GCU student-athletes learn to navigate choppy NIL waters

Executive Vice President of Perpetual Sports Network Thad McGrew (second from left) advises students at the Sports and Entertainment Business Club's "Managing Talent" panel discussion.

Photos by Ralph Freso

Krista Rowan listened intently as four panelists lent insight on the sports industry, from marketing to the name, image and likeness craze.

The candid observations regarding NIL – college athletes' ability to profit off themselves outside of their school-funded scholarships and benefits – confirmed Rowan’s suspicions about the top-heavy compensation structure with student-athletes.

Beach volleyball player Krista Rowan asks the panel a question regarding name, image and likeness.

“I thought it was cool to hear from people who don’t specifically work for teams,” said Rowan, a member of GCU’s beach volleyball team. “It expands my perspective of the sports industry as a whole.”

The panelists stretched the knowledge of a large crowd of students who attended the recent "Managing Talent" session presented by the Sports and Entertainment Business Club at the Colangelo College of Business lobby.

Rowan, who is double majoring in sports management and finance/economics, was one of a few student-athletes in the audience who learned about the unpredictability and selectivity of the NIL environment.

Josh Mason, founder of Stamped Sports & Entertainment, which helps athletes grow their brands, described the NIL space as “kind of tricky.”

“It’s like the wild, wild West,” Mason said. “There’s no governing body.”

Colangelo College of Business Dean John Kaites (right) talks with guest panelist Thad McGrew.

Mason said he completed a couple of NIL deals but walked away because the most lucrative deals involved college football players.

That should not discourage GCU student-athletes, even though there is no University football team.

“Someone here could get an NIL deal,” said Mason, suggesting a student-athlete could go to a local pizza parlor in hopes of leveraging a deal.

“It’s a great start for someone trying to get their feet wet.”

Stamped Sports & Entertainment founder Josh Mason gives tips on endorsements.

When the NCAA finally allowed athletes to earn money from their name or image in the summer of 2021, Rowan said she did a lot of research but observed the same thing Mason did: that the NIL world is ever-changing and that there is a lack of an authoritative body.

“And that’s how it feels as an athlete, especially a female athlete, in a small, non-revenue sport, such as a beach volleyball player,” Rowan said. “It's different than a football or basketball player. But it’s been a cool learning experience. I’m interested to see how NIL changes as the years go on.”

The session was moderated by Neda Barrie, the Colangelo College of Business faculty chair of sports and entertainment. Barrie, who has worked in various capacities for the NBA, WNBA and marketing companies, injected her insight and experiences in working with athletes and teams.

Meanwhile, the panelists encouraged students interested in a sports career to make connections with student-athletes immediately, no matter how small. Baseball agent Elvin Soto of Ballengee mentioned that GCU had two draft picks among the first 128 players selected in the 2023 amateur baseball draft – Jacob Wilson and Homer Bush Jr.

Baseball agent Elvin Soto answers a question by junior Mark Willner II.

Heart of a Lope is a third-party collective that supports GCU student-athletes, including select members from the men’s basketball and baseball teams.

Rowan said she would be open to working with some of her fellow students on potential NIL deals. “They’d be helping me, and I’d be helping them,” Rowan said. “And it would be a cool tradeoff.”

Coincidentally, gymnast Livvy Dunne and basketball star Angel Reese of LSU and basketball sensation Caitlin Clark of Iowa possess three of the largest NIL deals, according to On3.

The subject of NIL generated a small part of the 90-minute discussion, which also stressed maintaining relationships with athletes, teams and businesses.

Thad McGrew, executive vice president of Pro Sports Network, warned of parents' clients becoming fans and losing a semblance of perspective. McGrew said he always was the “truth teller” during his early days as an AAU basketball coach

“Tell the truth,” McGrew said. “Tell it fast. Tell it again.”

Mason emphasized the importance of protecting the money, no matter how expensive or expansive a client’s tastes might be.

Tami Nealy, vice president of communications for the International Sports Sciences Association, told students, “when you’re an intern, you’re auditioning” for a job.

Perpetual Sports Network executive VP Thad McGrew listens during the panel discussion.

Nealy, an adjunct professor at GCU who has worked for two WNBA teams and Phoenix International Raceway, stressed the importance of knowing everything about a client, from shoe size to favorite beverages, in hopes of showing genuine interest and possibly landing an endorsement.

She reiterated two tips from a similar GCU event three years ago – do not tell a prospective employer that you are a big fan of the sport, and pursue a sport that does not ignite the same passion.

Nealy also added that it can be wise to work with businesses that have associations with sports teams, such as soft drink and sporting goods companies.

“Be a dreamer,” McGrew said. “Don’t let the ‘no’s’ discourage you.”

Mark Willner II, a sports management major, absorbed much of the advice given about the importance of earning and sustaining relationships. Willner, who has gained marketing experience during spring training at the Peoria Sports Complex, plans to attend law school after graduating from GCU.

“I want to be an agent,” said Willner, a native of Las Vegas. “But I can see myself working in a front office as well.”

GCU News senior writer Mark Gonzales can be reached at [email protected]

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