UCLA stars trying to tap Hollywood, social media and their talent for NIL payday
Like he does when he skirts the sideline on one of his long runs, Dorian Thompson-Robinson must step carefully when it comes to his lifestyle clothing brand.
He cannot use his high-profile status as UCLA’s starting quarterback to promote the line of “FriendsOverFans” sweatshirts, hats and other apparel that has generated more than $10,000 in merchandise sales since the end of March.
The website promoting the brand, friendsoverfans.com, shows Thompson-Robinson smiling in a black hoodie in front of the Santa Monica Pier, as if he’s just another camera-ready 20-something plucked for the part. Thompson-Robinson secured NCAA waivers to monetize his clothing brand and has sunk his profits back into the business.
On Thursday, after years of waiting and untold dollars lost, the player known for his rocket-fueled passes and whippet-fast legs will become a different sort of dual-threat quarterback.
The NCAA’s decision permitting schools in California to adopt their own policy allowing athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness starting July 1 will provide Thompson-Robinson and every other UCLA athlete with unprecedented access to marketing opportunities. They can use their standing as a college athlete to promote whatever they want, be it a hobby unrelated to sports or their brand as a star Bruin.
“This is huge for a lot of athletes,” Thompson-Robinson said. “I know from a lot of teammates of mine, we’ve been wanting something like this for a while.”
Thompson-Robinson’s plan is to roll his UCLA football persona and clothing line into one endeavor. A similar strategy is in the works for Bruins gymnast Margzetta Frazier, who previously kept her athletic and outside pursuits separate.
UCLA senior Margzetta Frazier became a viral sensation this season, as well as a voice for racial equality in gymnastics and an advocate for mental health.
Frazier has dabbled in singing, songwriting and comedy, among other ventures. She’s never made a dollar off any of it despite possessing a graceful elegance, radiant smile and touch of goofy authenticity that have long made her a marketer’s dream.
Brands have solicited Frazier since she was 15, sending emails and direct messages on Twitter, saying they would love to partner with her to promote their products.
Sorry, Frazier would always have to tell them. She couldn’t accept any promotional offers because of NCAA rules.
Saying no became something of a team-wide tradition once Frazier became a Bruin, everyone unable to capitalize on the international fame that accompanied their perfect-10 routines and videos that generated millions of views.
“I’m sure the girls have missed out on so many opportunities where they could have made income, whether it was brands that wanted to work with them or [giving] private lessons or music videos,” Frazier said, “so we’ve already done everything, it’s just a matter of not getting paid for it.”
The big question as cash-strapped college athletes ready their deposit slips is just how much money they can make. It’s been the talk of the locker room in recent weeks as the NCAA accelerated the timeline for NIL policy changes to take effect in states such as California, where no one was previously expected to profit before 2023.
A look at how the UCLA gymnastics team is supporting social justice and the Black Lives Matter movement through its performances and routines.
“Everybody’s kind of focused on where the money is,” Thompson-Robinson said, “and who’s going to get the most.”
Estimates have varied. Figures have vacillated between a few thousand dollars for largely anonymous players to upward of $1 million for a starting quarterback. Expectations are largely tied to one’s visibility and social media footprint.
As he’s the most prominent player on a veteran-laden team that will play at least a handful of games on national television, Thompson-Robinson’s marketing appeal is readily apparent. So is that of Frazier, who has amassed 127,000 followers on Instagram and nearly 284,000 followers on TikTok.
Getting a floor routine dedicated to Janet Jackson retweeted by the pop star, followed by an appearance on “Good Morning America,” only enhanced Frazier’s endorsement potential.
Perhaps the real standout when it comes to showing UCLA athletes the money they could make is Erin Adkins. An associate athletic director for compliance, Adkins has helped Bruins with existing branding deals secure NCAA waivers while priming everyone else for a possible infusion of cash.
Adkins has scheduled Zoom meetings in the coming days to prepare the school’s 700-plus athletes for every aspect of NIL, from educating them on the basics of the agreement to building their brand to disclosing and monitoring every deal that’s struck.
It’s a huge bonus that UCLA — and crosstown rival USC, for that matter — is ideally suited to capitalize on NIL changes because it’s nestled in a massive media market that encompasses Hollywood in addition to some of the world’s most iconic brands.
“We’re distinctly positioned to maximize these opportunities for our student-athletes,” UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond said, “because of the market we’re in and because of the great alumni network we have and everything that goes into becoming a Bruin.”
As part of its educational program, UCLA plans to tap several renowned Los Angeles talent agencies as well as prominent alumni and professors from its business and law schools who can lend expertise in their respective fields. Frazier said she’s excited to learn about forming a management team that can build her brand more professionally; Thompson-Robinson said he’s eager to master the nuances of the California income tax structure.
Both athletes participated in a UCLA pilot program that served as a test run for what’s to be unveiled in the coming days. Frazier said she discovered that companies value interactions — measured in comments and likes — over one’s number of followers because they provide a more accurate measure of engagement.
“It changes everything. It makes dreams that were not feasible completely possible. I can be a musician as a real job. It can take off, and I can be successful. I have all the tools. I know all the people. Now I’m going to be able to make the income.”
UCLA gymnast Margzetta Frazier, on NCAA NIL rule changes
Of course, no one pretends to have all the answers in this strange new world. After starring at a summer basketball camp this past week, UCLA recruit Dylan Andrews was given a non-fungible token — a video clip of highlights featuring a unique digital signature that could exponentially increase in value — that he can cash in when his college career is done.
“I think we’re about to move into the wild, wild west when it comes to this, so we don’t know what’s going to happen yet,” said Melva Thompson-Robinson, Dorian’s mother and business manager for his brand. “There’s just so many things we’re trying to figure out.”
At a minimum, Melva Thompson-Robinson hopes that her son’s branding foundation laid over the balance of his college career enhances his endorsement opportunities once he reaches the NFL.
For Frazier, the start of NIL with a year to go in college makes her feel as if she’s already stuck the landing on her postgraduate plans. When gymnastics end, she will have a foothold in music that could catapult her toward stardom in an equally cherished endeavor.
“It changes everything,” Frazier said. “It makes dreams that were not feasible completely possible. I can be a musician as a real job. It can take off, and I can be successful. I have all the tools. I know all the people. Now I’m going to be able to make the income.”
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