Under new NIL partnership, Texas athletes can now encourage fans to buy their jersey
In voluntary arrangement, UT athletes can opt into group licensing partnership established by The Brandr Group
Texas has long been the nation’s No. 1 seller of collegiate branded merchandise. But all the money from every T-shirt, jersey, coffee mug and key chain sold went directly to UT. That’s going to change.
In a Friday afternoon news dump last week, the Texas athletics department quietly announced what is easily the biggest achievement yet for UT athletes when it comes to name, image and likeness issues.
The Longhorns have entered into a group licensing partnership with The Brandr Group, a company that specializes in licensing and sponsorships with pro athletes and sports leagues.
Wesley Haynes, chief executive officer of The Brandr Group, told the American-Statesman he hopes company officials can start meeting with UT athletes this week to get players to opt in.
University athletes who opt into the voluntary agreement can begin using Texas trademarks and logos in various name, image and likeness deals. It’s the first step toward UT being able to sell official jerseys and player-specific apparel — with the athlete getting a small percentage of every sale.
“Whether it was name, image and likeness or conference change or all the things that come up, I’ve got an amazing amount of trust in the leadership at the University of Texas,” UT coach Steve Sarkisian said on Saturday.
For decades, schools were allowed to sell only generic jerseys with blank nameplates. You couldn’t buy a Vince Young jersey at the University Co-op. But you could get a No. 10 jersey.
Now instead of a generic No. 5 football jersey, Nike would be able to create a specific jersey with Bijan Robinson’s name on the back, for example.
Fans could buy a No. 11 Casey Thompson jersey or a No. 1 with Hudson Card’s name on the back. A portion of those sales would go directly to those players. Maybe fans would buy DeMarvion Overshown’s UT-branded armbands. Agent Zero could get a portion of those sales, too.
“I think our players are very appreciative that the university is continually trying to find ways to take advantage of the opportunities there for them,” Sarkisian said. “And this is just another example of that.”
But in using the group licensing arrangement, athletes must understand the university will have a say in what NIL opportunities get approved and UT will get a portion of the revenue. Currently, athletes can enter into any NIL arrangement with a company under certain rules, but there can be no direct affiliation with UT.
As for how much money will go to athletes, it’s still unclear. “We’re not going to announce licensing partners or programs unless we can be sure the athletes are getting fair market rates,” Haynes said.
Historically, Texas has only partnered with clothing manufacturers that turn out high quality product. Craig Westemeier, who oversees UT’s trademark portfolio, keeps close watch on quality control.
In June, the American-Statesman reported how the school trademarked Sarkisian’s favorite phrase “All Gas No Brakes” for use on T-shirts and merchandise. The school is getting money from those sales, not Sarkisian.
Texas joins Alabama, Ohio State and North Carolina among the small group of schools leading the way in group licensing arrangements for the athletes.
“I’ve been talking with Texas for several months now, and frankly, the initial conversation was about an alumni program,” Haynes said. “Prior to the NCAA rule, and even the Alston case, no university was allowed to do this and things changed pretty quickly.”
The Alston case refers to a lawsuit that was eventually appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, who ruled that the NCAA was profiting off of athletes' name, image and likeness.
Haynes said he personally attended the initial player meetings at some schools to hear the athletes’ feedback and their questions.
“The response we get from student-athletes is ‘Why wouldn’t I do this?,’” Haynes said.
The two biggest examples of group licensing possibilities are jersey sales and video games, Haynes said. Both are strong examples of how group licensing works.
Start with jersey sales. Texas officials can monitor how many jerseys are sold of a specific player through its sales channels. Take Robinson, for example. UT would know whether Robinson’s No. 5 jersey had 1,000 sales or 100.
Haynes said there are suppliers eager to step in and create fan jerseys for purchase this season.
“If the quarterback or running back sells 1,000 jerseys, he will get the royalty equivalent of 1,000 jerseys,” Haynes said. “If another player sells 10 jerseys, he will get the royalty for 10 jerseys.”
But that only works when the school can track specific sales to specific players. Group licensing comes into play when sales cannot be tied directly to an individual. Take the video game example.
For years, consumers bought EA Sports’ college football game, and the current rosters were basically digitized and embedded into gameplay. In group licensing, a small portion of every unit sold would go into a pool. The money would be split evenly among the UT athletes who have opted in despite no work on their part.
Fans may purchase a video game or a set of trading cards to get one or two players. But all athletes would benefit.
From a recruiting standpoint, it would be to Texas’ benefit to find as many group licensing possibilities imaginable for all Longhorns teams. Marketing majors on campus should put their thinking caps on.
“This is where the star, the premium athlete, the one that fans know the most about helps his teammates,” Haynes said. “Group rights is a way you can be a part of a team. Yes, you will make more if you’re a Heisman Trophy candidate. But it’s also a way you’ll lend your notoriety and your NIL value to those on your team, and I think there’s something pretty good about that.”
Name, image and likeness opportunities are only going to grow and change as time advances. But creative types are likely to get motivated once they start seeing fans wearing jerseys in the stands this fall.
“The early adopters like the University of Texas should get some credit for this,” Haynes said. “Others who are sitting on the sideline are watching to see how this goes.”