QBs early movers in nascent NIL market

By Tyler Everett
UNC’s Sam Howell has a new deal with restaurant chain Bojangles.getty images

Quarterbacks know how important it is to not hesitate, which may help explain why so many in the ACC have been quick to take advantage of new opportunities around name, image and likeness.


Perhaps none has been as decisive as North Carolina’s Sam Howell, who announced at last week’s ACC Kickoff event in Charlotte that he had an endorsement deal with fried chicken chain Bojangles, which Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei will also promote.

That announcement marked the latest action taken by Howell, a leading Heisman Trophy candidate who has signed with an agency, Everett Sports Marketing, and partnered with Table, a local nonprofit organization focused on hunger relief.

Howell, a junior, is also one of four players — alongside Uiagalelei, Georgia quarterback JT Daniels and Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder — who are part of digital collectible company Candy Digital’s “Sweet Futures” NFT collection, which will launch in September. All four players have signed exclusive deals with Fanatics-owned Candy Digital to create and distribute their first NFTs.

Tar Heels coach Mack Brown had not been in favor of NIL legislation, but he admitted to a recent change of heart on the new marketing opportunities, with some help from his wife, Sally.

“Sally told me something that really makes sense,” Brown explained. “The regular student, if he’s a musician, he gets to use his talent to make money, so why shouldn’t a student athlete get to do the same thing? So I got it. Now we’ve all got to figure out those guidelines and what it means.”

For UNC, Brown believes that as long as the new rules benefit more than just potential NFL first-round draft picks, they’re a positive development. Under a group licensing arrangement signed July 20 in partnership with The Brandr Group, all UNC football players will be able to benefit from NIL.

Brown said that during one of the team’s first conversations about NIL, “Sam Howell stood up and said, ‘I don’t want this to be about the quarterback, I don’t want it to be disruptive in the locker room.’ That’s one of the reasons [Athletic Director] Bubba [Cunningham] and his team are working so hard on group licensing. They’re one of the first to do it. That means that the backup right guard is going to have a chance to be involved with opportunities that he wouldn’t be if it’s three players on your team that are.”

Another ACC quarterback, D’Eriq King of Miami, became one of the first players to sign endorsements on July 1 when the law in the state of Florida went into effect. Both King and Hurricanes safety Bubba Bolden became endorsers of a pair of Tampa-based companies: College Hunks Hauling Junk & Moving and Murphy Auto that reports indicate will pay the players around $20,000. King also opened his own online merchandise retailer and partnered with Florida State quarterback McKenzie Milton to co-found Dreamfield. King and Milton’s company will organize appearances and autograph signings for college athletes.

QB D’Eriq King of Miami has started Dreamfield to organize appearances for college athletes. twitter

“My thing was to work with good companies,” King said. “You can’t work with everybody. You want to work with companies that align with your core values. You don’t want to go out there and work with that company, that company, that company. My main goal is to help as many teammates as I can to earn whatever they can earn.”

In addition to King and Bolden’s deals, every scholarship player on Miami’s roster player could benefit from NIL thanks to local MMA training academy American Top Team. The academy has plans to offer each of those players a $500 per month contract to endorse American Top Team through their social media accounts, as well as with additional opportunities that may arise.

Though having FSU and Miami players working together may have raised eyebrows among their schools’ diehard fans who don’t love to see such collaboration, partnerships involving players from conference rivals are quickly proliferating, as Howell and Uiagalelei are also demonstrating.

Candy Digital CEO Scott Lawin said Howell, Uiagalelei, Daniels and Ridder are a strong starting point for the company’s “Sweet Futures” series, which Lawin said will feature 20-25 players by the start of the season.

“From a launch perspective, we’re really looking at four of the top quarterbacks in college football, who are also potential Heisman Trophy contenders,” Lawin said. “It’s super exciting to launch the project around them, and we think it’s super exciting for fans and collectors to have the opportunity to start to follow their careers through NFTs.”

The players topping preseason awards watch lists will likely have the biggest NIL opportunities, but passionate fan bases like Virginia Tech’s mean that proximity to a big city is not a must for players seeking deals. Hokies football coach Justin Fuente said “our mission with our young people is to help them capitalize on whatever special skills or talents they may have in a way that we’re allowed to help them.”

“We are the No. 1 sports brand in the state of Virginia, the commonwealth of Virginia,” Fuente said. “We have 250,000 alumni that are anxious to help and engage our players, in ways that are legal now, that can benefit them hopefully in the long term.”

At the same time, being in a bigger market like Atlanta certainly won’t hurt the NIL prospects of players at Georgia Tech. Linebacker Ayinde Eley, a graduate transfer who joined the program from Maryland during the offseason, has yet to sign any NIL deals, but he recognizes there is no shortage of opportunities.

“Atlanta itself, even if you weren’t a college football player, anything you do in marketing, Atlanta is a good place for you just to get your name out there,” he said. “You walk the streets of Atlanta, you’ll see a famous person, a celebrity, somebody that can help you help yourself.”

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