Tuesday October 3, 2023

Why Wisconsin’s NIL Collective Ran a Times Square Billboard

  • Head football coach Luke Fickell has The Varsity Collective thinking with national ambitions.
  • The collective also took out billboards in the hometowns of six early enrollees.
John Lamparski/Getty Images for The Varsity Collective
Front Office Sports Today

NBC Could Get In On College Football Playoffs

NBC is exploring broadcasting a slice of the expanded CFP in 2026.
Listen Now
October 3, 2023 | Podcast
Copy Link
Link Copied
Link Copied

When The Varsity Collective launched in September — notably later to the game than many other NIL collectives — it wanted to do things differently. With the large majority of college athletes not going pro in sports, the NIL collective for the University of Wisconsin placed a heavy emphasis on preparing athletes for life after college rather than just paying them in the moment.

After the high-profile hire of head football coach Luke Fickell, though, Varsity wanted to advertise those values nationally and locally — doing so in style on National Signing Day.

The collective purchased a 15-minute block on a video billboard in Times Square to showcase the football team’s 13 transfers and six early enrollees, welcoming them to the program and showing that Wisconsin is serious about becoming a national contender under Fickell.

“A day that always kind of belongs to Alabama, Ohio State, and now Neon Deion [Sanders of Colorado], we kind of to some degree owned that day,” Varsity executive chair Rob Master told Front Office Sports. “It was meant to be a PR-driven day to plant the flag that the Badgers are a national program. We are sleeping giant, and we’re here now.”

While college athletes have appeared on billboards on behalf of brands before — and even in Times Square — this is believed to be the first time a collective has advertised this way to showcase its school’s athletes. Varsity paid the athletes to post about the billboard on their social channels, according to Master.

Varsity didn’t stop in New York City; it also took out billboards for the six early enrollees in their hometowns.

  • Jace Arnold (Marietta, GA)
  • Jonas Duclona (Naples, FL)
  • Tyler Jansey (Batavia, IL)
  • Cole LaCrue (Broomfield, CO)
  • Jordan Mayer (Jefferson Hills, PA)
  • Braedyn Moore (Hamilton, OH)

“You have this idea like, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be great if Wisconsin led the way and put the players on the billboard?’” says Jeff Powers, a marketing professional, and UW alum who helped secure the billboards in Times Square and the local communities. “It’s cool for that community; it’s cool for every football player that played at that high school. It’s a way to look up and see where you can go and where you came from.”

Wisconsin NIL Collective Enlists Russell Wilson to Mentor Athletes

The collective is trying to differentiate itself from competitors.
September 8, 2022

The Badger football program has gone into overdrive since Fickell’s arrival: The former Cincinnati head coach has attracted several high-profile transfers, including quarterback Tanner Mordecai (SMU) and wide receiver CJ Williams (USC).

The school’s first and only NIL collective has followed suit — and has gotten complete buy-in from Fickell.

“He came in and had a very specific perspective on NIL and collectives,” Master says. “And the good news is it was very much aligned with our mission and our vision.”

That vision is not just to get sponsorship deals for football players at local businesses — though it’s done that too; it encourages all athletes at the school to participate in charitable work and educate themselves for the future.

“We consider ourselves a purpose-driven collective,” says Master. “We serve all 800-plus athletes across 23 sports with two objectives. One is to maximize NIL for this moment in time for athletes for the four or five years they’re going to be in college. And then two is to help prepare them for the game of life.”

Copy Link
Link Copied
Link Copied

What to Read

An advocacy group is filing an NLRB case against the Ivy League over athlete compensation.

Advocacy Group Files Federal Labor Charge Against Ivy League

It’s the latest in a flurry of NLRB cases over amateurism.
The Colorado Buffaloes played in the most-watched game of Week 5.

Colorado Ratings Bonanza Continues Despite Two Consecutive Losses

The Buffs’ least-watched game this season was still the most-watched this week.
NBC is interested in media rights to the expanded College Football Playoff.

NBC Is Interested in Expanded College Football Playoff Media Rights

NBC is one of the networks pitching the CFP, a source confirmed.
College football is taking over Saturday night.

How College Football’s Biggest Games Took Over Saturday Night

Network competition and West Coast storylines helped college football stage a coup.
podcast thumbnail mobile
Front Office Sports Today

NBC Could Get In On College Football Playoffs


Featured Today

Football analyst and PFF investor Chris Collinsworth talks to man in front of computers

Cris Collinsworth 'Lost a Lot of Sleep' Over Pro Football Focus Leadership Issues

New book details why it’s no longer a “happy place to work.”
October 2, 2023

MLB Attendance Surges 70 Million, Tops League Projections

League posts best year-over-year increase at the gate since 1993
Levi's Stadium
October 2, 2023

49ers Study Shows Benefits of Public-Private Stadium Deals

Levi’s Stadium has generated more than $2 billion per new study.
Formula 1 drivers in a pack at the start of the Montreal Grand Prix
October 1, 2023

Apple Reportedly Making Push For Global Formula 1 Rights

The tech giant could offer $2 billion a year for the rights.


Powered By

Careers in Sports

Looking for a new job? Check out these featured listings and search for openings all over the world.
Chicago Cubs
New York
Tri Star Sports and Entertainment Group, Inc.
USA - Multiple Locations

Colorado Football's $14M Ticket Revenue Surge Amid Revival

Revenue from single-game ticket sales has tripled from 2022.
September 29, 2023

Colorado Has Become the Hollywood of College Football. This Weekend Proves It.

Folsom Field will welcome dozens of Hollywood stars on Saturday.
September 28, 2023

Big 12 Entries Boosting Tickets, Merch For New Members

BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF joined the Big 12 in July.
September 28, 2023

Prime Effect: Colorado Athletics Sponsorship Revenue Up 42%

The Coach Prime impact is hitting all areas of the athletic department.
Michigan State terminates Tucker's deal with cause amid sexual harassment allegations.
September 27, 2023

Michigan State's Firing of Mel Tucker Saves University $80M

MSU terminates deal with cause amid sexual harassment allegations.
September 27, 2023

AAC Commissioner Open To CFP Format Change, Just Not Yet

Mike Aresco is not ready to vote for CFP structure changes.
A general view of Reser Stadium before a game between Oregon State Beavers and UC Davis Aggies.
September 27, 2023

Oregon State Projects 44% Athletics Revenue Loss From Pac-12 Realignment

Oregon St. officials reveal the potentially dire effects of Pac-12 realignment.
September 23, 2023

Up Next For College Football Playoffs: More Change, Money, And ... Streaming?

Many changes are coming to the CFP when it expands to 12 teams.