From pizza to t-shirts, college athletes rush to monetize their brands
University of Miami quarterback Tyler Van Dyke is finishing off a pretty good season. The 20-year-old Red Shirt Rookie of the Year has been named the Atlantic Coast Conference’s overall and offensive rookie of the year. And now he’s building his own brand.
The quarterback, who studies business management – “just in case I fail in the NFL or whatever” – said he didn’t give much thought to brands until his agent, Shawn O’Dare suggests that he look for one for “Van Dime”, his newly earned nickname which is a play on a popular term for a perfectly pitched pass.
“My media guys made a dime with my face on it,” Van Dyke said. “So Shawn got the idea to release a shirt and it was selling pretty well. At first I was like, yeah, that would be cool to drop it off, but now I think it’s going to help me on the road, bring up my name, that brand.
Van Dyke is far from alone. More and more college athletes – whether they become future legends or simply show off bursts of youth – are recording protections based on their name, image, and likeness. This is thanks to a recent Supreme Court ruling that paved the way for college athletes to receive compensation. They hope to make a few dollars (or, in rarer cases, a lot more) from their most ardent fans, usually in the form of clothing sold on websites and social media or partnerships with smaller brands.
The brands are on track to pay student-athletes $ 579.4 million in the first 12 months since the decision, according to Opendorse, a Lincoln, Nebraska-based company that works with more than 100 schools to help navigate the new landscape of athletes. National brands represent 65.7% of this activity, while local brands represent the rest. The average transaction size for student-athletes on the Opendorse platform is $ 1,138.
“What was once reserved for elite athletes is starting to spread to other athletes,” said Anthony J. Dreyer, partner of Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP, which focuses on intellectual property and litigation sportsmen.
Outstanding college students lead the way when it comes to monetizing their image.
Take University of Connecticut basketball star Paige Bueckers. In July, she filed for protection of her nickname, “Paige Buckets,” a day after being named the top varsity athlete in women’s sport. Last month, PepsiCo-owned Gatorade made her their very first varsity athlete.
The 20-year-old is set to miss eight weeks of the season after fracturing her tibial plateau in a Dec.5 win over Notre Dame. At any other time, Bueckers might have lost a supporting role on the Huskies bench as she prepared for her recovery. Instead, she can work on promoting her personal brand.
Yet most college-level athletes don’t make deals with well-known brands. The vast majority wade in these waters for modest sums from, say, a local sporting goods store or a favorite pizzeria.
Dontay Demus Jr., 20, had led the University of Maryland football team in receiving yards every game in the first five weeks of the 2021 season before a leg injury put him on the key in October. About a month after the injury, he signed a sponsorship with Ledo Pizza, a regional chain that has also partnered with the School and the Baltimore Ravens of the National Football League.
About 100 of Maryland’s 500 student-athletes have disclosed similar deals, said Jason Yellin, the university’s associate athletic director for strategic communications. This places the school in the 90th percentile nationally in terms of the volume of student-athletes who have entered into deals, he said, citing Opendorse. The average deal for a Terrapin player, Yellin said, is $ 745. Only 4% of transactions involving Terps, he said, exceed $ 10,000.
Van Dyke, the 2021 Hurricanes star, has already made money from a podcast, received free products in exchange for social media posts, and profited from the sale of non-fungible clothing and tokens, said his agent.
While the quarterback does not yet have specific plans to record additional marks, he hasn’t ruled it out.
“In the offseason, after we play our bowl game,” said Van Dyke, “I’m probably going to sit down with all of my agents and just talk about a few other brands and stuff like that.”