Bay Area's first NIL millionaire? Brock Bowers reaps rewards at Georgia
Brock Bowers' timing could not have been more perfect. The star tight end, who was born in Eugene, Ore. and committed to the University of Oregon Monday night, hours after the Ducks won the No. The country's No. 1 recruiting class. "It's always been my dream to play for Oregon," Bowers told ESPN.
DeAnna Bowers still struggles to understand how her son, barely two years after leaving Napa High, appears on billboards throughout Georgia touting an injury law firm. Or how he's all over social media and television, extolling the virtues of a credit union and his favorite chicken sandwich.
'People are listening to him on the radio and watching him on TV ads,' DeAnna said. 'It's just crazy.'
Brock Bowers' ascent in his first two seasons at Georgia earned him All-America honors at tight end while helping the Bulldogs win consecutive national championships. His success coincided with college athletes' new freedom to profit from their name, image and likeness (NIL) by doing paid endorsements.
Although Bowers' agent would not disclose his client's earnings, Bowers entered the 2022 season as one of 14 college football players with an estimated NIL valuation of more than $1 million, according to On3.com, which analyzes college sports data. This made him the first Bay Area athlete to reach that plateau.
In fall 2020, Bowers was 20 years old and still sighing with frustration after Napa's pandemic. He enrolled at Georgia early, quickly rose up the depth charts, and was soon awash with titles and touchdown passes, conveniently at dawn of the NIL era.
Bowers, in a Chronicle interview last month, complied with Georgia head coach Kirby Smart's request that his players not comment on their NIL activity. But DeAnna Bowers and Dan Everett, a South Carolina marketing agent who represents Brock on NIL opportunities, offered a revealing picture of how one college athlete chose to navigate the new landscape.
Everett, whose company also represents Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts and Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor, among others, approached the Bowers family in October 2021, during Brock's freshman season. His NIL involvement started with signing trading cards.
In the offseason following Georgia's January 2022 national championship, Bowers officially agreed to Everett bringing him possible deals. A few months later, collectives started to appear.
These organizations are meant to help college athletes get sponsorship deals and endorsement deals. They are not affiliated with any particular school. Bowers made an unusual decision when he was approached by one of his clients.
According to Everett with Classic City Collective (which supports Georgia athletes), he opted out of the opportunity for a'significant, six-figure collective agreement. Everett stated that Bowers wanted the funds to be used for other school athletes.
Bowers had become prominent enough to land profitable deals without needing the collective, and he has firsthand appreciation for college athletes who sailed below the radar. DeAnna was a softball pitcher at Utah State, Brock's dad Warren was an offensive lineman at Utah State and his sister Brianna played softball at Sacramento State.
DeAnna excelled enough to earn All-America honors and induction into her school's Hall of Fame, yet she made only $8,000 for her first contract with a fledgling pro softball league in the early 1990s. Brock earned $20,000 just to put his face on those billboards.
Even so, he clearly could have made more by accepting Classic City Collective's offer.
'He's still making money,' DeAnna Bowers said. 'He's just not taking the entire pot.'
Brock's portfolio includes deals with Associated Credit Union, Zaxby's fast-food chain, NoBull (training shoes and apparel), Morgan & Morgan (the injury law firm), Topps trading cards and Dick's Sporting Goods. Everett expects to strike another major deal in the coming weeks, in addition to securing extensions on Bowers' existing agreements.
Everett declined comment on the accuracy of the On3.com valuation estimate. Bowers has since dropped to 36th in the ranking, with a valuation of slightly less than $700,000. That's probably because he's taken a conservative approach.
Bowers acknowledged his parents and Everett handle most of his NIL activity. They are careful not to encroach on his football and academic obligations, bundling his responsibilities to his corporate partners to seven dates in the offseason.
Here's a glossary of common terms in college sports' new lexicon.
NIL: Acronym for name, image and likeness. In July 2021, the NCAA reversed its longstanding policy and for the first time allowed athletes to profit off of their name, image and likeness. Some examples of this include an athlete being paid to promote a product on social media, wish a fan happy birthday over a video message, or make an appearance at a corporate gathering.
Valuation: This is an estimate of what a given athlete could be expected to earn by taking full advantage of their NIL potential over a year. On3.com, which specializes in NIL news and data, uses an algorithm that factors an individual's social-media following, known deals and athletic performance, among other aspects such as the size of the collectives supporting their university.
Collective: Often founded by prominent alumni, collectives are third-party organizations aligned with a university that connect current and prospective athletes with NIL opportunities. Boosters funnel money into collectives to support their teams. Although the NCAA has barred collectives from the recruiting process, the practice is believed to be widespread. Collectives must operate independently of universities, but athletic departments are allowed to promote them.
Warren Bowers, partner of a Napa construction company, and DeAnna, a part-time math teacher and assistant softball coach at Napa High, review most of the NIL offers their son receives. She often reminds him to set aside a portion of his income, given that he's an independent contractor and can expect a hefty tax bill.
DeAnna reveals that Brock Bowers was adamant about his caution. He turned down an offer by Tom Brady, then-Tampa Bay's quarterback, to endorse his clothing line. She said that it would have required a commercial shoot in New York and Brock didn’t want to miss three days offseason training.
'Brock is very strategic and successful in the NIL space,' Everett, the agent, wrote in an email.
As for the impact of Bowers playing at powerhouse Georgia, in the country's highest-profile conference and in the football-obsessed South, Everett added, 'He has helped lead UGA to back-to-back national championships. He's in the mecca of college football, and that provides tremendous value for brands that want a benevolent ambassador who happens to be incredible at football.'
Najee Harris didn't enjoy the same economic good fortune in college. Harris, like Bowers, went from the Bay Area to the mighty Southeastern Conference — Antioch High to Alabama in 2017 as the nation's top-ranked recruit — but he completed his eligibility in January 2021, just as Bowers arrived in Athens, Ga.
That also was six months before the NCAA, under the pressure of numerous states passing NIL-related laws, changed its longtime rules and permitted such deals. Timing matters.
'Yeah, I would have been able to help out my family a lot earlier,' said Harris, now a running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers. 'It would have helped, for sure. But I wasn't tripping, I didn't get all mad I missed out. In a way, it helped me stay focused and grind more so I could get to the next level.'
Harris, who was a victim of homelessness and had a hard upbringing, could have used NIL income for his single mother to pay the bills. Harris' status of the No. Harris' status as the No. 1 recruit would have made it a prime candidate to early NIL deals, and would have increased the stakes in the fight for his college commitment.
He chose Alabama over Michigan because of the high-level competition in the SEC, and the Crimson Tide's history of sending players to the NFL. But Harris acknowledged NIL money now is '100% part of the (recruiting) conversation.' It just happened a few years too late for him to benefit.
DeAnna Bowers stated, "I feel for Najee's family and the children who have just missed it,"
Her son, on the other hand, emerged just as the college sports galaxy — athletes, coaches, school officials, donors, sponsors — was trying to make sense of this new, unwieldy NIL thing.
David Carter, a USC business school professor and founder of the Sports Business Group, called the onset 'a honeymoon' and the current phase 'more of a steady state,' as collectives take shape. Carter described the next stage as a 'reset' — some NIL deals inevitably will fall apart, some brands won't pay and some athletes won't perform as expected.
'The industry is going through iterations,' he said. 'I think you'll see big law firms and consulting firms become involved, and then you'll see the industry become professionalized. Right now, it's very loose. As we've seen, it's kind of everything goes.'
The NCAA's apparent disinterest in regulating the NIL landscape — amid different guidelines in different states — sparked this everything-goes climate, as Carter noted. That also could change under the leadership of new NCAA President Charlie Baker, the former governor of Massachusetts.
DeAnna Bowers is still amazed at her son's contribution to this transformative time in college athletics. In spring 2019, Brock Bowers was four years away from considering endorsements. His Napa team had gone 0-10 in the previous season, so it was difficult for him to get an invite to the Nike camp.
Nate Kenion was Bowers' seven on seven coach. The camp director eventually agreed to include Bowers. At the combine-like event, he ran the 40-yard sprint in 4.5 seconds. This immediately attracted attention and skeptical (given his anonymity). He ran 4.5 again and he launched his rise to the recruiting circuit (he only had one offer from Nevada before he went on the camp).
Bowers took most of his recruiting visits in 2020, during the thick of the pandemic. That shaped his decision: He liked the University of Washington, for example, but much of the city and campus was shut down during his visit because of pandemic restrictions.
The SEC was another story.
Bowers and his family quickly discovered that college football is the dominant sport in the South. Although NIL was not on their radar, the opportunity to play in the country’s best conference was too tempting.
'I wanted to practice with the best and play with the best,' Bowers said of why he chose Georgia.
The Bulldogs' first two seasons were a success. He described the 'insane' atmosphere at home games at Sanford Stadium as raucous, packed to capacity (92 746 for each game). Bowers found road games thrilling, due to the passion and intensity of SEC fans.
This makes it a fertile ground for NIL possibilities, especially for the skill-position player who is the two-time national champion.
Bowers stated that it is different in the South -- people care more about football. It's almost like a religion here. It can sometimes be overwhelming, but once you stop and think about it, it's actually quite cool.
DeAnna Bowers and Warren Bowers have found the journey quite strange, as they are far from their college experience in Logan. Brock's senior year at high school saw one Georgia football match. However, pandemic restrictions prevented the crowd from reaching 30,000. The family was socially distant in four groups.
One year later, Bowers made his Athens debut, with two touchdown catches during a win over UAB. The crowd was louder and more representative of the true SEC.
'We had no idea what being a football player in the South really meant,' DeAnna Bowers said. 'There was never any plan — this has just unfolded in front of us. It's kind of like being in Grade 5 rapids and trying to paddle.'
The family sought to reduce the stress by making NIL decisions based on the time commitment. Brock will need to travel for a weekend, or can he complete his obligations in Athens in two hours?
There are always complications. In his first season, Bowers was approached by a Napa company to plant grapes and then sell wine with Bowers' signature. This seemed like a good idea, but the NCAA bans athletes from endorsing alcohol products.
The whole process still leaves DeAnna shaking her head. Her son mostly wants to play football, and suddenly he's also taking a real-time crash course in business, marketing and advertising.
DeAnna stated, "He's such a easygoing kid with great sense of humor. So I look at some stuff and think, "How fun for him." "How did this happen?"