After 14 months of relying on her corporate network to grow her one-employee Tampa tech startup, Diana Paxton needed a new plan. For her company, Flix CV, to keep expanding, she had to start reaching beyond familiar contacts but with a limited advertising budget.
“You have to think outside the box,” Paxton said. “Where can I build that brand?”
Her answer: By becoming one of the earliest participants in college sports’ name, image and likeness marketplace.
After years of legislation, months of preparation and weeks of negotiation, players were finally able to monetize their personal brands and celebrity Thursday thanks to a wave of new state laws and an NCAA policy change. An immediate avalanche of deals swept across the state and country.
T-shirts went on sale featuring at least three of the state’s top quarterbacks (Florida’s Emory Jones, UCF’s Dillon Gabriel and Miami’s D’Eriq King). McKenzie Milton and a handful of his Florida State teammates were set for an autograph session at Miller’s Ale House. A billboard at Times Square touted Boost Mobile’s partnership with Fresno State basketball players Hanna and Haley Cavinder.
And at 9:27 a.m., Paxton’s company got a tweet.
“This,” Paxton said, “is exciting and successful.”
The background for Paxton’s deal started years ago, when her son was starting at Tampa’s Berkeley Prep and got to know one of the outgoing seniors —five-star offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere. Paxton was impressed by the Ohio State recruit.
Three years later, Paxton thought about Petit-Frere again as the name, image and likeness discussion moved from possibility to reality. Paxton is an Ohio native, so she understands the reach of the Buckeyes brand. Maybe an endorsement deal with the second-team all-Big Ten lineman and future NFL draft prospect made sense.
A text-message exchange two weeks ago turned into phone conversations this week and a signed contract delivered via email at the stroke of midnight.
“On the dot,” Paxton said.
Petit-Frere’s duties will mostly center on social media posts to introduce companies to Flix CV, which uses 10-minute interview reels to help hiring managers evaluate potential employees. Paxton believes there are obvious parallels — Petit-Frere tries to protect quarterbacks, just as her company tries to protect businesses. Some personal appearances might be involved, too, if the schedules work out.
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Their deal was one of hundreds (if not more) that became official on Day 1 of the NIL era. Some featured big brands, like PetSmart promoting its relationship with Arkansas receiver Trey Knox and his dog, Blue.
Others featured smaller companies. Two Hurricanes (King and Bubba Bolden) signed endorsement deals with College Hunks Hauling Junk worth $20,000 each, according to ESPN.
Milton and King became co-founders and ambassadors for Dreamfield, an Orlando-based startup that brokers live events like autograph signings and speaking engagements. Others on the platform include blue-chip UF quarterback Anthony Richardson, UCF offensive tackle Samuel Jackson and Indiana quarterback Michael Penix (a Tampa Bay Tech product).
Yoke Gaming, which lets fans play video games with and against athletes, was another popular destination. Its field now includes USF defensive end Le’Vontae Camiel, UCF defensive lineman Kalia Davis and Northern Iowa defensive back Demarcus Governor (a Durant High alumnus).
Milton will become one of the first college athletes with a non-fungible token (NFT), a limited-edition piece of digital art.
Other deals will follow in the coming days and weeks, but the long-term impact remains unclear. It will take time for the market to establish itself and to see what, if anything, the disparate financial deals mean in locker rooms.
But for Paxton, the rule change has already been a positive. By Thursday afternoon, her company had already received several new leads from potential customers wanting to learn more.
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