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NIL era brings cautious optimism to college town businesses


E-shirts showing the image of former North Carolina basketball player Jackie Manuel are on sale at Underground Printing in Chapel Hill, NC on Thursday, July 15, 2021. Ann Arbor-based Underground Printing Company is well placed to help athletes and his business make money from merchandise he can sell online.

E-shirts showing the image of former North Carolina basketball player Jackie Manuel are on sale at Underground Printing in Chapel Hill, NC on Thursday, July 15, 2021. Ann Arbor-based Underground Printing Company is well placed to help athletes and his business make money from merchandise he can sell online. “It’s the same service that students, groups and departments use anyway, so it’s just a way for athletes to do the same,” said owner Rishi Narayan, whose company owns 25. Chapel Hill stores in Norman, Oklahoma. (AP Photo / Gerry Broome)


Bret Oliverio says he wants varsity athletes to approve his Sup Dogs restaurant along the University of North Carolina’s main Franklin Street steps.

He’s just patient before he leaps into a brave new world.

Like other small business owners in college towns, Oliverio is figuring out what it means to enter into a sponsorship deal with athletes who are now free to profit from the use of their name, image and likeness (NIL). for the first time.

“I don’t know if an athlete wants $ 20,000 or $ 20,000,” he said, “so that’s what I’m trying to navigate.”

The NCAA’s decision to allow athletes to cash came on July 1 with some restrictions let alone advice. There is no ‘pay to play’ allowed, but many of the rule’s no-no’s that once led to ineligibility are now largely fair, provided the athlete provides some type of service – social media, an appearance, a signature – in exchange for compensation.

Schools concoct policies or rely on state laws permitting NIL activities, while also having compliance staff scrambling to ensure athletes follow guidelines.

“I would say it’s a big mess,” said Kurt Svoboda, associate athletic director at Michigan. “It really is. These are uncharted waters.

It is certainly for schools and for companies that are assessing a market that is less than a month old.

How much is it worth for an athlete to support the local pizzeria on social media? What about appearances at an auto dealership or tattoo parlor – popular topics in previous NCAA offense investigations – for a fee? How much will these moves increase the bottom line, if at all?

This uncertainty explains why Aaron Nelson, president and CEO of The Chamber For a Greater Chapel Hill-Carrboro, said business owners near UNC “were looking to find out more before pressing on it. “. They are not alone.

At Lucky 13 Tattoos on Broad Street in Richmond, Va., A short walk from where the Virginia Commonwealth plays their home basketball games, a framed Milwaukee Bucks jersey from former VCU star Larry Sanders hangs on the wall. Manager Bob Knox said it was a gift from Sanders, who had several tattoos in the store and is still passing.

Knox said his staff had put ink on many VCU and Richmond athletes over the years, but he was unsure of the value of making deals with varsity athletes from a marketing standpoint – even popular.

“Tattooing is different from a lot of other companies. The tattoo is all word of mouth, ”Knox said. “You don’t go where you’ve heard about it, you go where your boyfriend has gone.”

On the table for athletes, of course, there are deals with car dealerships and tattoo shops, an ironic twist given some of the past offense scandals. For his part, Knox said he was unfamiliar with the so-called ‘tattoo five’ from the state of Ohio, which traded memorabilia in exchange for tattoos. Former Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor, like former USC star Reggie Bush, has suggested past rule violations should be erased now that things have changed.

A number of companies have sprung up in recent years with the aim of putting varsity athletes in touch with trade deals, and they have been very busy in recent months. For Athliance CEO Peter Schoenthal, whose company has designed “disclosure and education” software to help schools review and athletes to close NIL deals, now is the right time.

“If I’m a local business, it’s probably cheaper for me to partner with these student-athletes and use their engagement on social media to drive traffic to my business rather than putting up a sign. paid display for radio, do Google AdWords, ”he said. said. “It’s actually not only a funnier way to advertise, because you get first in NIL, but also a cheaper and more efficient way.”

So far, the agreements have taken various forms. Fresno State twin basketball players Haley and Hanna Caviinder have struck a deal with a mobile phone company. Kansas basketball player Mitch Lightfoot has approved a garbage removal service and a roofing contractor. A chain of Florida mixed martial arts gyms owned by a longtime Miami fan have offered Hurricanes football players a monthly contract of $ 500 for social media advertising.

Other movements were smaller, with a clever charm.

Jordan Wright, owner of Wright’s Barbecue near the Arkansas campus in Fayetteville, made deals with members of the Razorbacks offensive line as “Pit Protectors.” Days later, the Wisconsin offensive line struck a similar barbecue deal.

Wright started out with restaurant gift cards as well as cash for merchandise. He wants to work with as many Razorbacks athletes as possible, although he has struck a deal with UCF linebacker Quade Mosier, whose hometown is Fayetteville.

“I’m a local guy, I’m a barbecue guy,” Wright said. “I’m just a guy with a family that has a cool barbecue place that likes to do cool things. … I think it’s good for the brand.

At the Parker Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram dealership near the Starkville, Mississippi campus, General Manager Kristi Snyder was thinking about money, merchandise, or even vehicle maintenance as compensation. She said she plans meetings with Bulldogs athletes and looks forward to aligning with the newly crowned NCAA champion baseball team while “spreading the love” among several sports.

She said she wanted to know what athletes expect from her – and how long they will have to get the job done.

“I’m really more curious: what can you do for me?” She said. “Because at the end of the day I’m also looking for a return on my investment, right? that it is a very good mutual agreement with a student who could represent us well on this small stage. “

In Michigan, the Ann Arbor-based Underground Printing company sells clothing and other products online at its 25 stores in Chapel Hill in Norman, Oklahoma. Owner Rishi Narayan said this is a natural avenue for sports entrepreneurs, but takes a wait-and-see approach: “We don’t know what the market is or what the right way to do things is. “

Neary, general manager Phil Clark of Ray’s Red Hots – which sells Chicago-style hot dogs near the Michigan campus – described “very exploratory” conversations regarding NIL, including the possibility of signing a deal with a whole female Wolverines team.

“It’s kind of like the Wild West here,” Clark said. “I’ve heard stories of people pursuing all kinds of deals, from cash payments to free food for life.”

Back in North Carolina, Oliverio is keeping a close eye on NIL developments with one eye on his two college restaurants (the other is in Greenville, near East Carolina University).

The right opportunities will come over time, he believes.

“I think it’s great for the student-athlete – it’s about time he made some money,” he said. “I think it’s great for small businesses like ours because we have a huge advertising channel that just opened up that has never been there. So like anything else, it’s all about finding the right value.


AP sports writer Larry Lage and AP video reporter Mike Householder in Ann Arbor, Michigan; and AP Sports Writer Hank Kurz Jr. contributed to this report.


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