COLUMBUS, Ohio — American Eagle wants to use Denzel Burke to sell you skinny jeans and flannel shirts, and Ohio State football’s foray into name, image and likeness may have reached a tipping point.
Burke is one of 41 current or former Buckeyes represented by NIL Management. According to founder Zach Beebe, the agency exchanged 185 emails in just a few months to facilitate endorsement deals with American Eagle, Designer Shoe Warehouse and Value City Furniture. The foundation, one of two prominent OSU booster collectives, also helped seal that deal.
Burke and three of his teammates are paid $550,000 for these ad campaigns. These teammates — CJ Stroud, Jaxon Smith-Njigba and TreVeyon Henderson — are OSU’s top three talents. glamor positions. A Heisman Trophy finalist. The Rose Bowl Destroying Receiver. Regardless of commercials or Instagram influencer posts, they will be among the faces of college football this season.
So how did Burke—a budding sophomore cornerback hailing from Scottsdale, Ariz., ranked No. 196 in the nation according to 247 Sports’ Composite—become a part of this headline-grabbing deal?
“I’m glad that a large national company like American Eagle wants to think outside the box,” Beebe said. “Denzel is a great athlete. He got Freshman All-American. He didn’t have a single touchdown scored on him.
“Sometimes the defense gets the short end of the stick, but it really proves that not only the company, but we want to throw a bone to our other customers who deserve it. We believe Denzel will also be one of the top draft picks (NFL) and will have a fantastic season.”
That draft is two full seasons away. College football’s merry-go-round, however, never stops. The state of Ohio has done as well there as any in the country, but the landscape is changing. Teams cannot hand over a bag of money, but they must be able to reassure prospects and their families that they can provide access to advertising revenue.
Ryan Day told 100 members of the Columbus business community in June that OSU football needs $13 million annually in endorsement deals to keep its roster intact. The Buckeye coach added a specific example from the recruitment path.
“There’s a recruit out there — he’s the number one security guard in the country,” said Day, who could not identify the player by name under NCAA rules. “He wants to come here.”
Day said the player is interested in real estate, which OSU can help him with their new NIL program.
Caleb Downs of Georgia is widely considered the highest ranked security country and is a priority target for OSU. A little over a month after Day left his encrypted message, 247 Sports Director of Recruiting Steve Wiltfong made a crystal ball prediction for Downs to Alabama.
These name, image, and likeness deals were predictably used as a weapon in recruitment. Ohio State needs prospects to see that its apparently most marketable stars aren’t the only ones striking lucrative deals with big brands.
Schottenstein said the foundation has signed endorsement deals for players ranging from senior cornerback Cam Brown to third-year wide receiver Julian Fleming to freshman Kyion Grayes and Tanner Holden, a basketball player who transferred from Wright State to OSU.
Brown was a career backup struggling through injuries to start last season. Fleming is a former top prospect seeking his first major influence. Greyes, a promising newcomer, has yet to play his first snap.
Schottenstein, whose family has ties to all three companies involved in this latest deal, said the foundation initially thought OSU needed more than $10 million in annual NIL revenue to remain competitive. So Day’s $13 million number sounds right to him.
He would not disclose the dollar amount raised so far, but said the foundation might do so after an Aug. 22 fundraiser at the Blackwell Hotel. (Tag, men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann and several athletes will be attending this $500 dinner). He said the deal announced over the weekend wasn’t the first of significant value involving OSU athletes, but some numbers weren’t released due to non-disclosure agreements.
“It was certainly a success,” said Schottenstein, who said the foundation was involved in about 20 deals. “It’s nice to finally be able to keep my word and perform.”
As part of their commitments to The Foundation, players will also be doing some charity work. Beebe said Burke’s first photoshoot is scheduled for next week. The cornerback might still be anonymous to casual college football fans, but a $3 billion-plus company saw a way he could elevate its brand.
“They said Denzel has a great look that they want,” Beebe said. “He’s a handsome young fellow. That he and TreVeyon are the faces of American Eagle is pretty darn cool for us.”
It’s not too bad for an Ohio State program that also needs hitters throughout its roster.
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