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Barstool, trading cards and $35,000: Inside Nevada athletes' NIL deals

Elijah Cooks
Elijah Cooks was one of four Wolf Pack football players to agree to an NIL deal with the Reno Aces. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

When the NCAA was cornered into allowing college athletes to capitalize on their name, image and likeness in late June, it was the dawn of a new era for amateur sports stars.

At Alabama, quarterback Bryce Young signed NIL deals totaling $800,000 before starting his first game for the Crimson Tide. At Fresno State, twin sisters Hanna and Haley Cavinder turn their massive social media fame into NIL cash, getting their name plastered at New York's Times Square the first day deals were allowed. At Tennessee State, Hercy Miller, the son of rapper Master P, signed a $2 million deal to promote Web Apps America, per his father.

But what about Nevada Wolf Pack athletes?

The Reno Aces announced a partnership with four Wolf Pack football players last week, with quarterback Carson Strong, defensive end Kameron Toomer, linebacker Daiyan Henley and wide receiver Elijah Cooks promoting Aces' Coors Light Thirsty Thursday games on their social media accounts (the compensation was not disclosed). That is one of more than two dozen deals Wolf Pack athletes have struck under NIL agreements.

Nevada Sports Net obtained through a public records request all of the NIL deals Wolf Pack athletes have signed since July 1 (Nevada state law requires student-athletes to report NIL activities to their school). From July 1 through Aug. 10, Wolf Pack athletes agreed to 26 NIL deals, although only two of those deals included a written contract. The majority of the deals include no or minimal compensation, although two deals hit the $20,000 mark or higher.

The university redacted the names of each of the athletes who signed deals, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 and NRS 239.010(3). But the public records request did shed some light on the businesses who have partnered with the Wolf Pack in the first 45 days after NIL rules were legalized.

Of the 26 deals, half were with Barstool Sports. The sports and pop culture blog and social media company, which recently sponsored a Mountain West bowl, launched a Barstool Athletics sponsorship college athlete program. All 13 of the Wolf Pack's deals with Barstool were in exchange for free apparel/merchandise with no financial compensation.

Multiple Nevada athletes, including football players Cole Turner, Devonte Lee and Strong, also agreed to promote Mother of Macros, a local meal prep company. In exchange for social media posts, players have received $250 in online store credit per month and/or 10 percent of each sell that uses their personal coupon code.

Other deals include agreements with TikTok (followers send the athlete gifts); Celsius Fitness Drinks (in exchange for merchandise); clothing company Attitude is Free (in exchange for merchandise; 5 percent commission on personal code); Game Day Training, a baseball hitting company in Vacaville, Calif. (in exchange for $150); electrolyte drink mix Liquid IV (in exchange for merchandise); clothing company Yee Yee Apparel (in exchange for merchandise; commission on personal code); and active wear company ACTA (15 percent commission on personal code).

While those are minor deals in terms of compensation, Nevada athletes have landed some larger agreements, including with trading card companies. One athlete, whose name was redacted, got $35,000 from Leaf Trading Cards signing at $12.50 per card (2,800 cards). Another athlete got $4,000 from Leaf in exchange for signing 2,000 cards. During the Mountain West media days in late July, Strong, who is represented by Fritz Martin Management, discussed NIL deals, specifically with trading card companies.

"Really, the biggest market for guys like us at these school is trading card deals, just signing stuff," Strong told the Idaho Statesman Ron Counts at MW media days. "There are a lot of deals I could do, but if you're signing per card, like $10 per card with one company and $20 per card with another company, it just messes up your marketplace and the more cards you put out there, the less value you have. I'm not taking any deals that are low ball just to make money. That's going to ruin it in the future. I have my standard that I'm going with and that we're working toward, and we're working on some deals right now that are in motion.

"But the only money I'm making right now are my quarterback lessons. I've got some kids that I'm working with. It's fun for me. It's something I was doing before, but now I have my own quarterback training business going and got a few T-shirts for my boys. Working with kids is something I love doing. I used to do it for free. Now I just get a little extra money because I was so broke before and have a few extra dollars for groceries and gas."

While major agreements for Nevada athletes were few and far between in the first couple of weeks of legalized NIL, the early marketplace showed there was money to be had for the Wolf Pack's more marketable athletes. One other big deal has been signed by a Nevada player. Per the public records request, Reno-based Silverwing Development agreed to a $20,000 deal with a Wolf Pack athlete.

"This is an agreement for me to promote new and existing housing projects on all of my social media platforms," wrote the athlete, whose name was redacted. "I will be posting photos and events relating to mostly apartment buildings."

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