By Luke Conway
When a 2020 Supreme Court ruling allowed college athletes to finally earn money for their name, image, and likeness (NIL), many star players suddenly found themselves flooded with sponsorship offers and brand deals – and new potential pitfalls. In this episode of Zone In, hosts Kayvon Thibodeaux and Chase Griffin discuss navigating this new territory, and offer tips on personal branding, creating a support team and lifetime wealth planning.
Earning money beyond athletics
Kayvon played football at the University of Oregon and currently plays for the New York Giants in the NFL. The NIL decision happened when he was in his third year at Oregon, and he describes his time as a football star at his high school and first years of college before NIL as “a time of using.” He says there were hundreds of videos of him on YouTube that people were making money off of. “And there was never even a thought or an idea of me getting paid,” Kayvon says. “And at the time I didn't even know someone was getting paid.” When he started making money from sponsorships after NIL, he says, it was scary. “You see this number in your bank account go up and it's like, okay, well now what?”
Chase is a quarterback for UCLA and a two-time NIL Athlete of the Year. Before college, he was a superstar in the Friday Night Lights of Texas high school football, and like Kayvon, he recalls others making money off him. “I always had the responsibility of representing something larger than myself, where I represented my town, and then brands started coming in early,” he says. “I just wasn't being paid for it.” He says his goal is to build wealth for his family, and mastering NIL is just one tool for doing that.
Getting started: Work with brands that fit you
Chase and Kayvon agree that one of the challenges that student athletes face with NIL is choosing which opportunities to pursue. It can be tempting for young athletes to say yes to every opportunity, but not all are a good fit. Chase says he looks for brands that match up with his values. “That's personal values, economic value, and then empowerment and community value,” he says. “Where every single brand I go into, I define myself as a believer, a winner, and provider. That's my brand. I look to partner with other brands that are about those same values.”
Kayvon says he looks for relationships that are mutually beneficial. He wants to work with brands that reflect how he wants to be seen. “You don't want to dilute who you are. You don't want to dilute the brand of yourself – your name, image, and likeness, right? You want to keep your story the same.” When athletes ask him for advice, he tells them to pick five to 10 companies that they would want to work for and then research those companies’ brands and culture to determine if they would be a good match.
Managing wealth: Seek knowledge and expertise
Kayvon and Chase also agree on the importance of prioritizing learning as much as they can about NIL and about money management. Kayvon describes the early days of NIL as a “feeding frenzy” in which many companies wanted a piece of the money to be made, and students were left to figure it out on their own. “They brought us to water, but they didn’t teach us how to fish,” he explains. He says that’s why it’s so important for students to educate themselves – and to seek mentors who can help them achieve their goals.
Chase agrees that student athletes can be put at a disadvantage and says there are many systems set up to strip athletes of their value. So learning as much as they can and finding experts to act as mentors is key. And that’s especially important when it comes to wealth management. “If you have some money, there are going to be people who are going to be trying to take it away from you and there are going to be people who are trying to help you grow it,” he says. “You always have to find the latter.”
At the end of the day, both athletes agree that being smart with saving and spending is key, because, as many mentors have advised Kayvon over the years: “you can't out-invest bad spending habits.”