“Show me the money.” It’s my favorite all-time line from a sports movie. In fact, I show this scene from “Jerry McGuire” the first day of class, every semester.
Starting today, tens of thousands of college athletes are saying the same thing. What does that look like at Penn State?
Well, it is not just about football. Athletes in basketball, softball, gymnastics and women’s volleyball are all poised to make some NIL money at PSU.
Brand, personality, reach, pre-existing promotional and content channels, relationships with potential sponsors plus niche and broader audiences/fan bases are all very important.
At Penn State today, and in the weeks and months ahead, I think these three current athletes are among the most uniquely positioned to cash in on their Name, Image and Likeness. And just one is a football player; we’ll start with him:
Sean Clifford, Football
If there is one current Nittany Lion that even the most casual of Penn State sports fans know, it’s QB1. Cliff will be entering his third season as the starting quarterback for one of the most visible teams in the country, with one of the largest built-in fan bases — there are over 700,000 living and loving Penn State alumni.
Clifford is a savvy and smart communicator, with one undergraduate degree in communications and he is seeking a second one. He is also one of the oldest and most mature players on the team (he turns 23 in July 14). It’s almost a sure bet, barring injury, that he’ll be in the starting lineup and in the spotlight all season long. (The star at RB could change weekly; that’s why the Lawn Boyz might have more sponsorship, T-shirt and chain sale opportunities as a group, rather than individually.) If the Lions start 3-0, you know that Cliff is off to a great start, and his up-and-down brand will be sky-rocketing.
Right now, he’s open for business.
Around midnight, at the dawn of the start of NIL, he posted this on Twitter:
On Clifford’s Twitter page — he has 17,000 followers, a relatively small number if he is hoping to cash in just there as a marketer; Oklahoma. QB Spencer Rattler has 63,000 and James Franklin has #251k — he pointedly directs NIL opportunists to contact his dad, John, back home in Cincinnati. Specifically:
Business Inquiries: [email protected]
John is in the sales business. I met John at a PSU summer camp years ago, and he is a really nice, engaging hulk of a man who I would bet is very good at his job. He is VP of sales and marketing at Greif, which, according to Wikipedia, is “an American manufacturing company based in Delaware, Ohio. Originally a manufacturer of barrels, the company is now focused on producing industrial packaging and containers. In 2018, the company ranked 642 on the Fortune 1000.”
You have to figure John also reps his younger son, Liam, who enrolled this summer at Penn State. Liam is a wide receiver, with a Twitter following of under 3,000. But there might be opportunities to pair Sean and Liam, along the lines of the Subway-eating Watt Bros. or sibling foils Peyton & Eli.
When you look at opportunities for Cliff and other athletes, their home market name recognition can be an asset. For Cliff, you have to think it might include some promotional work (autographs, endorsements, etc.) for Jeff Ruby.
Ruby is a well-known restaurateur in the Midwest, though originally from New Jersey, who is famous for his steaks, sports connections— Ali, Calipari, Pitino, etc. — and outsized personality. Ruby has steak joints in Cincinnati, Louisville, Nashville, Columbus (hello, Chris Olave) and Lexington. (Mostly big college towns, right?).
Ruby has a close connection to Clifford. He told me so himself. In 2019, when Penn State played in The Horseshoe, when Cliff came out for warm-ups, the PSU QB exchanged a long hug and a short conversation with Ruby, who was on the sidelines. (The Buckeyes adroitly use the pre-game session as a time to let hundreds of supporters, recruits and reporters on the sidelines. PSU does the same, but bars reporters.)
Watch it here:
I chatted with Ruby, and he shared that he has known Cliff for a long time. Ruby said he is also tight with the Penn State coaching staff, telling me that after one particularly successful recruiting effort a few PSU coaches visited one of Ruby’s restaurants and celebrated with cigars, spirits and steaks.
There are myriad such relationships throughout sports and life, and while Cliff may never use his NIL on Ruby’s behalf, it does show that hometown connections in bigger markets — non-tiny-State College markets — could be one way for college athletes to cash in.
Michael Jaroh, Gymnastics
Jaroh is very likely a bigger name in more households than Clifford’s — especially if your home includes one of the millions of younger-aged aspiring gymnasts. As a freshman from Michigan, he competed for the Nittany Lions this past season. But he is more well-known for exploits on TikTok, where he has 2 million followers. That’s right, 2,000,000. (Eight times the number of CJF’s Twitter followers.)
Jaroh, who plans to major in corporate innovation and entrepreneurship, regularly posts to the social media platform TikTok, the app for making and sharing short videos and stories — very often accompanied by music.
Jaroh is a genius at it. Most of his posts tangentially revolve around gymnastics, very often include him shirtless, and are wildly popular when they include his hair — one of his 15-second hair tutorials drew 1.6 million views. Watch it here.
Overall, his posts have drawn in about 66 million likes.
Likely, many of his viewers are not sports fans — but they are fans of a guy who is very good at sports. (Plus, that hair: I’m thinking creams, pastes, waxes and pomades promos for all the big national brand names and a local sponsorship from one of the salons in State College — he could draw a Beatles-like mob of fans and customers.)
Jaroh is totally at ease on camera, and you have to think his TikTok portends good things for him on other media platforms as well. He may not have Simone Biles’ mad tricks, but his appeal is broad. Many of his videos feature him on the horse and help promote the sport, as well as himself, and get over 2 million views for one quick clip.
His heart is the right place as well; on his TikTok profile, he has a link to THON.
Anna Camden, Basketball
The very first guest on Anna Camden’s “Courtside With Camden” online interview program was Michael Jaroh. It shows you how savvy she really is.
Like Jaroh, Camden is very popular on TikTok, with over 180,000 followers. But she also knows her way around Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. And her show — “interviewing athletes, coaches and surprise guests” — is available and accessible across all platforms. Watch her episode with the Nittany Lions’ new men’s basketball coach, Micah Shrewsberry, here:
Camden is a stellar broadcast journalism student at Penn State, and right now her show is not only an opportunity to build her brand and to potentially find a sponsor. It is also a way for her to hone her craft.
“Courtside With Camden” has already featured big-time college women hoopsters Haley Jones of Stanford and Adrianna Hahn of Villanova. Expect some big-name Penn State sports guests in the coming weeks.
With media, content is king — provided that content can also attract, build and maintain an audience. On TikTok, Camden’s best material is her running series of “Questions with the Team” — a variety of riddles, trick questions and wrong-answers-only quick-hitters deftly edited. Like a good bit, it is long-running and popular with her fans — a funny Q&A can draw over 500,000 viewers.