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The NIL Economy in Columbus, Ohio

Columbus is embracing NIL opportunities for student athletes

In this episode, I’m joined by Zach Beebe, the co-founder of NIL Management. Based in Columbus, Ohio, NIL Management has secured a steady stream of local deals for Ohio State student athletes, including cars for six football student athletes from one dealership. 

After interviewing Zach for my piece on all of the car deals we’ve seen so far, I asked him to come on and talk more about the NIL economy in Columbus, Ohio. A few cities and schools have stood out to me while reporting on NIL, and Columbus and Ohio State are among them. Zach is at the epicenter of it all, so I wanted to learn more about how local businesses are embracing NIL and how it’s benefitting Ohio State student athletes. 

We chatted about:

  • The opportunities he’s seen student athletes get the most excited about and the strategies they’re building
  • The reception around Columbus to the opportunity to work with student athletes
  • How Zach got a local dealership to give cars to six different student athletes
  • The comprehensive marketing plan he helped build with Coughlin Chevrolet
  • How much content creation a marketing agency like his is having to do with student athletes to maximize deals
  • How he thinks Ohio State has embraced NIL from an athletic department standpoint
  • Opportunities for female student athletes

You can follow Zach on Instagram.

Check out our Car Deal Tracker for all the car deals so far

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Abridged Transcript

Kristi Dosh

Welcome to the Business of College Sports podcast, Zach, so glad to have you. Thanks for spending a little time with us.

So you and I spoke because I was working on a piece that was about all the car deals that we’ve seen so far, and I wanted to talk to you because you had been part of a deal with a dealership that involved six Ohio State student athletes. That was the only one I had seen that had been such a big deal, and then when you and I were chatting on the phone about that, you told me so many interesting things about what you’re doing that I said, “Hey, come on the podcast and talk about this.” Okay, so tell me a little bit about your background, and sort of how you got involved in this space.

Zach Beebe 

I’m from Columbus Ohio originally, and then I went to University of Toledo for college. While I was there, I started my own first venture as a young entrepreneur, and that led me into the music industry. So I was able to work with a lot of high-profile artists, and I’ve always had kind of a passion for management and facilitating and doing things for others while connecting dots.

And I am a true believer in everyone’s brand, it’s just figuring out what that brand looks like. So when I was going back and forth from the University of Toledo to Ohio State, I became very close with a lot of the athletes over the years, and then when I transitioned back to Columbus,  my house was near campus, and it was just kind of a safe space for a lot of these athletes to come watch Monday Night Football, and we’re always grilling and stuff like that, and really creating a true bond and relationship that was more than “Oh cool. You’re an OSU football player, basketball player, etc.” 

So when this opportunity arose, I at this point had a country artist who I’d signed by Jay Z’s Roc Nation, and I was in this full swing of management, and my partner, I met with him. He’s worked with the likes of Logan Paul, Travis Kelce, he’s built some of the biggest brands for these celebrities that we were like, “Look man, we already have these great relationships. This is what we love to do, how can we open up our door a little wider to bring these guys in”? 

And then during COVID, obviously there was a lot of downtime. So I was sitting there, it’s like, boom, NIL management. I gotta buy this domain. So then I got the domain, and then it was just really everything from there. It’s kind of second nature to what we already do, but it was put in hyperspeed right? July 1st hit and it was like, “Okay, go.” But we had a little jump on it, if you will.

Kristi Dosh 

It sounds like you’ve been doing a lot of other things with Ohio State student athletes as well. What are some of the things that when you first started talking to these student athletes, what were the ways they wanted to get involved in NIL from the jump? Because I’ve had a lot of conversations with compliance folks about where they thought people would go and which types of opportunities they would be drawn to, but what have you been hearing from the student athletes you’ve been working with so far?

Zach Beebe

I think we spoke about this first and foremost, they have to be eligible, they have to be compliant. So anything we do we’ve been working with OSU’s awesome team, their legal team, trademarking team, just to make sure before we even spoke about partnerships or deals that we had our ducks in a row. 

We’re OAIC compliant, and all the little things that you have to be. But what was weird is when we were bringing in these athletes, a lot of them really didn’t know. It’s the first thing and for so many years, they were told, “You can’t do this. No, you can’t do that.” 

With NIL being new, there was a need to coach these student athletes up

Beebe Continues:

They were kind of shy to jump in this space, so we really got to coach them up, and the first thing we tell all the guys and or girls, we’re going to be announcing some females to which I’m excited about. But if you want deals, we’re the wrong company for you. We’re here to forge partnerships that will take you from your collegiate career if you get to be able to take that next step on to the next step” 

So we call them partnerships with a purpose. So yeah, when we speak to them, we talk about funnels, we want a great auto dealer, a great food sponsor, and then if they’re interested in stuff like some of our guys are fashion majors, so we really dig into building the brand, their logos, more than just merch. 

It was just kind of interesting because with it being so new, it let us kind of coach the guys up because we’ve already brought in a ton of sponsorship deals for other big celebrities. So just making them understand you have to be authentic to yourself, and also to your consumer and as a partner, because people see through kind of inorganic stuff. If you’re a vegetarian, don’t do a deal with Outback Steakhouse because people are gonna see through that, but we’ll go get you a great vegan option.

Kristi Dosh

What kind of education or conversations have to happen with the local businesses and brands to get them interested in being involved in this (NIL) and working directly with student athletes?

Zach Beebe

Yeah, that’s a great point, and it’s something I don’t even want to say what we’ve had to battle because a lot of these big deals that we’re bringing to the table or partnerships, we’ve been in business with these folks for many years. 

I own OTR Management, it’s a management company that I do social acquisition for. So they already know that if we’re going to align to do something, I have their best interests already in mind. But when it comes to the guys, these are big companies. These bigger national deals we’re about to announce, you’re taking a risk, you’re doing a deal with a 19 or 20-year-old kid, it’s scary, and that’s where we’ve been able to win is because we are the buffer. 

So when we talk to these big agencies out of the UK (United Kingdom), and who run the Hisense or the LoveSac, they feel comfortable in we’re not only doing a partnership with a great athlete, but we’re making sure the deliverables are created. 

We’re making sure if you’re saying, “Hey, we need them to post at 9:30 because that’s our high traffic time.” By 8:30, we’ve already got the post created. We’re already logged in to some of their accounts, and we’re making sure it’s done. So we take a different approach that it’s like you’re doing a deal with NIL management for whoever that athlete is. It helps protect not only the athlete, but protect the business that’s doing the deal.

Kristi Dosh

Let’s talk about the deal that got me in touch with you to begin with, this deal with Coughlin Chevrolet, we’ve got six student athletes (involved in the deal). How do you broker a deal with a car dealership to work with six different student athletes?

The benefits and relationship and give and take relationship between NIL Management’s deal with Coughlin Chevrolet that includes six student athletes

Zach Beebe

Yeah, to be honest, I believe, and I always tell this to everyone, “Look, my bank account’s full of relationships and experiences, money should never be the motivator.” So with Coughlin, we actually did it with coughlincars.com, but we were at their Chevy dealership, we’ve had a long standing relationship with that family. 

So when I approached Christina Coughlin and Al Coughlin, it was like, “Look, we have this amazing opportunity, but if we’re going to do this, how are we going to do it the right way”? 

And of course, it didn’t start out with, “Hey, I need money, and I need six cars.” It was like, “Hey, these are the awesome athletes who we think are gonna pair well with you. What does that look like”? 

So we created what’s called the Coughlin Drive Series. So it’s about on the field, in the classroom and in the community. So with that being said, just because these guys are getting the cars and getting the cash, let’s have purpose, let’s be philanthropic about this. So we’re putting together toy drives where Haskell Garrett is going to be dressed up as Santa Claus. 

Let’s do “Trunk or Treat” where these kids get to come and you’re dressed up in a Halloween costume and doing that kind of stuff and do the brunches. But let’s give back to the community, but at the end of the day, it’s business so we did have to work on what this look like. I mean, that’s a big deal. The six cars and the compensation, so there was a lot of give and take but then again, I think I’ve done business with him for many years to where it was put on my shoulders, and now it’s time to put up or shut up. 

But I believe that much in our student athletes and in my team that we’re going to knock it out of the park and we’re going to set the standard. It’s not just throwing up a picture on Instagram, it’s got to be bigger than that for everyone.

Kristi Dosh

I love that this is a bigger, more well thought out campaign not to say that some of the other car deals that have happened aren’t, but I think the average fan sees it and they see a student athlete driving a car that maybe they can’t even afford, and they think of course everyone thought car deals is what was going to happen especially for quarterbacks that we were going to see these car deals all over the place. And as long as we’ve been talking about NIL, I feel like working with car dealerships has been the example that’s often given out. 

But to do something at this scale, and to have those sort of events planned out and to have that real community tie in, I think it’ll be interesting to watch this deal unfold because it’s not just giving a kid a car and letting him put up an Instagram post, it’s gonna be a lot different than that.

Zach Beebe  

Yeah, and like I said, from the beginning, the partnerships that we’re wanting to forge for these guys, we want it to take them through to the next level. So Coughlin Cars is amazing, they have 12 locations, 13 brands, this is someone that at the end of the season, we know they’re gonna want to re-sign. But hey, if you’re going to the NFL, it’s a big enough company that it makes sense to take that next step, and then also we’ll be able to talk to the Fords’ and the bigger companies to show Haskell or C.J. (Stroud) did this big car deal already. 

They know what it takes, we would love to extend them that offer and then now they have some negotiating power because we’ve set their market value to take them through to the bigger step.

Kristi Dosh 

What are you teaching and talking to the student athletes about as far as how you perform well in these deals? I listen to influencers outside of student athletes, talk about the way that they bring value to the brands that they work with and sort of the extra mile they go and the extra things that they do. People see it and they think, “Oh, you’re getting a car to throw up an Instagram post or whatever.” But being an influencer is more complicated than that. I’ve worked with enough of them. 

So what kind of conversations are you having with them (student athletes) about how they make this valuable for the brand and how they conduct themselves with the brand so that not only they can work with this brand more going forward? 

The marketing plan behind performing well in these NIL deals

Zach Beebe

Yeah, so what’s cool is we sit down with all of our guys and just explain what a good partnership looks like. At the end of the day, there needs to be ROI (Return on Investment). These businesses are doing things to give back to the community, but at the end of the day, it’s a business transaction, and these kids are now CEO’s of their own company that we’ve created their LLC, we’ve gotten their trademarking. 

We have general counsel on board, but we explained to them, that’s why we created the Coughlin Drive Series, because then we’re going to take videos, showing them waking up for practice and all the crazy schedules they have, but making sure we’re getting footage. 

So we have videographers. So it’s a lot on us. We don’t just sign these six car deals or these other big deals, and it’s like, okay, cool, we’ll now figure it out. 

We’ve got a whole content creation team, and we’re sitting there putting in the hours in the editing and doing all that and make sure they show up on time and juggling the practice schedules and all that. But when it comes to partnerships, it’s just like, Look, if these are the deliverables that we all agree on, there’s no excuse that we don’t get this done, and let’s be creative. 

I think the guys are having maybe even more fun than they ever thought they would have, especially with the Hisense. But I think it’s just making them understand, you have to give back but do it in an organic fashion, and what’s nice is they’re so appreciative of the opportunity. 

You see these guys just doing it themselves now, and they’re kind of training themselves as a small business when they’re going into places. They do that because it’s organic, and if Town Hall sees that you truly enjoy it, that opens up a partnership and wow, you just did that yourself, pat yourself on the back. That’s what gets me juiced up. You know what I mean? 

Kristi Dosh

What do you think from a competitive, sort of recruiting standpoint. How has Ohio State embraced NIL so far, and how is that gonna play out in terms of recruiting?

Zach Beebe

This is a huge recruiting tool, if it’s used correctly. We have a very good relationship with a lot of the coaches and they’re excited because for recruiting, you’re going up against big SEC teams, etc, that have been doing kind of this stuff for years, and we told the coaches, “Don’t look at this as a negative thing. We want to be the extension of who you are off the field.” 

Keeping athletes on schedule but also having fun with the entire NIL process 

Beebe Continues:

So we want to keep them on schedule, we let them know when they’re at practice or on that field, they need to be 110%. They shouldn’t be talking brands, they shouldn’t be thinking anything but how can I be the best in the classroom or on the field. But when they get off that field, have fun. Ask the guys, “Hey, what kind of deals are you working on”? “What do you got going on”? 

And now you see the coaches jumping in their truck like man let me check this out. And then when it comes with recruits, we got guys that are coming out of high school that are now  reaching out and stuff like that. If it’s done correctly with purpose, we want to be the best in the United States in showing, laying the blueprint of how we believe it should go, and we believe we’re doing that. And yes, we’re very fortunate. We have OSU in our backyard, who’s always going to have top recruits, but this is going to help for all the right reasons.

Kristi Dosh

So I don’t want to leave female student athletes out of the conversation, and I know you haven’t made any announcements around this, but talk to me more in general about the opportunities you think are available for female student athletes, not just at Ohio State, but in general.

Opportunities for female student athletes

Zach Beebe

We got to speak to the women’s basketball coaches, and they have a little bit of a break before school starts, but what I love too is there are a ton of businesses in Columbus, and we have businesses that love to take the road less traveled, and I was talking to the owner of Town Hall, Bobby George, and you know what I loved is, he wanted to sit down to talk about NIL and he said to me, “Football guys are great, basketball guys are great.” He goes, “I want women’s sports. I want female basketball players, and or gymnasts.” 

We were talking and he’s just like, “Because we want to shed light on how hard they work,” and such a brand they’re building, and I think it’s a shame that I feel like women have to kind of climb this mountain when it comes to sports. 

So for us to wave that flag and figure out how to kick down that door and to get deals that make sense or partnerships, it’s just exciting. Obviously, it’s just a little slower because boom, football season hit–this was announced and then boom, it was football. But yeah, I believe there’s a space there and it’s just there needs to be a space, and hopefully we can forge that path as well.  

Kristi Dosh

How do you think the NIL marketplace evolves from here? What do you think the marketplace looks like?

Zach Beebe

Yeah, to be totally honest, and I won’t speak on this specific deals, but I think there needs to be some sort of regulation in some places, and when you got kids signing million dollar deals, they haven’t been able to experience college life and or go through a lot of trials and tribulations of just becoming an adult. 

And I think that’s going to put a lot of pressure on that kid to feel like, “Damn, I’ve already accepted this cash, I gotta show out.” And I think you’re gonna see a lot of people hopping in the (transfer) portal to try to go make that happen. I think you’re also internally going to see a lot of people staying for longer in college because now they’re being able to make six figures or more before they even need to go to the NFL. 

I think like you said, you’re gonna have a lot of people pop up with their form of their NIL companies which we welcome. There’s enough people to go around or enough partnerships to be forged. But I think it is messy. I think there will have to be a benchmark and just hoping to be on the correct side of that bench.

Kristi Dosh

Do you think brands really understand how to utilize student athletes and how to build a campaign or how to get that ROI, or just come have that happen too?

NIL Management will never be about “Riding Coattails”

Zach Beebe

Yeah and to be totally honest, that’s why we kind of have a competitive advantage because like I said, we’ve been in business for 17 years and NIL management was just a shoot off. 

So when we’re approaching, we’re actually giving them the ideas, and then we’re getting a budget for us to shoot the content and do it because we’re very creative people (my partners and I), and we’re kind of opening their eyes because we tell them this, “We’re not transactional, we don’t want deals, we want long-term partnership season partnerships, we’re not paying, we don’t want $250, we don’t want $1,000 for one swipe up, we want to have our guys going behind the counter making that sushi roll that they’re naming this and picking out their ingredients and having great content that we want to actually post.” 

So a lot of times I just find myself pulling something out of my backside that’s like, “Wow, this is amazing.” But we actually have to execute and it’s people that are gonna be jumping in the NIL game. Look, we brought in a very substantial amount of money since July 1st, but it’s not a get rich quick, you have to bust your ass to make sure it’s executed or you will ruin the NIL marketplace in your given area. And you’re gonna find people that want to ride coattails, and they’re gonna ride coattails and they’re gonna use a kid as a paycheck. 

And what’s gonna happen is those guys are gonna fade away, they’re gonna take their percentage of this kid’s money, that kid’s gonna be stuck with a breach of contract, and it’s gonna be sad. It won’t be any of our guys, I will put it to you that way.

Kristi Dosh

What’s your advice if there’s a student out there listening who just thinks this all sounds so interesting, and wants to figure out where they fit in the ecosystem. Do you have any advice for skills they can learn or things they could look into to get involved in this space and add some value?

Zach Beebe

I think if you’re willing to take the leap, invest in yourself, truly invest in yourself and take that leap. Because it’s just an exciting one (leap), and it’s very scary as well. I will say this. It’s very flattering and exciting, but you are dealing with something–to jump into your first kind of experience to be this one, or management, like I’ve cut my teeth for 15 years now with some of the biggest artists on such a huge scale where you learn a lot over that time. 

My only thing is, be like a sponge. If you want to go in and intern, start with helping out with events and just start soaking up that kind of knowledge. But before you bite off too big of a chew, or you know a piece, really understand being responsible for some of these guys that aren’t even 18-19 years old, you’re dealing with their parents, you’re dealing with attorneys in a big sum of money. 

Just be very smart in knowing what you’re not good at and putting the correct team around you. Because in life, it’s way better to know what you’re not good at than to know what you’re good at, and then place the correct people around you. So I like when people are real to me. Like, Zach, this is not going to be the easiest thing, but we know you can do it. So I could be all rainbows and sunshine but just jump in and start your own NIL company and “go go go.” But just realize that you’re dealing with something that it’s either you give 110% or you need to let someone else take the steering wheel.

Kristi Dosh

I think athletic departments are going to start hiring more people who have NIL specific job titles and responsibilities around not just compliance but education. 

Because a lot of athletic departments are really overwhelmed by this, but they want to provide education and resources to assist their student athletes with this, they just weren’t really ready for it. They thought the NCAA was going to handle things a little differently than they did, and so a lot of schools have had to spend time putting together their institutional policies and figuring out compliance software and that sort of thing, 

So I think there’s a lot of opportunity there, and it’s just been really neat to see to how many student athletes got involved in business ventures around this that are involved with some of the marketplaces and platforms out there, really has created sort of its own little economy, and it’s been fun to watch. And you sort of even have your own little micro economy happening right there in Columbus with how much you’re doing with Ohio State and around Columbus.

Zach Beebe

And it’s kind of been crazy because now of course, you are contacted by NFL agents, you have the agents that are above and all this stuff, and it’s really kind of cool because we’re being able to put a little safety net around these guys and kind of protect them. 

I mean, this is all the realities. I grew up with I told you Ezekiel Elliot and Evan Turner’s where they came and became some of the highest paid guys, but at the end of the day, they get a flat tire, we were figuring out how we were going to pay for a $115 flat tire.

But like you said it’s very exciting. It’s going in the correct direction, but with us being able to be kind of that safety net to put them in the best possible position and they’re not starving for cash because now we have an influx and we’re explaining what holdings companies are. “Hey, let’s hold 30% back for  taxes and unforeseeable.” Here’s kind of like an allowance of what are all your bills? But anything that they need like groceries or any of that, now we’re doing deals to where they’re allotted. We just did a big Clean Eatz deal, and they’re getting 10 meals a week, for three of our top guys for the entire season. Do you know how huge that helps these guys? 

I mean, one, it keeps them healthy because it’s portion controlled so we’re helping locally owned business which we could have done a bigger deal with a non local owned business not anything against national companies, but we like to give back to Columbus locally owned, but like I said, I mean, it’s just exciting. 

Kristi Dosh

Anything coming up with your company or any of your student athletes, you want to tease or tell us a little about what can we watch out for?

Zach Beebe

We’re getting excited to announce a couple cool deals, and then we’re gonna take it to a whole other level and how we’d press conferences are done, ESports, we got a couple cool things up our sleeves that I think will help set the benchmark for actually the nation just OSU.

Kristi Dosh

FSo as we hear about new things, hopefully, I’ll be able to put them on the Business of College Sports Website. I’ll come back and even update the show notes. But thank you for sharing a little more about what you’ve got going on there in Columbus and our in the show notes to the piece have already written about the car deals, and hopefully we’ll be able to share more with people thanks for joining us and chatting about this.

Zach Beebe 

Yeah, thank you. You’re amazing. And I know you’ll continue to grow and grow and I just hope we’re a part of that and it’ll be a great working relationship. But thank you so much for your time.

Thanks to my intern Will Whitmore for assistance with this episode.

Author

  • Kristi A. Dosh is the founder of BusinessofCollegeSports.com and has served as a sports business analyst and contributor for outlets such as Forbes, ESPN, SportsBusiness Journal, Bleacher Report, SB Nation and more. She is also the author of a book on the business of college football, Saturday Millionaires. Kristi is a sought-after consultant and speaker on topics related to the business of college sports and a former practicing attorney. Click to learn more

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