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UNC NIL store launches, serves as platform for all Tar Heel athletes

Sports-nil-story-feb-2024
Texture courtesy of Adobe Stock

Even with the ability to sign name, image, licensing deals, North Carolina athletes face several challenges if they want to sell merchandise.

UNC football senior linebacker Kaimon Rucker can name a couple: the type of design an athlete wants, creating a logo that will best represent an athlete’s personality, finding a website to drop merch. The list continues.

“Honestly, I feel like the main thing is just getting the plane to take off,” Rucker said.

The UNC NIL Store, which launched on Jan. 16, may help get athletes’ apparel aims off the tarmac. UNC offered the opportunity to all of its athletes. According to its previous press releases on partnering with Temple University and Georgetown University, the NIL store handles numerous operations such as product design, marketing and customer service and is operated by Campus Ink.

Rucker launched his “Ruck the Butcher” merchandise thanks to his former high school football coach and owner of The Champions Locker Room, Greg Gaines. Gaines and his team in Rucker’s hometown ofHartwell, Ga., designs the logos and Rucker approves them.

UNC has offered educational services for other athletes who wish to make merchandise like this. For example, according to Associate Athletic Director Nate Wood, the UNC Law School has provided legal assistance, and UNC's partnersCompass and INFLCR — create several short tutorials on graphic design and scrubbing logos.

“We'll put out the crayons and the paper," Wood said, "But you guys draw."

When the UNC NIL Store launched, athletes already had T-shirts, hoodies and crewnecks with their name and, when applicable, jersey number on the back. Any given item is the same price, no matter the athlete.

Any athlete can now also make custom designs. Wood said Campus Ink plans to select a few UNC athletes it believes will have the biggest impact and help them create designs of their own.

To sell merchandise on the NIL Store, athletes must opt into The Brandr Group licensing agreement, enabling TBG to use an athlete’s NIL for other campaigns. Athletes can, however, opt out of individual campaigns.

Depending on the product, athletes typically receive between $6 and $15 (about 20 percent commission) according to Sean Ellenby, director of NIL Marketing and Communications at Campus Ink.

So far, the feedback has been positive. Wood said he has even received a few inquiries from athletes wondering how to opt into the group licensing agreement.

UNC women’s basketball star Deja Kelly said her agency has been working with the NIL Store. She thinks people would rather buy the hoodies and crewnecks offered by the store than just her replica jersey and tees. Kelly herself loves hoodies, and so far, she’s loved the store’s designs.

“I don't know if I have to buy it or they'll give it to me for free, since it’s my name on it,” Kelly said. “I definitely want some for myself.”

Rucker said he isn’t yet sure whether he’ll bring his custom designs to the NIL Store platform, as he doesn’t want the attention there to overtake The Champions Locker Room. Still, he said the store offers a great opportunity for athletes who don’t yet have a site to sell merchandise.

One such athlete is Anika Yarlagadda, a sixth-year student who had not sold merchandise until the NIL Store launched. Yarlagadda had not dived into NIL, as it had been approved by the NCAA later in her collegiate career. Fanatics, which sells UNC athlete's replica jerseys online, does not offer women’s tennis jerseys — so for Yarlagadda, the NIL Store is a welcome opportunity.

“It's really cool that they're expanding to other sports, because I know basketball and football get all of that,” Yarlagadda said. “And it's really cool to see our names on the back of a jersey.”

Caroline Wills contributed reporting to this story.

@dmtwumasi

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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