South Carolina is becoming the first major college athletic department to partner with a sports marketing agency to establish an in-house name, image and likeness firm, where Gamecocks athletes will have free access to deal facilitation, content generation and branding services.
The school has hired Everett Sports Management (ESM) to launch Park Ave, an exclusive initiative that will provide NIL services for Gamecocks athletes. South Carolina's board of trustees on Tuesday afternoon approved the two-year, $2.2 million contract. Everett Sports Management, based in Greenville, S.C., represents NFL players such as Jalen Hurts, Mac Jones and Jonathan Taylor, and handles NIL marketing for several college athletes, including Miami basketball players and social media stars Haley and Hanna Cavinder, Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett and Coastal Carolina quarterback Grayson McCall.
"There have been a lot of different approaches (toward NIL), and nobody has gone this way," South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner told ESPN. "We're confident that this will be an impactful situation for our young men and women to play sports and get branded at the maximum level."
South Carolina state law allows schools to help athletes secure NIL deals. Other states place restrictions on how involved schools can be in the process.
According to the agreement, ESM will not represent South Carolina athletes while they are in school, and will be an "ancillary service" for athletes who already have NIL agents.
"Park Avenue will bring the deals to the student-athletes, they would help facilitate those deals through us, and then the student-athletes get the entire deal," South Carolina senior deputy athletics director Chance Miller told ESPN. "(Athletes) don't pay a percentage to any representation firm. We are paying that fee for them. You might have an agent, you might have a marketing rep, that's great. You can still work with them, and (Everett Sports Management) can still bring you deals."
ESM hired five new staff members to oversee the South Carolina initiative and cannot partner with any other school during the first year of the agreement. In Year 2, ESM cannot partner with other schools in the SEC or within the state.
"That was a big deal, the fact they've got a staff ready to support us in an exclusive way," Tanner said.
Miller, who has known ESM president Dan Everett and partner Jeff Hoffman for more than 10 years, began working on a partnership before July 2021, when college athletes were allowed to profit off of their name, image and likeness. South Carolina privately funded the initial agreement, which could eventually be incorporated into its athletic budget.
ESM's proximity to campus played a significant role in the deal, Miller said. The five new employees assigned to South Carolina will work with athletes both on campus and at the company's studio and office in Greenville.
"College athletics does not have an expertise in representing college athletes in name, image and likeness; it is a complete 180 from what we have done throughout history," Miller told ESPN. "Dan and Jeff and their team have done this year after year for professional athletes, and they have done it at a high level, especially with their NFL clientele. This group is going to say, 'You have 1.2 million followers. This is what you should be targeting for businesses. This is what you should be requesting for each sponsored post.'
"They've looked over our rosters, they've looked over our student-athletes' social media accounts. They're ready to really take off."
South Carolina has several high-profile athletes, including Wooden Award winner Aliyah Boston from the school's national champion women's basketball team; quarterback Spencer Rattler, a 2021 preseason Heisman Trophy contender at Oklahoma; and G.G. Jackson, an incoming men's basketball player rated by ESPN as the No. 6 player in his class. ESPN recently rated Boston, who has 107,000 followers on Instagram, as college basketball's most marketable player, followed by the Cavinder twins at Miami.
"This is allowing them to market themselves in a very, very professional way, and not some camera filming an advertisement on an iPhone," South Carolina football coach Shane Beamer told ESPN. "South Carolina is as well-positioned as any school in the country from an NIL standpoint because of where we're located, capital city, SEC, we don't compete with pro sports. This is just another way to capitalize on that and allow our guys to really prosper.
"My biggest question was, 'How soon can we start?' Because you see the benefits from it in so many different areas."
Tanner said Park Ave will primarily benefit South Carolina's 25-35 highest-profile athletes, but the goal also is to incorporate other players on their teams. Last season, ESM facilitated NIL deals for North Carolina star quarterback Sam Howell that also involved some of his Tar Heels teammates.
"It's great, not just for the big-name guys but even the guys that aren't as recognized as they should be," Rattler told ESPN. "That'll help get guys names out there, help benefit guys on the team in multiple different sports. It's cool because we're the first school in the country to do it with a big agency. They're going to come in and help us, so the more the merrier."
South Carolina has two external NIL collectives, which the athletic department communicates with weekly. In 2021, the school partnered with Altius, an NIL advisory and education firm, and INFLCR, an NIL social content sharing platform.
The difference with ESM, according to South Carolina officials, is the direct marketing expertise and existing relationships with brands such as Eastbay and Champs Sports.
"A lot of donors give to collectives, but a lot are reluctant," Tanner said. "I haven't had one donor that has not embraced the idea of a national marketing firm that has excelled in this space. To us, this is very unique. We still have two collectives that are supporting us. But this has an opportunity to take it to a different level."
Miller regularly attends meetings with South Carolina football and basketball recruits, who often ask what financial number the school can guarantee with NIL deals. The ESM partnership is designed to create sustainable revenue for Gamecocks athletes.
"We're trying to put people around, where they're not going to try to get you to that number and then move on," Miller said. "Not only can you get that number, but maybe you can get more than that number, and you get it for the entire time here, and then you walk out the door and you have those brands that are going to continue to work with you."