NIL deals: How they’re negotiated and what they mean for UK athletes’ futures

Published: Oct. 12, 2021 at 10:53 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - This year has been a massive change for college athletes, who can finally take advantage of name, image and likeness deals.

In the game against LSU Saturday night, Will Levis and Wan’Dale Robinson made history. Now, both players will join the likes of Justin Rogers, Kenneth Horsey, Marquan McCall, Josh Ali and Octavious Oxendine whose brands are showcased at Kentucky Branded.

“It’s fun for us to come up with new ideas. To make players’ shirts. It’s a real opportunity for all of us,” said Kentucky Branded president Joe Kawaja.

Born and raised in Lexington, Kawaja sells UK pride.

“It’s a dream of mine to be able to work with the players. I’ve been in the business a long time,” Kawaja said.

This year, the dream became reality. Several players represented by Tom Bower’s company Virtus signed NIL merchandise deals with Kentucky Branded.

“It’s an opportunity for them to make some extra money, which is nice. But again, we always go back to branding. To get their name out there. A part of everything we like to do with athletes that work with us is talk about life after their sport,” Bower said.

Bower said it’s important athletes carefully decide with brands to do business with. Virtus then handles the contracts, so players can approve designs, then get back to focusing on their studies and the game.

“Whenever the ball stops bouncing or whenever they’re done playing, they’ll have lots of opportunities and people willing and wanting to do business with them because of the brand they had when they were at the university,” Bower said.

Even supporting deals for those players out with injuries, like Oxendine.

“The best thing about this area is Big Blue Nation rallies around their athletes,” Bower said.

Bower said his company, Kentucky Branded, and Big Blue Nation as a whole still support players out with injuries.

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