DAVID TEEL Richmond Times-Dispatch
As an aspiring college basketball player raised near Raleigh, North Carolina, Kadin Shedrick was acutely aware of the sport’s social and economic influence, especially in ACC country.
He saw Duke, North Carolina and Virginia win national championships in five seasons from 2015 to 2019. He saw players such as Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, UNC’s Brice Johnson and UVa’s Kyle Guy celebrate those titles and generate untold revenue for their schools and the NCAA.
In November 2018, as Virginia began its redeeming championship journey, Shedrick signed on to play for the Cavaliers.
“I always thought growing up that college athletes deserved to get some sort of compensation,” Shedrick said, “considering the NCAA is a billion-dollar corporation and most of the money they winning is up to us. But I didn’t think there would be any changes while I was in school.
The change came last July 1 when the NCAA, compelled by the courts, ended decades of resistance and allowed college athletes to monetize their names, images and likenesses.
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Four months later, Shedrick and teammates Reece Beekman and Jayden Gardner teamed up with Charlottesville-based Hook Sports Marketing to explore those prospects.
“I remember at the beginning of the NIL process, it was difficult for us to find agreements,” Shedrick said. “We would have to reach out to places [on our own]. But having a marketing team…going out and finding deals for us and pitching them to us makes it a lot easier. It’s one less thing we have to do. We just focus on basketball and school like we’re supposed to, and then when an opportunity comes along, they can bring it to us.
Indeed, while big-name athletes such as North Carolina basketball forward Armando Bacot, Texas running back Bijan Robinson and Miami basketball guard Pack Nijel bask in six-figure NIL earnings – kudos to Robinson for putting his speed to good use in a Lamborghini – Shedrick and thousands of his peers have learned that most NIL deals are modest, and even then don’t surface as if by magic.
Hook Sports digs them up and plays matchmaker.
Speaking of their extensive professional backgrounds and UVa connections, friends Todd Goodale and Chip Royer opened their business shortly after NIL clearing became licensed last summer. Goodale is athletic wellness director at Boar’s Head Resort and former senior associate athletic director at Virginia; Royer is the founding partner of a Charlottesville law firm and has worked extensively in the area of college licensing.
Goodale and Royer graduated from Virginia and have lined up with 21 current Cavaliers in 10 sports. Additionally, they have entered into representation partnerships with Caric Sports on behalf of quarterback Brennan Armstrong and with Boras Marketing on behalf of baseball players Kyle Teel, Jake Gelof and Nate Savino.
Hook’s team also includes former Cavaliers basketball player Austin Katstra and Kevin Thurman, who previously worked as the athletic department’s marketing and social media director.
Unlike a collective, Hook Sports does not pool money from fans, boosters and businesses and then distribute the funds to athletes in exchange for endorsements. Instead, the company markets its athletes to businesses and the community to discover brand partnerships, sports clinics and other appearances.
“Could a student-athlete do it alone? Absolutely,” Goodale said. “But they don’t have contacts in the business world. They don’t have time either. They just don’t have it, between classes and practice and maybe trying to have a social life. …
“What has become clear to us, from the student-athletes we represent, is that they need help, they want help and they appreciate the help and guidance that we are. able to provide as representatives.
Among the endorsement deals Hook Sports negotiated: Shedrick and teammate Reece Beekman cut a TV commercial for Blue Ridge Bank; Matt Moore, the all-time leading scorer in UVa men’s lacrosse history, has appeared in YouTube videos promoting Warrior gear; All-ACC golfer Amanda Sambach, women’s soccer forward Cam Lexow and All-America swimmer Matthew Brownstead were among 10 athletes from Virginia who created dishes for a month-long promotion on Multiverse Kitchens.
“It was fun to watch, quite frankly, to see some of our student-athletes and their entrepreneurial spirit take the bull by the horns. [and] do something where there was nothing,” Virginia athletic director Carla Williams said.
Then there were the appearances and the clinics, which the athletes and the folks at Hook Sports found the most rewarding. The events have connected the athletes with the Charlottesville community, and even remote fans.
As cool as Shedrick found the Blue Ridge commercial shoot inside Boar’s Head Gym, he said his favorite aspect of NIL was connecting with young basketball players.
Men’s basketball is UVa’s flagship program, and in preparation for next season, Hook Sports has formed Club 4819, named to commemorate the date of the Cavaliers’ national championship win over Texas Tech. Different levels of membership offer fans the opportunity to attend team meetings, private group dinners and clinics.
“The interactions that the tennis and basketball players have had with the youngsters are awesome,” Goodale said. “Are they compensated? Yes. But they love doing it. They don’t just show up to cash a check. They love interacting with young people and they get paid for it, which if you think about it, should have been the case all along.
Royer and Goodale were particularly moved by a body image seminar they hosted that featured All-America soccer player Diana Ordonez, who made her debut for the Mexico national team this spring. A former UVa in Florida whose daughter is battling an eating disorder requested a video of the event, and Ordonez went above and beyond by sending a home video with a signed jersey and ball.
“I don’t know if it could have been achieved before NIL arrived,” Royer said. “If all of this work was just a way to reach out to this person to help them with something really, really meaningful in their life…then we did all we could do, and the rest is gravy .”
Group licensing absolutely could not have happened before NIL. But the fair market now allows athletes and schools to share in the profits from the sale of athlete-specific branded clothing.
Hook Sports and UVa have partnered in such an endeavor.
“Co-branded apparel is where everyone really wins,” Goodale said. “For me, that’s at the heart of what it’s becoming and should be because the name, image and likeness of the student-athlete is clearly used. The school wins because they still collect their licensing fees on new apparel and merchandise, and… now the fan can feel more connected to their favorite student-athlete.
ZERO income creates tax implications for athletes, and Hook Sports offers tax and accounting services to its clients. Hook’s standard contract is accessible online and asks athletes to keep their first $1,000 of ZERO income, while HSM takes a 10% cut thereafter.
The company also acts as a liaison with UVa’s athletic department compliance staff. The problem is, in the absence of federal standards, variable state laws, and an NCAA neutralized by the courts, no one knows exactly what the NIL rules are.
“We know the Wild West was eventually settled,” Royer said. “A sheriff came to town, and there were states and governments, and we look forward to the day when there will be more reliable police and clear instructions. Part of our job right now is to make assumptions and try to be really, really good at it. …
“It was really something interesting and transformative. … I think it’s a fascinating area that we’ve only just opened the doors to.
Greg Madia of The Daily Progress contributed to this report.