Thursday, July 22, 2021

The Kids are Alright

As Lori Wiese-Parks — my fellow entreVIEW blogger and Lathrop GPM colleague — so eloquently recounted in her June 29 post, now, for the first time, student-athletes will be allowed to profit from endorsement deals using their own name, image, and likeness. 

Already, in less than a month, we have seen a slew of local and national endorsement deals — some notable, others less so. With more than 400,000 NCAA athletes now on the market, it is clear we are only scratching the surface, but, since you are here, take a look at some of the early deals of the brand new “NIL Era” in NCAA sports: 

The Big Box Brands

Trey Knox and PetSmart: On July 1, Trey Knox, an Arkansas Razorbacks wide receiver, signed a promotional partnership deal with PetsSmart. With his Siberian Husky, the 6’5” wideout, who has 12,900 followers on Instagram, will promote PetSmart through coordinated social media posts and behind-the-scenes videos. Knox played in 11 games for the Razorbacks last year, starting six and recording seven catches — proof that you don’t have to be a superstar to get a superstar deal. Sometimes all you need is an incredibly photogenic dog and a bit of initiative. 

Haley and Hanna Cavinder and Boost Mobile: Another deal from day one of the NIL era: by way of a billboard in Times Square, Boost Mobile announced their partnership with the Cavinder sisters, all-conference twin guards at Fresno State. It is yet to be seen how the Cavinder sisters fit into the plans of Boost Mobile, the wireless telecommunication subsidiary of Dish Network, but with the twins’ more than four million followers on social media, it is clear Boost Mobile will have to fight for the Cavinder sisters’ time.

The Possible Recruiting Violations

Nebraska athletics and Runza: If there were a “state sandwich” of Nebraska, it would be a Runza. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure yet, this Nebraska tradition is half hot-pocket, half sloppy-joe and half cabbage — 150% Nebraska. On the eve of the NIL rule changes, Runza announced that it would be offering deals to 100 current Nebraska athletes who opt in and promote the restaurant’s app. A fitting and (arguably) delicious partnership.

Miami football and American Top Team: No college team has been the subject of greater booster support and greater NCAA scrutiny than the University of Miami. So it comes as no surprise that one of the larger and more unique deals of the early NIL Era was born in South Florida. A long-time staple of the mixed-martial arts scene, American Top Team will be paying all 90 scholarship athletes on the Miami Hurricanes college football team $500/month in exchange for promotion of the American Top Team gym. 

The Entrepreneurs

Will Ulmer: Will Ulmer may still be lucky, but he no longer has to perform under the pseudonym “Lucky Bill.” Ulmer, a sixth-year senior offensive lineman for the Marshall Thundering Herd, is a budding country music star. Previously unable to promote and profit off his music, Ulmer now can accept payment for his shows — possibly paving the way for other student-athletes who have more than one talent. 

McKenzie Milton and D’Eriq King: McKenzie and D’Eriq are both popular and very marketable quarterbacks at their respective schools (Florida State for Milton, Miami for King). While they likely have the opportunity to cash in on numerous advertising deals (and they most certainly will), the two have taken a bigger picture approach — teaming up as co-founders of Dreamfield. Dreamfield is an online marketing platform which connects college athletes with potential advertisers. Milton and King are also trying their hand at NFTs and selling the non-fungible tokens on the platform. With the NIL and the NFT spaces both early in development, Milton and King will likely be in this game long after they finish on the field. 

Grant Frerking: Grant Frerking is the CEO and founder of Atlanta-based Metro Straw, a ground covering company doing close to seven figures and servicing thousands of residential and commercial clients in a five-state region. Frerking also happens to be a senior wideout on the Tennessee Volunteers football team. Since the NIL rule changes, Frerking has been able to partner with his teammates, pay them, and promote his company. If that wasn’t enough, Frerking has launched GTF Enterprises, which helps college athletes with endorsements, engagements, and appearances. With his unique experience, Frerking — through GTF Enterprises — is perhaps the perfect person to educate college athletes on financial literacy and the ways in which they can properly monetize their platforms.

This is an incredibly exciting time in the cross-section of sports, law, and business, with the potential to change the landscape of college athletics forever. Only time will tell if NCAA regulations will stifle the NIL opportunity, but I for one am incredibly excited for the athletes and entrepreneurs who will drive the growth and innovation in this space.

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