The negative reputation surrounding NIL is fading at Penn State.
On June 30, 2021, the NCAA passed an interim policy that allowed college athletes to profit off of their own brand, and collegiate athletics hasn’t looked back since. Penn State has seen the formation of three main NIL collectives: Success With Honor, We Are NIL and Lions Legacy Club.
While the three organizations all operate in different ways, they share one goal: Exist at the benefit of the athletes.
“Yes, a few guys have made enormous deals, but typical deals are not exactly that entirely big,” Founder of We Are NIL, Michael Krentzman told The Daily Collegian. “Look at a guy like Ji’Ayir Brown. He grew up living on his grandfather’s couch… every dollar that he earns benefits his family, it keeps them going, it’s groceries and rent, not jewelry.”
Success With Honor, We Are NIL and Lions Legacy Club, although they exist in the same field and share different goals, operate differently.
Success With Honor was asked to be created by Penn State itself and is a nonprofit collective across every varsity sport, although football is the focus because of the revenue it brings in. The board is made up of five people, although it could expand to six members shortly, according to board member Mark Toniatti.
On top of meet-and-greets, autograph signings and talk shows, the Penn State-born collective allows its subscribers and donors to direct where their contributions go. Success With Honor has also been hosting tailgates on home football Saturdays featuring Penn State athletes.
“The subscriptions are allocated one of three ways. You can give it to a particular sport, ‘I want my money to go to a particular athlete, I want my money to go at large to any sport, any athlete,’” Toniatti told the Collegian.
Lions Legacy Club is the newest addition to Penn State’s NIL landscape, launched in early September and is led by former Nittany Lion football players Chris Ganter, Ki-Jana Carter and Michael Mauti.
The football-led initiative is unique in that it solely focuses on Penn State football, which was a need for the program, according to Ganter.
“Football was based on an immediate need. What is needed for our football team to be successful in NIL has not been done, it wasn’t being done, and the prospects weren’t looking too great, either,” Lions Legacy Club General Manager Ganter told the Collegian. “You can see that we’re losing recruits, and then other schools lose recruits because of this. The transfer portal also plays a factor into it.”
Lions Legacy Club is both for profit and nonprofit at the same time. The organization secured an IRS-approved 501(c)(3) so that donors have the option to get a tax write off with their donations. According to Ganter, “Nobody else can offer that.”
Since Lions Legacy Club is led by three former Penn State football players, the organization offers an experience that athletes like Ganter, Carter and Mauti can relate to. The collective has already signed a plethora of current Penn State football players, including tight end Brenton Strange, safety Zakee Wheatley, punter Barney Amor and linebacker Curtis Jacobs.
“We understand what those guys go through on a day-in and day-out basis, how demanding their time and their schedules are and really being able to relate to them in terms of the kinds of things they like, what they think is cool and what they might want to be doing,” Ganter said.
Krentzman, an attorney and businessman, put his own unique spin on the NIL game with We Are NIL.
We Are NIL emphasizes the future of Penn State’s athletes, as the collective offers insurance to players, so it sets them up for success should something happen to them during their playing career.
“What if the guy is banking on the next level and something happens? If you start out with a half a million dollars in your pocket as a 21, 22-year-old college student, guess what? You’ve got a really nice start on life,” Krentzman said.
Offensive tackle Caedan Wallace has already been provided permanent total disability insurance, which gives him benefits if he’s no longer able to work, or in this case, play football. Defensive tackle D’Von Ellies has also been signed to the collective.
“Insurance is not easy to get for football players. You have to have a certain amount of potential earning power with your game to be able to get that insurance, but a really good agent can maybe push those boundaries a little bit so we were able to secure Caedan Wallace insurance,” Krentzman said.
NIL collectives don’t only benefit athletes, either. All three collectives offer benefits to those who choose to subscribe or donate, including autographed memorabilia, exclusive content and discounts.
Certain demographics, especially older generations, are more accepting of NIL and willing to donate than others, though.
Since the NIL landscape is still very new relative to when college football was invented, a lot of people still haven’t completely bought into the new change to college sports. Toniatti recalled his time in college “being told to stay away from the student-athletes” because of the strict NCAA rules.
That’s something that all three collectives are trying to change but have struggled with so far, especially at Penn State. According to Krentzman, the resistance at Penn State “runs deeper than many, many other schools.”
As a result, the collectives have stressed the importance of marketing in general, but with older demographics in mind. Success With Honor has put advertisements on the scoreboard in Beaver Stadium, and the collective’s namesake is based off of a Joe Paterno phrase that “older people remember.”
“We are doing it through media, through Bellisario [College of Communications] and social media,” Toniatti said.
The presence of the three collectives has already given athletes across all sports more opportunity to profit off of their name, image and likeness, but the collectives themselves haven’t really found a way to collaborate with each other yet.
Maybe contrary to what some people might believe, the competition over sponsoring athletes isn’t cutthroat, as all three collectives share the same goal of benefitting the athletes. However, they haven’t been able to find a way to collaborate yet.
“[Lions Legacy Club and us] had discussions for a while,” Krentzman said, adding that We Are NIL and Lions Legacy Club considered merging. “I think less [collectives] is better, rather than duplicating a lot of the same efforts. It would’ve been efficient, and frankly, I think it would’ve simplified things.”