not just to grow on the collegiate level but on the professional level as well. If used the right way, NIL can have a significant effect on the sport of swimming, and a new era could be just around the corner.

What is NIL?

NCAA athletes first gained the right to profit off their name, image and likeness in July of 2021. NIL provides athletes the opportunity to become a brand partner to earn compensation for something that was once prohibited under NCAA regulations.

While NIL is approved by the NCAA, it does not allow athletes to be “paid for play” or paid to attend a certain institution. Although regulations for NIL have been oftentimes murky, name, image and likeness has brought significant change to college athletics and with change, adaptation is often key.

Why Swimming Needs to Adapt

For decades, the sport of swimming has struggled with a variety of issues on how to grow its brand. From attempting different marketing campaigns to trying to make the sport more affordable for those to join, there is little doubt that USA Swimming has taken an all-hands-on-deck approach to garner more attention to the sport.

When looking at reasons swimming has struggled to become more popular, three major factors come to the forefront: lack of viewership, lack of knowledge toward the sport and lack of name recognition.

Lack of viewership can be pinned on the fact that traditionally swimming has been an “Olympic-year sport,” meaning the general public will typically not watch swimming unless they have the spirit that comes with being an all-around sports fan during the Olympic cycle.

Secondly, even though swimming is an easy sport to follow from a rules perspective, in comparison to the likes of football and basketball, a lack of knowledge stems from it not being a mainstream sport. In a key example of lack of knowledge, NBC swimming analyst Rowdy Gaines said in an interview that he has to have a moment where he explains the backstroke flags during every Olympics.

Lastly, and arguably most importantly, swimming simply does not have enough name recognition. With the exception of Michael Phelps, if you were to poll the general public on the names of other Olympic swimmers, you would be hard pressed to find individuals to name more than two at most.

Although swimming, like anything, has its issues, most can be fixed, and with NIL, the sport can go down a road that leads to the best end destination for all those involved.

How Swimming Can Adapt

Each aspect of NIL can be related back to one for the reasons swimming has struggled in the past: name, lack of name recognition; image, lack of viewership; likeness, lack of knowledge. So maybe swimming can use these new NIL rules to its advantage and promote its stars while allowing them to continue competing on the college level.

When breaking each category down, there seems to be almost obvious answers on the next step to take. For name, it comes down to athletes finding deals that benefit them financially and personally while also working with the athlete to grow the sport. While governing bodies such as USA Swimming can push athletes in the spotlight, it’s up to the swimmers themselves to keep promoting the sport they compete in, ultimately leading to its growth. Persistence leads to results, and this is a process that takes persistence.

For image, governing bodies and athletes need to take a stand to push swimming into the national media. From SportsCenter Top 10 moments to primetime on NBC, there are many exciting and amazing things that happen on a regular basis at national level meets that the general public would be excited to see. But it takes athletes and organizations pushing these moments, particularly on social media, to see that there is promise in promoting swimming on a higher level.

Lastly for likeness, it really goes hand in hand with image. To gain attention and allow new swimming fans to grasp an understanding of the sport, those involved with swimming have to push it. An organization such as USA Swimming could release videos narrated by current National Team swimmers every year around the biggest competition, such as Team Trials, Nationals or the Olympics, simply describing the basics of the sport, and athletes can work with their brand partners to do the same. This helps grow the knowledge of not just the sport but also the athletes competing in it.

The Future

In the past the only options were swim in college or sign a deal to go pro. NIL has changed this and so much more, and with change comes the opportunity for growth, which the swimming community needs to grasp onto.

As it stands, we are at a pivotal point, not just in the world of swimming but the athletics world as a whole. While it is undoubtedly nerve-wracking, as is anything down the road untraveled, opportunity to create a sport that better supports its stars is awaiting on the other side.

NIL has drastically changed athletics and now it is up to organizing bodies, their members and their fans to welcome in this new era, a new era that could change swimming and welcome in enhanced possibility. 

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Virginia Coach
2 months ago

Your line “it’s up to the swimmers themselves to keep promoting the sport they compete in, ultimately leading to its growth. Persistence leads to results, and this is a process that takes persistence,” is true.

To quote one D-III coach of many national champions “most of my swimmers, between academics and training. do not have the time to devote to NIL.”

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