Q&A: Peter Iwuh, CEO & Founder of First Black-Owned NIL Marketing Agency

Last Updated on March 3, 2023

Business of College Sports had the distinct pleasure of speaking with Peter Iwuh, Founder and CEO of Tykoon Sports Agency. Tykoon Sports Agency operates as the first black-owned NIL (Name, Image, and Likeness) marketing agency that is revolutionizing the world of college sports marketing. Peter is a graduate of Morgan State University, an HBCU institution in Baltimore. In this conversation, we discuss the inspiration behind Tykoon Sports Agency, HBCU athlete representation within NIL and the lessons he has learned on his entrepreneurial journey. 

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. 

​​BCS: Peter, thank you so much for your time today. I’m excited to learn more about your background and Tykoon Sports Agency. What is Tykoon Sports Agency and the services you all offer?

Peter: Tykoon Sports Agency is the league’s first Black NIL marketing agency. We partner with student-athletes to become world-class entrepreneurs.

We focus on three core services: marketing consulting, which has a wing of brand partnerships. Another aspect and assistance working with artists, working with athletes to creatively express themselves through fashion, would lead to that apparel brand and distribution service. The last part is postgraduate development and advising, where we work with athletes to think about, ‘where they will be outside of their athletic journeys, whether it’s pro or not, whether it’s an entrepreneurial journey or a professional career. Again, we take pride compared to other NIL agencies who may focus on the four years aspect of the athlete.

BCS: With Tykoon Sports Agency, what void are you all aiming to fill within name, image and likeness?

Peter: One of the many is that sense of relatability. As a Morgan State University alum, it is being in classes and on campus with athletes and being able to relate to them having type or for them being able not to fill out something because they have practice or a lot of these other things come up. And then, that also snowballs into just simple communication. We can text, call, FaceTime and talk about business because it’s essential for the athletes to feel comfortable with us, number one, and trust us before we get into business. 

We’re into long-term partnerships with many of these athletes, and the first thing we want to establish is to trust with being a recent college graduate and being able to relate to balancing the student-athlete part. Many people or agents who skip over these things think about the athlete part and forget they’re students first and then athletes. So there are a lot of things that go into being a student before we even talk about the athletics part. So being a recent grad and somebody who was still a student of the game, that’s something that I’ll forever be able to relate to. 

We have regular casual discussions about communication, understanding, breaking down the business, and how certain things go. Like, I can be on my bed, the athlete can be on the game, and we could just be talking about NIL, and it’s making sense because that’s how bros speak; everyday communication with the athlete is essential.

We want to be a smooth process and smooth process for something that could help the athlete and, in addition, help from a promotional standpoint. Suppose they can even build more relationships or draw more attention to themselves regarding their NIL. Lastly, even when it comes down to the partnership side of things, we both know that partnerships tend to take a while, and even a lot of these companies, I spoke to a company last week. They told me that they were looking for athletes with X followers. Not every college athlete has a hundred thousand followers, but they might have a story that can garner a hundred thousand followers. So it’s thinking about how we put an athlete in a position to tell that story and attract what you’re not seeing right now. I’m a guy who likes to recognize things before they blow up. So right now, the way the NIL space is, it’s really like a numbers game.

The people getting the most significant checks and the most extensive partnerships are the most prominent athletes. But at Tykoon Sports, we believe in creative storytelling, and that’s the value we see in athletes before we talk about their followers; all those things help because we’re primarily a marketing company. But we want to ensure that athletes’ stories are being told. And that’s why we have that apparel. 

These are some goals we’re trying to fill. One thing we take pride in is being a one-stop shop. We can do the brand deals and be a student and watch colleagues get brand deals and talk about them. How long did it take? We’re already going into this business, from vetting to selection. The payment process could take an extended amount of time, and some of these athletes have one semester left, or they’re probably in grad school. They don’t have too much time, so they need to be able to monetize their NIL right now. 

Peter Iwuh

BCS: One of the things that stood out to me was the storytelling piece and leveraging an athlete’s story. How important is inclusivity regarding NIL deals?

Peter: It’s essential because these are things that people will eventually realize as the HBCU community starts to get the spotlight and shine the resources that will come. Even though we’re not the most prominent schools, being one of those pioneers when speaking to people who may not be getting the spotlight right now is what we take pride in.

Eventually, it’ll be time to tell these stories regardless. You can’t leave us out of this story. If you don’t put us in the story initially, you will put us at the end. So Tykoon sports would be there because we were there from the start. So that is finding that value while it’s early, whether educating athletes, letting them know that NIL exists, and communicating how they can get involved. Everybody knows about NIL; what do I mean? Somebody probably came and presented about it; some partner just signed the whole team. So again, it’s starting the conversations for the HBCU community and having conversations like this to spread the awareness that HBCU athletes exist and will continue to exist.

You are drilling down to the authentic piece of an athlete, which is a story like Instagram or Facebook. You can’t accumulate an athlete’s story. An athlete is the only person that can tell that story. From an execution standpoint, identifying brands that align with that vision and then sourcing the ones that may be in the middle and may still need to see it brings everything together. So many of us may say it, talk about it and think about it, but only some will do it.

BCS: A good portion of NIL deals came through influencer marketing. Instagram, Facebook and TikTok are moving forward from a Gen Z standpoint. What best practices do you encourage with the athletes you represent when leveraging social media?

Peter: That’s one of the things that we take pride in as well. Being a marketing company and having a lot of experience in the marketing background is, really, from the first point of conversations. And even when we speak to athletes from a discovery call standpoint, one of the first things we discuss is why we even believe NIL. We talk about how athletes are one of the most extensively followed niches on social media and how social media and athletes’ platforms play a role in social impact. So with that being said, most of the athletes who end up working with us already have an idea of the type of conversations we will have,  the involvement of social media, and the role that social media plays in their NIL career.

Another partnership we’re working with currently under development is with a company called Gen Z Agency. They are an influence and marketing agency with a NIL influencer education department. So all Tykoon sports athletes will have the opportunity to participate in workshops to emphasize influencer marketing and how athletes can go from athlete to influencer and increase their value there because you don’t want just to box themselves as an athlete because many of these people are not just athletes. They have passions that can help them bring monetization opportunities and other aspects of life that this partnership is supposed to help these athletes understand and execute.

Before we initiate a partnership, once we onboard an athlete, we have them fill out a questionnaire where they tell us their favorite hobbies, favorite skincare products,  favorite hair care products, their favorite food brands, their favorite movies, their favorite artists, just so we can get a feel of the type of athlete, and the opportunities that exist for them — and then drilling it down to what kind of social media content exists from some of the answers they give us. So with that being said, our team provides content propositions that incorporate their personal life. A little bit of the athletic part too, but content propositions can showcase who the athlete is as an individual and as a personal brand, even before getting into the athlete conversation. And that’s something that we work hand in hand with the athlete. We also connect with content creators on campus to bring some of these things to life.

BCS: Regarding the sports landscape, before LeBron entered the NBA, he was the first person to come to the forefront and show everyone that athletes are more than just what they do on the field or the court. We can also eliminate the notion if you didn’t make it to the league before that time. It was like, man,? What am I going to do now? 

What I like about Tykoon Sports Agency is its understanding of that post-grad development from a professional side. So even if your client doesn’t necessarily reach the next level, they can become entrepreneurs, build brand relationships, and establish partnerships. 

From your perspective, how important is maintaining relationships beyond having this agency when the athlete is in school?

Peter: Exactly, I love that question. It just ties back to our motto to turn student-athletes into world-class entrepreneurs. So, at the end goal, we want them to be professionals or entrepreneurs. So we don’t just want to have a student-athlete who we succeed, and after everything, this athlete is nowhere to be found. Do you know what I mean? And that’s what sparked the idea of Tykoon Sports for me. It was one of the first things we knew we would offer because I was conversing with student-athletes considering illegal means of making ends meet. 

So, it’s not a thing of persuading them. I’m big on solutions: what’s the answer to the evident problem here of a student-athlete not being able to balance those two roles? So, again, student-athlete needs to be dug deeper to understand the student part. And that is a student-athlete and not an athlete student for a reason. They’re students first. So I think, again, understanding that standpoint, whereas, like, I’m already in class with you, so I know that this class stuff, we’re in school, so we have to get the school stuff done, so ain’t nothing too much we can do about that, but now you’re an athlete, what can we do about that? So, now there’s NIL, and solutions are already becoming available to athletes like that.

When these athletes fall in situations where they’re not able to go pro, if they decide to go into some entrepreneur route, they may open options for another angle of collaboration. I think exists when it comes to that side of things, when I look at my personal experience and how I’ve leveraged my marketing career in terms of affiliating with job placement programs that already have companies who are agreed to hire students. So a group of companies who understand these athletes may be interested in sports media or reporting or doing something to be involved in sports, or it may not. However, there are other ways that we can still utilize.

And the thing is, it’s happening in the pro field too. You see football players coming to the media side and basketball players coming to the media side. So what’s the difference on the college side? It’s still all sports, you know? So I think just bringing that to light is very near and dear to my heart because, again, I see a lot of these things as long-term relationships, relationships with human beings of different skills, outside of sports, that might be like the introductory conversation, exposing them and having conversations of like, how can we sharpen these skills outside of sports from a career or entrepreneur standpoint? As a person in business, it’s important to me.

BCS: I like what you mentioned when you look at professional athletes. Everyone has a platform. Everyone has a podcast. College athletes also have podcasts that test their media skills. As we move forward and as NIL expands, young kids will want to be athletes now because of your relationships with brands, the story development and the many avenues you can go into because you’re an athlete. 

I read that you worked with both Sony Music and Disney. What were some of the critical lessons you learned from those experiences that shaped you into the CEO you are today?

Peter: I spoke earlier about how a whole group can identify a problem. Identifying a feasible solution is, again, what I think a lot of these companies do very well, which is why you don’t hear about them foreclosing, or you don’t hear about shutting down; there’s some solution that goes into it—a lot of planning and risk management. For example, when Tykoon Sports launched last month, the planning process took a year and some change.

That’s something that I took especially from, especially from some of the Fortune 500 companies. They’re planning for the next ten years, they’re planning the team structure for those things. They’re planning the marketing strategy for these things. They’re already doing a competitor analysis for these things. They’re already conducting introductory conversations with potential partners. And those are the things that, especially with Tykoon Sports, I learned a lot because I could feel all right. When I first heard of NIL, I stepped back and watched the market instead of jumping in. 

BCS: I agree that taking your time with the process is vital. You never know who could read this. It could be a college student who is like, I’m thinking about starting their marketing agency. I believe that what you said is critical because the sports landscape, whether it’s NIL, whether it’s different aspects of players getting involved businesses outside of what they do on a day-to-day, it’s evolving so fast. So when you have individuals that wanna jump into the industry, they don’t necessarily take that time to say, hey, okay, let me take a step back and see what’s working.

What are people doing? What are the void or the spaces that I can feel? Or, that time is crucial because they have one time to make a first impression, right? And how you’re, how you’re seen in, in the market. So that’s why taking that time, researching, and being intentional is key. Because you don’t want to, things are changing, and you want to be able to adapt to those changes. So you may avoid just coming in in the first wave of, let’s say, NIL, and then a new law changes. And now you’re having to like to reevaluate your entire game plan. So that, that, that time spent planning is, is very important.

Peter: A hundred percent. And that had us in a position to feel comfortable in LA and start reaching out to athletes. Because what we didn’t want to do was get the athletes part and then don’t know what we were going to do next. But I don’t know, kind of actions. Cause that’s what I’ve seen in different agencies that will have 20 athletes. What are they doing? We don’t know. Do you know what I mean? So, like, we don’t want to be that kind of agency. So we took a lot of time to plan the opportunities or l what these competitors are doing that we can refine; one of the things that I was looking out for a lot was whether any of our competitors were even talking about post-grad or any of that.

That was something I didn’t see too much. We might need to start thinking about launching sooner or later because we’re in a good spot where we have an offering right now. Even with the non-exclusive stuff, I’m still talking to players trying to get out of deals they didn’t know about with NIL, the rights, at the time of timing versus how they do now. There are certain times that I’m glad because, at the time, everybody was doing exclusive deals; I would’ve wanted to do exclusive deals. I am so happy I got to watch and see what deals athletes would prefer to understand later. At least,  we’re just watching, and seeing how we can adapt to this quickly is the fact that many players prefer for their partners to be available at games physically. 

I’ve spoken to many players who had expressed scenarios where they worked with an agency for two years and never came to my game. So, how can we put ourselves in a position and implement representatives in different parts of the country to represent us at games? Even if it’s not physically me as a CEO, you will catch me at some games, but we have to work on the business and not end it. So, it’s just thinking about those things that we take a lot of that, year and some change to investigate, before launching. So, I think it was beneficial for us to kick things off with that method.

BCS: Were there any challenges you faced in building relationships with athletes? Also, what did you learn?

Peter: It’s funny that you asked me that, because I was, I will say, discouraged because I saw that one of our competitors that I was watching very, very closely, they had got like a significant fat investment a robust, big investment. I’m like, they didn’t just get everything they needed to blow us out and swim the whole ocean alone. Like, there’s no space for no other fish in here. And then I’m not a guy who likes fallback quickly, though. So I could be in a, should I do this kind of mindset for five minutes, and then I’ll snap out of it?

Like no, no, no, we came too far to not to do this. So I think, and this kind of also goes back to the planning and the conversations I was having before and what I decided to do once I see, the competitors that got the investment is continue gauging conversations with sports lawyers and compliance officers. Again, just finding pain points and areas where we can develop a bit more of a more prosperous value proposition in comparison to our competitors, being the fact that they are, bringing in significant investments, which they can probably use to further their business and blow out the water, but there’s still always going to be room for improvement.

Analyzing those things and implementing them in our planning and execution is what I believe assisted with overcoming that challenge. But yeah, it was crazy to see the news article, like, dang, they just blew us out of the whole market. But I was like, no, no, they don’t look like me. That was another thing as well, like when I did additional research and noticed that nobody in the space you as a Black man. I needed this to move forward.

BCS: I agree it is a matter of understanding what you bring to the table regarding your talents and gifts when I look at this current space of NIL or sports business and understand that there may be individuals with a different background or look like me. Though I did not start my career in communications or journalism, I did not let that stop me. Instead, I was a person that took the initiative and started my blog and showed my ability to write and create content on my own. I didn’t wait for the “perfect moment,” which pushed me forward. 

What has been your most significant achievement so far with Tykoon Sports Agency?

Peter: That’s a good question. I haven’t thought too deeply about it until now, because I don’t have a super in-depth sports background. I worked at many big companies on the marketing side, it wasn’t in sports directly. It is being able to reach out to people, lawyers, and potential partners. That’s the biggest same thing with athletes, like reaching out to athletes and just going for something that was once an idea. 

Some progress is being made because I like measuring success at this stage. In addition, the improvement from specific outreaches and conversations is a motivational factor that highlights the fact that I have been able to relate to athletes.

Many representatives and I are trying to speak and not giving hints to anybody. I’ve been talking with obviously people who don’t look like us, just going for the truth. So, certain things are taken care of right here. But I think that being a recent college graduate and being a minority-affiliated partner as well as somebody leading this organization, I believe that I am going to get conversations to happen faster, it’s going to get responses more quickly, it’s going to get the willingness to do life-changing opportunities faster. So, many of these things, the confirmation, the answer, the openness to work with us, and the exposure to cover us with people like yourself, are some of the significant wins thus far. But we wish for more that will be coming soon, but I am very proud of people being open to working with us on different scales.

BCS: What is like the key thing or critical piece of advice or, that you can share that will help,  kind of help as far as navigating the space? Because everything revolves around relationships and how you maintain them. And I wanted to talk about the key thing that has allowed you to be successful from a relationship management standpoint throughout your career until now.

Peter: Remaining confident, even though it may sound cliche. Reaching out to a lot of people, people who don’t look like us, people who have way more experience in the sports industry, maybe way easier said than done, but, really just maintaining your confidence and remaining humble. One thing that I have that has been working for me for the most part when it comes to building sports relationships is my outreach to people. Instead of asking for something tangible when there hasn’t been an initial conversation, it’s just reaching out to people and asking for their insight and advice.

Many people love to share insight and feedback, especially if they have it. You’re asking solely for that feedback because, in that same conversation, you get to exchange mindsets and ideas. That can open opportunities for potential collaboration and whatnot. But coming in as a student of the game, especially if you’re coming into a world where you’re not experienced, like how I came in. I

Many of the calls I’ve been having have been launching, creating, creating other relationships, and other referrals or whatnot for conversations that all stumble back down to the fact that I’m just a guy who was a sponge. I need information right now. I don’t need you to do anything for me. Can you give me the news? I should be able to make one or two steps of myself, and we can revisit once progress has been made.

But strategizing your approach to requesting communication plays a significant role in the sports business. Cause a lot of people to want to refrain from speaking to people. Like everybody’s trying to stay at their company, everybody’s trying to get the athletes first. Everybody’s trying to get the schools first. So some people might not see you in another thing whether some more considerable advice is now. What I suggest to another person is being a firm advocate and a person who executes on cooperation. In other words, instead of identifying companies, we looked at them as competition equally. In other words, they may offer the same things you do, or you all might be in a similar space identifying who does what better and just collaborating.

You don’t have to knock heads because somebody does something better or has a better relationship. So really pinpointing who, like, what each other’s strengths are and instead of just clashing, collaborating and, I believe the word is competition. So, competing with people, you would consider competition is something that, not only now but as we continue planning on navigating the industry, will help us get along because we don’t want to compete. We want to reduce as much competition as possible. So, we’d instead partner with you then compete against you because it won’t help anybody. So, I feel like we’re in the same space, but I think you do this better, and we might be able to help you all with this. So how about we talk about partnering in that way as opposed to, well, we do the same thing, so this may not work. And I wouldn’t say I like those conversations because, more than likely, somebody can do something better. So, you have to acknowledge that and develop partnerships out of those realizations.

BCS: In sports, as you said, it’s the most competitive industry, especially on the media side of things. Everyone has their platform. You only see a lot of collaboration. But I think more importantly, what I like to try to position myself is, and in a way, it’s like, okay, if I want to be one of those people, years from now, to be one of those storytellers, I have to be able to get outside of my comfort zone and yeah. And, and network for other people and, and, and, and know them, a little more and see outside of myself. It’s the only way you’re going to expand, and that’s the only way you’re going to be successful is by getting outside of your comfort zone.

Peter: Especially in the sports industry, and especially if you’re new, I mean, you don’t have a choice. Everybody who’s been here 10, 15 years has done the same. That also speaks back to knowing your value of even being Black. A lot of these companies are looking for ways to be diversified and more inclusive. So, if you’re saying, Hey, this collaboration can be good for both of us, but then another multitude of diversified individuals. So I think that, really, and then this is kind of, I guess, speaking on sports and just looking around and it’s a few of us around here, and to some extent, they lead us.

Speaking from a diversity standpoint, it is better to have a diversified company, whether through partnerships or your staff, identifying that value, pitch, and point. As you approach these agencies or as you pro approach these different partners because they want to do what’s best for business. You will progress from many standpoints if you can identify your value and make it best for business . And that’s also what’s been helping us is just knowing that we are, we, as far as I’m concerned, we’re the first black NIL marketing agency, so collaborating with us isn’t going to hurt in any way. If anything, it’ll help. And if you want to talk about those benefits, we can get into that conversation, but from a preamble standpoint, it can only help. Absolutely.

BCS:  Thank you so much for your time, and I know that, from the perspective of Tykoon Sports Agency, there will be a lasting impact, within this industry, even beyond sports. You all are in a great position and understand what effect you all want to have in the foresight to be intentional with relationships and athletes, being a force or impacting their lives beyond sports and when they’re playing. I know you are on the right path, and I much success to you as well. So thank you for speaking with me today.

Peter:  You’re welcome! 

Follow Peter Iwuh on Instagram: @only1guccip

Follow Tykoon Sports Agency @tykoonsports

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