Emoni Bates could rake in serious NIL cash at Michigan State basketball

Emoni Bates could be the most talented prep basketball player since LeBron James went straight from high school to the NBA nearly two decades ago.
And if he ends up going to Michigan State, Bates could become the bar-setter for just how much a college athlete’s name, image and likeness is worth.
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The 16-year-old phenom from Ypsilanti — the first sophomore to be named Gatorade National Player of the Year — is the No. 1 player in the 2022 class and possibly the nation’s best pro prospect regardless of age.
He announced his commitment to Tom Izzo’s Spartans on Monday, just two days before a Senate Commerce Committee hearing stoked the discussion on how to allow NCAA athletes to profit from their likeness via outside sources and sponsorships after decades of being forced to forfeit rights to the schools they played for.
That change is coming rapidly, possibly as soon as next summer. Which puts Bates right in the vortex of a seismic shift as he awaits potential NBA rules changes that could determine whether he turns pro right after high school or becomes a test case for how superstar athletes and colleges manage this new frontier of NIL rights.
“It would be hard to estimate what his value would be in terms of his name, image and likeness,” said Ramogi Huma, executive director of the National College Players Association, who has pushed and sued for athletes to get those rights for more than a decade. “But if you’re the right player with the right name at the right place at the right time, that can mean a lot.”
The NCAA, as well as state and federal governments, continue to push for reform that would allow athletes to monetize their personal brands, while also trying to avoid inviting corruption in college sports. Rules or laws could be in place as early as the 2021-22 school year.
“There’s a lot of details that have to be worked out about this,” said Richard Hunter, a professor of sports law at Seton Hall University.
[ Emoni Bates’ NLI earnings potential hinges on NCAA, lawmakers: Here’s what’s being discussed ]
Bates, who already has graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, could reclassify academically and go to MSU next summer and become one of the first to test that earning potential.
According to USA Today, a lawsuit filed last month asserts athletes at Power Five schools should be entitled to earn money from their social media postings. For a high-level prospect such as Bates, who has more than 330,000 followers on Instagram and another 20,000-plus followers on Twitter, every post could reap significant rewards financially if he is allowed to link up with advertisers.
Jim Cavale is the founder and CEO of the firm INFLCR, which works with MSU and about 500 colleges on maximizing their digital reach. That includes name, image and likeness valuations of athletes and their personal social media accounts.
[Why Tom Izzo and Michigan State basketball might get Emoni Bates for two years ]
Cavale believes Bates could make between $400,000 and $800,000 a year from social media posts if he becomes a Spartan.
“With our formula, if he showed up with 500,000 followers, goes to Michigan State — a staple in big-time college basketball, a big market — and you just use industry standard metrics, this guy is going to be able to make about $15,000 a post,” Cavale said. “If he could get up to a million followers, you could almost double that number. Per post.”
It’s been discussed for decades that players should be allowed to profit off jersey sales tied to their likeness, but current NCAA rules prohibit that. Universities can’t sell a jersey with a player’s name on the back, but everyone understands what a No. 5 Michigan State jersey means — Cassius Winston.
And everyone will understand what Bates’ number means if he ever gets to college.
NCAA rule changes also could allow him to independently profit off his autograph, including at a sports card shop, for instance. But he might not have the option of signing a shoe and apparel deal or link with a soft drink brand, depending on what rules are enacted. Particularly because most schools already hold rights to those contracts — MSU, for instance, is sponsored by Nike and Pepsi.
However, the Bates family’s creation of Ypsilanti Aim High Academy, where Bates will enroll this fall, could be something down the line thes a marketing venture. Experts agree it could hypothetically be rebranded from “Ypsi Prep Academy” to Emoni Bates Academy,” which could allow it to use his name, image and likeness to attract future top basketball talent if the rules are favorable.
“It really depends on what the final rules are. But I mean, I don’t see why not,” Cavale said. “Because ultimately, opportunities like that are going to be in the hands of the folks that are running that business who can now pay Emoni money for his likeness. … Creative things like that may even be easier than him doing a deal with Pepsi … ”
Huma thought back to when he was being recruited as a high school football player in the early 1990s and realized just how much pro athletes can make beyond the game.
“I remember when Shaq — and I’m sure many players fall into that category nowadays — but I remember the first time I heard that he was making more in endorsement money than with his salary,” said Huma, a 1999 UCLA graduate. “That was a shock. College sports, I think for some athletes, will be like that. Definitely.”
As comparisons to LeBron James and Kevin Durant follow Bates, it’s impractical to compare their earnings potential coming out of high school to either of them. Both came of age during the nascent period of the internet and before social media. A better litmus test is one familiar to MSU fans — Zion Williamson.
Cavale said by the time the Spartans ended the one-and-done phenom’s career at Duke in the 2019 Elite Eight, Williamson’s social media profile tripled from a million followers — a significant amount for a high school prospect — to 3 million. That alone gave him a built-in audience for advertisers and companies when he entered the NBA draft and became the No. 1 overall pick that summer.
Had he also been paid for his likeness in college, Williamson could have made an estimated $2.5 million, Tye Gonser told USA TODAY in 2019. Gonser is a lawyer who once worked with an agency that handled endorsement deals for athletes such as Reggie Bush.
According to CBS Sports, Williamson landed a seven-year deal with Nike that could be worth more than $100 million — more than the $87 million over seven years LeBron got when he entered the NBA in 2003. Williamson also inked a five-year, $75 million contract with Gatorade, as well as lucrative deals with 2K Sports video games and Panini sports cards.
“Zion got just as much out of Duke as Duke got from Zion,” Cavale said. “And you can’t tell me that if he went and played in Australia or if he went and played in the G League in Sioux Falls that he was going to get that kind of growth with his social media. It’s because Duke’s on ESPN every night. And he’s on a center stage that everybody’s watching.
“For him, deals you end up getting as a rookie are worth more.”
INFLCR published its valuations for this year’s Duke team. It estimated the 14 Blue Devils on the roster have a combined advertising value of more than $1.2 million, with freshman Cassius Stanley leading the way at $410,720 — which the company believes would translate to more than $15,000 per social media post to his 513,000 Instagram followers.
“There’s a lot of other variables that go into your value on social though, beyond your followers,” Cavale said. “And so what Emoni really needs to do is he needs to be more active on social. For instance, if you have a million followers on Instagram but you’ve only got six posts and it’s all because you’re a great basketball player, you really don’t have a channel people go to to engage with your storytelling and posts. Then what does an advertiser really bank on if they ask you to post something on their behalf?”
A joint study by the website AthleticDirectorU and Navigate Research ranked Stanley as the third-highest value among college athletes at $405,000, behind North Carolina basketball star Cole Anthony ($476,000) and UCLA and 2016 Olympic gymnast Madison Kocian ($466,000).
Winston ranked 14th on that “Most Valuable College Athletes” list at $102,000, second in the Big Ten behind Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields (sixth at $300,000).
So who would be worth more in Cavale’s mind: Winston after a highly decorated four-year college career at MSU, or Bates, who still could be two years away from arriving on campus?
“The one way to look at that is Cassius Winston is established, he’s been in front of the public more because of television, and he’s leveraged it to a great extent because of what he’s done with his social media,” he said. “So I would say Cassius Winston. And that’s where the quality over quantity thing really comes to fruition. Everybody wants to talk about quantity of followers. I think it’s a quality of followers and how much they engage with your posts and how you use your channel. And Cassius Winston does a great job of that.”
But the marketing value of athletes continues to grow if they have continued success and show an engaging personality, Cavale points out. To get to the level of LeBron — Forbes magazine estimated his net worth at $450 million, before he signed a four-year, $154 million contract with the Lakers — requires not only making money off salary but through endorsement deals and business investments.
Things he could not have done had he gone to college instead of going straight to the NBA.
“You think about all the different things LeBron James had to do to gain the stage he gained, starting in his early high school years with traditional media,” Cavale said. “He’s on the cover of Sports Illustrated, ESPN started televising his games, so on and so forth. You’re talking about the top 0.1% of the top 1%. That’s how good LeBron had to be and how rare and special he had to be to get that kind of coverage. And he leveraged the daylights out it.”
NBA rules changed in 2005, two years after he entered the draft, to prevent players from leaping straight from high school to the pros, and no one under 19 could join the league.With talks reportedly breaking down between the NBA and its players union to soon end the one-and-done, it might not be until 2023 until Bates can enter the NBA draft and begin building his portfolio.
Unless he can profit from his name, image and likeness in college.
“It’s already a tragedy in some sense that he couldn’t go straight to the NBA if he wanted to,” Huma said. “First and foremost, we want players to have the option (to go pro). They shouldn’t be forced to go to college. There are very few players that can go from high school to NBA.
“But in terms of today, the marketability of the athlete with social media and so many different options out there, if a player of LeBron’s caliber stepped foot in college … it’s a whole different ballgame. And if LeBron came in this same day and age, I think he would be worth more.”
Emoni Bates might get a chance to find out just how much more.