Ohio State Launches Corporate Ambassador Program for Athletes As It Looks to Ramp Up NIL Involvement in Year Two

By Dan Hope on June 6, 2022 at 8:35 am
Ohio State held an event at the Covelli Center on Thursday to launch its NIL Corporate Ambassador Program.
Ohio State Dept. of Athletics

Ohio State announced a new initiative last week with the goal of helping its athletes land more NIL deals.

During a gathering of local businesspeople at the Covelli Center on Thursday, Ohio State officially launched the NIL Corporate Ambassador Program, which will set up partnerships for OSU athletes to serve as ambassadors for Columbus companies.

The program’s objective is to create business relationships between Buckeye athletes and local businesses in which athletes will endorse the businesses through social media, on-site appearances and/or commercials for a term of three to 12 months. Ohio State is recommending that athletes who agree to full-year ambassadorships make 12 social media endorsements, six on-site appearances and one commercial or media advertisement, though the terms of each ambassador agreement will ultimately be negotiated between the business and the athlete.

Fundamentally, partnerships set up through the corporate ambassador program might not be any different than endorsement deals Ohio State athletes have already landed. While Ohio State will submit profiles of interested athletes to businesses who choose to participate in the program, the companies themselves will decide which athletes they want to work with and how much they will pay those athletes.

That said, Ohio State is hoping the program will encourage companies that have been hesitant to wade into the NIL waters to feel more comfortable making deals with Buckeye athletes.

“I still have the sense that there are companies out there who are nervous about NIL, and our thought was that perhaps if we have some involvement … that the companies might be a little bit more motivated or comfortable to do NIL deals rather than DMing a student-athlete and feel like maybe they're doing something inappropriate,” said Ohio State senior associate athletic director of sport administration and student-athlete development Carey Hoyt, who oversees Ohio State’s NIL administration.

Athletes who participate in the corporate ambassador program will also receive professional development education from Ohio State’s Eugene D. Smith Leadership Institute, which also oversees the Bucks Go Pro internship program that places Buckeye athletes in internships with local companies. Hoyt says Ohio State wants to ensure it educates its athletes about how to use their name, image and likeness effectively while also helping them profit financially.

“We'll hire third parties to come out and present on building your brand and helping them with their social media content to try and just add value to them as ambassadors for the companies,” Hoyt told Eleven Warriors. “Because we don't want companies to hire them for like a social media post and then that's the end of it. I think there's definitely learning opportunities in NIL, even if it's just professional communication back and forth between you and the company. For a lot of these kids, it'll be their first sort of dipping their toe in what it means to be a professional, so we want to make sure that we're helping and guiding them in that process.”

As the one-year mark nears since the NCAA first allowed athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness on July 1, 2021, Ohio State recognizes it must continue to expand its efforts to help athletes land NIL deals.

According to a news release by Ohio State following Thursday’s event, athletes across all 36 OSU sports teams have executed more than 900 NIL deals over the past 11 months – the most of any NCAA school – for total compensation nearing $3.5 million. As the NIL landscape continues to evolve, however, OSU knows it can’t get complacent if it’s going to continue to be a national leader on that front.

“The moment you feel like you have a handle on it, it changes. And we always want to be a leader in this space and for our athletes to know that we're working for them behind the scenes,” Hoyt said. “And they have to do their part, obviously. But yeah, this won't be the first or last NIL initiative that comes out in the department. I mean, it's a focus, it impacts recruiting, so this is a major priority for our department.”

Ryan Day made waves at Thursday’s event when he said he believes the Ohio State football team will need $13 million in NIL money in order to keep its roster intact. According to cleveland.com’s Doug Lesmerises, Day said he thinks elite quarterbacks are now commanding $2 million in NIL money and top offensive tackles and edge rushers have a market value around $1 million. In a room full of people who could potentially provide those funds to Buckeye athletes, Day also expressed concerns about the possibility of players transferring to other schools if they are able to receive larger NIL deals elsewhere than they would at Ohio State.

“One phone call, and they’re out the door,” Day reportedly said. “We cannot let that happen at Ohio State. I’m not trying to sound the alarm, I’m just trying to be transparent about what we’re dealing with.”

“The moment you feel like you have a handle on it, it changes. And we always want to be a leader in this space and for our athletes to know that we’re working for them behind the scenes.”– Ohio State's Carey Hoyt on NIL

Hoyt says she’s uncertain whether $13 million in NIL deals for Ohio State football players is actually a realistic target, and she certainly hopes that much money won’t actually be necessary to keep the Buckeyes’ top players in Columbus. But she’s hopeful the corporate ambassador program will help facilitate deals that enable those Buckeyes to cash in.

“Obviously, that's a big dollar amount,” Hoyt said. “But if there's a large corporation that wants to be involved, but just kind of isn't sure, I think this is a gateway to start having those conversations.”

Hoyt and Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith have both expressed concerns about the role collectives are now playing in funneling NIL money to athletes. That said, Hoyt acknowledges that Ohio State’s two collectives – The Foundation and Cohesion Foundation – are necessary to keep OSU competitive with other schools.

Although the NCAA passed guidelines in May that specified boosters cannot make NIL deals with recruits, Hoyt said she hasn’t yet seen those guidelines change much of what collectives are doing around the country, so Ohio State has had to respond by working with its collectives more aggressively.

“I've kind of gone back and forth and it's like one day you sort of feel like it's just not sustainable, the collectives and what we're reading. And then the next day it’s sort of like well, we got to be realistic about what's happening and just try and be creative in how we position our teams and our student-athletes to have success in NIL,” Hoyt said. “We were, I think, probably a little behind in the collectives … in hindsight, I wish we had been maybe pushing a little harder in that area.”

Ultimately, Hoyt says Ohio State’s primary goal – not only with NIL, but with everything the athletic department does – is to create the best opportunities possible for its athletes. As for NIL specifically, Hoyt believes the corporate ambassador program will help create more of those opportunities for the Buckeyes in the second year of NIL, as will OSU’s recent hiring of former Buckeye football player Logan Hittle as a full-time NIL director for the athletic department.

“He's already done a great job with this is really looking at that first year of data, where's the volume of NIL deals? What are the companies that clearly have the capacity to do NIL locally here in Columbus? And then just focusing on connecting those companies with student-athletes that make sense for that brand,” Hoyt said. “We didn't do that in year one. I think that'll be a big push for us in year two.”

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