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Business Observer Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021 2 months ago

Local brands hope to score big wins in signing college athletes

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NCAA rule change opens floodgates for businesses — but vague and varying details of the regulations could pose issues.  
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Driving from Tampa to Miami on the last day of June, entrepreneur Omar Soliman had lines from the 1996 comedy Happy Gilmore swirling in his head. Like the one where the star golfer, Happy, played by Adam Sandler, demands his ‘big’ check at the end of a golf tournament he didn’t win.

Courtesy. Signing day with Peter Simmons III and Bill and Keith Daubmann of MY Shower Door

Soliman, with a $10,000 check in his wallet, was happy during that drive, too, because he was taking that payment to University of Miami Hurricanes quarterback D’Eriq King. A Miami alum and co-founder of Tampa-based College Hunks Hauling Junk, Soliman was on his way South Florida to officially sign King to an endorsement deal under the NCAA’s new names, images and likeness (NIL) rule that went into effect July 1.

Soliman got to Miami at 11:15 p.m. and at 12:01 a.m. July 1 he handed King the $10,000 check — a signing bonus. The rest of the one-year, renewable contract calls for King to get another $10,000 in exchange for allowing College Hunks to use his name (and social media following) in branding and marketing. “It was a great full-circle and surreal moment for me,” says Soliman about shaking hands with King, a fifth-year senior at Miami who passed on the NFL Draft for one more year on campus.

Soliman’s big smile isn’t just from his fan-boy moment. He and his College Hunks colleagues believe signing college athletes to NIL deals will be a big boost for the company, with $145.7 million in revenue in 2020. “Obviously college is in our name, so we have an affinity for college athletes,” he says. “We believe this is a pivotal moment for us as a brand.”

Several other businesses in the region have utilized the NCAA’s NIL rule in its early days. The seismic change stems mostly from a U.S. Justice Department antitrust ruling that curtails the NCAA’s long-held belief that college athletes, as amateurs, shouldn’t make money of promoting themselves or team. Outside the region, the rules have launched a cottage business of sorts, with some businesses getting creative in hot pursuits of college athletes. Examples include a barbecue joint in Arkansas signing a NIL deal with the offensive line for the University of Arkansas football team and a University of Iowa basketball player promoting an Iowa City fireworks shop before July 4.

Courtesy. USF quarterback Jarren Williams, middle, celebrated his signing with College Hunks Hauling Junk's Omar Soliman, right and Mike Murphy.

College Hunks is building a solid portfolio of NIL deals. In addition to King, the list includes Bubba Bolden, a teammate of King’s at Miami and a highly-ranked safety; the entire University of Central Florida women’s basketball team; and USF quarterback Jarren Williams. Soliman estimates College Hunks has spent about $100,000 so far on NIL deals. And he anticipates that number to grow significantly, saying “we envision a student-athlete ambassador in every one of our locations.” The company has some  150 locations, from Texas to Canada.

Fort Myers-based glass and frameless shower door manufacturer MY Shower Door also gave the new rules a try. MY Shower Door, with 130 employees and $18.8 million in revenue in 2020, signed University of Michigan incoming freshman football player Peter Simmons III to an NIL deal July 1.

A 6-foot-3, 305-pound offensive lineman, Simmons III, the son of former Bonita Springs Mayor Peter Simmons II, is know by his nickname PS 3. While the younger Simmons hasn’t played a snap yet in college, he has a big social media following in Southwest Florida, says MY Shower Door co-owner Bill Daubmann. “People want to know what the day in the life of a college athlete is like,” says Daubmann, who declines to disclose the financial terms of the contract with Simmons III. “He’s got a heck of a social media following.”

A graduate of Bishop Verot High School in Fort Myers, Simmons III, like many other college athletes, also uses social media to find more opportunities. He sent out a tweet July 1, for example, that stated, in part, “any local or any companies at all that want to use my social media as a platform for promote, do commercials, etc. to brand themselves, my DMs are open for business. Message me if interested.”

King, the College Hunks endorser, has taken it another step further, co-founding Dreamfiled with Florida State quarterback McKenzie Milton. Dreamfiled is an NIL company that sets up event appearances for college athletes.

Williams, the QB at USF and College Hunks signee, is pragmatic about the NIL rules and where he will go with it. He knew of and liked College Hunks, he says, because his mom used the service. “This was a brand I could get behind 100%,” says Williams. “I’ve had a lot of offers (from other brands) but I’m taking it slow. I’m not quick to sign my name.”

With all this activity in the first month, Soliman calls the NIL signing frenzy a bit like the Wild West — with a gray area on how companies can utilize the athletes. Also, without a national law in place, the rule is subject to state regulations, which vary. He also recognizes while these deals are fun, and can provide an instant splash, if a signing doesn’t help the business — in branding, marketing or some other area — it’s bound to flop. “If there’s no ROI,” Soliman says, “it will die on the vine.”

 

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