New College Non-Conference NIL Tourney Already Generating Buzz | Sports Destination Management

New College Non-Conference NIL Tourney Already Generating Buzz

Mar 28, 2024 | By: Michael Popke

March Madness is nearing its climax but there’s a new men’s tournament in town – or at least there will be on Thanksgiving weekend. It will have only a fraction of the number of Big Dance teams but with up to $2 million in name, image and likeness (NIL) deals on the line, it is already raising the interest of teams.


According to Front Office Sports:


The tournament, dubbed Players Era, will host eight teams this fall at MGM Arena in Las Vegas and 16 teams starting in 2025. The event will be operated by EverWonder Studio (which was created by former Time president Ian Orefice and backed by RedBird IMI and Jeff Zucker) and AND1 CEO of Basketball Seth Berger. EverWonder hasn’t yet secured distribution but is in talks with both linear and streaming-based broadcasters.


The tournament operator is guaranteeing that sponsors and other tournament partners will offer each school a total of $1 million in NIL money for participating. That money will be funneled to collectives, boosters or other NIL entities, and the coaches and teams will be able to distribute that money however they see fit, as long as the money goes to current players. The winning team will be eligible to earn another $1 million, to be distributed in the same way. 

Reports indicate tournament organizers have approached Alabama, Duke, Florida Atlantic University, Houston, Kansas, Oregon, San Diego State, St. John’s, Syracuse and Virginia to participate.


“The NIL era is here to stay whether we like it or not,” noted Sam Murphy at, part of the USA Today Sports. “There is no question that it has drastically affected the landscape of college sports in just a few short years, but the craziest part is that we are still in the very beginning phases.”


We’re not at the very beginning, though.’s FanNation reports that “last year’s College Basketball Invitational offered NIL payouts to players — but not on this level.”


Created in 2007 by The Gazelle Group, that tournament in 2023 introduced NIL payouts of $40,000 — $25,000 to the champion, $10,000 to the runner-up and $2,500 to each semifinalist.


New NIL Tournament Already Generating BuzzThe Players Era tournament is the latest major sporting event to land in Las Vegas. In February, March and April alone, according to, the city’s list of hosted events includes Super Bowl LVIII, The Vegas Shoot (a world-famous archery tournament), The Mane Event XI (an open and limited-age cutting horse show), Tuff Hedeman Championship Bull Riding, the Pac-12 Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments, the Mountain West Conference Basketball Championships, the World Series of Team Roping Super Qualifier, the National Hot Rod Association Four-Wide Nationals, the Lamborghini Las Vegas Polo Classic and the USA Open Wrestling Championships. Las Vegas also will welcome the 2024 NHL Draft in June and the El Clásico friendly between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona in July.


“Las Vegas is doubling down on its new identity as ‘the Sports and Entertainment Capital of the World,’ with emphasis on sports,” reported Las Vegas Weekly in February. “In the last decade, Las Vegas has welcomed three major league and six minor league sports franchises. In less than eight years, we’ve added T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas Ballpark, Allegiant Stadium and the Dollar Loan Center, with a Major League Baseball stadium on the way.”


But it’s not all three-pointers, touchdowns and home runs.


“When you have 40 million visitors, there’s always externalities — environmental, transportation, public safety, health,” economist Andrew Woods, director of UNLV’s Center for Business and Economic Research, told the Weekly. “That is just the nature of [growth]. … We do need to have a conversation about the transportation we have, and are we giving enough choice and options so that we can host bigger and bigger events? We [also] have to make sure our workers can efficiently get to and from work … and be able to take our kids to school at the same time.”


He added that “[o]ne in four jobs in Southern Nevada are tied to leisure and hospitality. One in $3 that is generated in Southern Nevada are tied to leisure and hospitality … About half of the state budget is dependent on some sort of tourism-related tax. We need these visitors to come and spend their money because that helps pay for public education and transportation, [etcetera].”


Sports fans are not your typical tourists, Woods explained, noting that they stay longer than “your average weekend warrior customer. … They tend to spend a bit more … and they also come in a bigger group.”


According to a May 2023 white paper published by the Center for Business and Economic Research, 1.8 million — or more than 5% of Las Vegas’ total visitors in 2022 — came to the city for a sporting event, the Weekly reports.


That number likely has already gone up, and will continue to do so.