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Orangebloods signs Texas athletes Jordan Whittington, Ivan Melendez for interview access

Website hoping to have men’s, women’s athletes for long-form interviews to build out YouTube channel

Texas Longhorns wide receiver Jordan Whittington (4) pulls the ball in for a first down in the third quarter against Oklahoma Sooners defense  in an NCAA college football game at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

Orangebloods.com, a website covering Texas athletics for the last two decades, has reached deals with two Longhorns athletes for exclusive interview content over the next 12 months.

Jordan Whittington (football) and Ivan Melendez (baseball) are the first two athletes to sign deals with the site, Orangebloods publisher and owner Geoff Ketchum told the American-Statesman on Sunday.

Other deals are in the works, including some with women’s athletes, as Orangebloods looks to build out its YouTube channel, possibly transforming how college athletes are covered in the process.

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All of this is part of the tidal wave of change with name, image and likeness rules. Orangebloods is part of Rivals, a nationwide network known for recruiting coverage.

Ketchum would not say how much Whittington and Melendez are being paid for the 12-month commitment. There is no law or rule saying the figure must be made public. All UT athletes would have percentage-based deals based on the attached sponsor, and Ketchum said all would receive 50% or greater — more than Orangebloods would make on any arrangement.

“The access that we’ll have throughout the entire year with these athletes will give us an opportunity to humanize them, learn their true stories and give them the opportunity to frame their own stories,” Ketchum said. “This is potentially from the very beginning of their collegiate careers in a way the student-athletes has never had the power to do before.”

Whittington, a sophomore from Cuero, is expected to be a key receiving threat for new football coach Steve Sarkisian. Melendez hit a team-high .319 last season on the UT baseball team last season and recently turned down an offer from the Miami Marlins to return to school.

Texas's Ivan Melendez (17) stomps on home plate after hitting a home run also scoring Zach Zubia (52) and Mike Antico (5) against Mississippi State in the ninth inning during a baseball game in the College World Series Friday June 25, 2021, at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb. (AP Photo/John Peterson)

The Orangebloods deal comes on the heels of a similar announcement by TexAgs.com, a website covering Texas A&M. TexAgs announced last week it had paid two A&M football players $10,000 each for exclusive interviews.

When the TexAgs deal was announced, Texas officials were stunned by the concept of “exclusivity,” a high-ranking UT source told the Statesman. With Orangebloods, Ketchum said UT players will still be allowed to participate in normal interview sessions with local reporters — like a Tuesday player session during football season or post-game setting.

Texas officials are only allowed to guide athletes through the name, image and likeness process, not persuade them one way or another on specific deals.

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“As it relates to exclusivity, I think the main thing we’re looking for is he wouldn’t speak to a direct competitor in the same way that we’re going to have him,” Ketchum said. “But in terms of media availably in general, I think we’re very considerate to the apprehensiveness that the school would feel in general. So we haven’t pushed for the type of exclusively that would impact their normal duties. 

Ketchum said he wants to do daily interviews with Whittington after practice, for example. Orangebloods wants to do long-form interviews that go away from athletics and steer clear of what Ketchum called “clickbait or gotcha” questions.

If this is successful, Ketchum believes his site would sign deals with new UT athletes every year.

“One thing I tried to convey to the school is, ‘You guys aren’t going to have to worry about us,’” Ketchum said. “We’ve got to make sure when this thing is over with, every student-athlete can say to say to themselves, ‘I’d do that again if given the opportunity.’”

Contact Brian Davis by phone or text at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com or @BDavisAAS.