Texas' Bijan Robinson can get NIL deals, but the Clark Field Collective may be solution for others
Robinson on NIL: “There are so many local companies that are just willing to work with a Texas football player’
Bijan Robinson has spun away from and stiff-armed more companies offering him name, image and likeness deals than he’d care to admit. The Texas running back is a marketer’s dream.
Robinson’s newest endorsement deal is with DAZN, an online sports network focused on boxing. The fleet-footed Longhorn will be the network’s U.S. brand ambassador and its first college athletic spokesman.
“When I was in middle school, I grew up to be a big boxing fan because of (Floyd) Mayweather,” Robinson said Wednesday. He’ll be in Las Vegas this weekend promoting the Devin Haney-Joseph “JoJo” Diaz bout. “I’ll be promoting their brand, making appearances on their channel, just all types of things.”
What fighter would Robinson want to be? Mike Tyson, of course. “I think he could beat everybody then and now, honestly,” Robinson said. “He was just so dominant.”
Not every Texas athlete can knock out these NIL deals as easily as Robinson, though. That’s where Austin sports marketer Nick Shuley thinks he can help. Shuley announced Wednesday a new partnership called the Clark Field Collective to help facilitate NIL opportunities with UT athletes.
Shuley said prominent donors, Austin business leaders and Texas exes like Kenny Vaccaro, T.J. Ford and Juliann Johnson will help oversee what’s starting out as a $10-million commitment. The goal is simple: to have the largest fund in the country dedicated to NIL activities for Texas athletes.
“My old roommates way back in the day were some UT basketball players. I’ve always been around sports and know what goes on,” Shuley said in an interview. “How do you figure out how to bring people together on this, and looking at it from a bigger picture, how do you take something like that and take it to where it benefits the kids and the greater good of the university?”
Shuley envisions having committees for each UT athletic team. In theory, companies could go through the Clark Field Collective and be paired with athletes for NIL deals.
“Texas is the always one of the highest grossing athletic programs in the NCAA, and we intend to ensure that all student athletes at Texas have a way of participating in these immense financial opportunities,” Vaccaro said in a statement.
Vaccaro himself announced Wednesday he was retiring from pro football to start his own video gaming company. He played eight seasons in the NFL after leaving UT in 2012 and started 109 career games collectively with the New Orleans Saints and Tennessee Titans.
Once the NCAA changed its rules on name, image and likeness, the barndoor swung wide open and can never be closed. Athletes are getting paid for all sorts of things, from autographs to photo shoots to straight-up product endorsements.
Cameron Dicker, the kicker, got a deal with Tecovas boots. The UT tight ends secured a group endorsement that promised a four-figure monthly stipend.
By NCAA rule and Texas state law, Texas athletics cannot push athletes into specific NIL deals. Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte did not return a message about this topic Wednesday. In most cases, Texas officials have taken a hands-off approach whenever NIL is concerned.
Technically, school officials cannot even advise an athlete on whether an NIL contract is a good one or a bad one. NCAA rules now allow athletes to have third-party advisors for NIL purposes.
The school has signed umbrella contracts with some social media companies to help athletes position themselves better on Instagram. And UT now has a partnership with The Brandr Group so the athletes can use UT logos and trademarks.
The entire NIL landscape is shifting and formulating under everyone’s feet as the free market establishes itself.
“We’re going to have to be nimble as we build this thing,” Shuley said. “My goal is to keep everything completely legal on this, and we’re going to. At the end of the day, the athletes being eligible is the most important piece of this. These kids love what they’re doing, and I want to make sure they can keep doing that.”
Asked about the perception the Clark Field Collective is just a way to pay athletes, Shuley demurred.
“You can’t control people’s perceptions, and people are going to say what they’re going to say,” Shuley said. “This is just a way to let fans, donors know this is a way that’s going to be safe for the athletes. This is how we’re going to approach it.”
Not every Texas athlete is as fortunate as Robinson. Teammates approach him on how to get NIL deals “all the time.”
“I know some teammates are saying they want to wait and hold back. You guys can’t wait,” Robinson said. “Go out and reach out to them yourselves if you can’t get them. I can help you how to do that, how to reach out.
“Go to smaller brands first, if you guys can’t get the brands you want,” Robinson added. “There are so many local companies that are just willing to work with a Texas football player. I’ve told a couple of teammates that; they’ve done it. It worked out for them.
“But whoever just needs advice, I’ve learned quite a bit in this field. I can just give them whatever tips and advice that they need.”