Personal finance

Top College Athletes Strategize How to Turn Their ‘Brand' Into Financial Gains With New Sponsorship Deals


Aliyah Boston, a 20-year-old star forward for the top-ranked University of South Carolina women's basketball team, was set on making some impressive financial moves off the court in the off season.

She signed a deal with fast-food chain Bojangles — and got paid.

"Someone asked me about basically doing a promotion for the new chicken sandwich that came out," said Boston, a communications major, who then made a video and Instagram post.

It was just the beginning. Many companies have since reached out to her about sponsorships and endorsements. She decides when to say yes.

Boston is among a growing number of college athletes with more opportunities than ever to partner with companies and profit from the use of their name, image and likeness.

At a special NCAA convention on Monday, delegates discussed making major changes to its constitution — including supporting college athletes getting paid for "NIL" activities, like autograph signings, endorsements and personal appearances. Before an interim policy went into effect July 1, the NCAA — the body that regulates college athletics - had long denied athletes those rights.

"NIL is like a bonus for us," Boston said. "It's a way for us to show off our brand and what we're all about."

More than half of the 16-player team has NIL deals, said University of South Carolina head coach and Women's Basketball Hall of Famer Dawn Staley. "Some of them have some lucrative deals, and some of them are just being influencers."

Yet with new opportunities come new challenges to make sure students avoid financial missteps. Staley, who has coached the South Carolina team for 13 seasons and played in the WNBA for eight years, shared this motto on Twitter: "Be a business. Be a brand. Be on the lookout for Uncle Sam!"

NFL linebacker Brandon Copeland agrees that not being aware of the potential tax hit on this newfound income is one of the biggest possible pitfalls for players — in college and the pros.

Copeland, a member of the CNBC Invest in You Financial Wellness Council, said it's time for students to create a financial game plan.

"I need all those college athletes who are about to make those checks and about to make that money to understand how your money works, and put a budget in place — so you don't get caught without the right amount of money to be able to pay that tax bill," said Copeland, who teaches a personal finance course at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania during his off season.

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Several colleges and universities are partnering with wealth advisors and independent advisory firms to offer financial education to student athletes and their families to help them make practical and prudent money moves. Altius Sports Partners, which has contracts with 13 schools, is working with Morgan Stanley to provide financial resources to students.

The advisory firm doesn't broker deals for student athletes, but serves as a resource, said Altius Sports CEO Casey Schwab.

"We feel very strongly that we're able to educate more objectively and more fully because we don't have an economic stake in one deal over the other," he said. "When they call and say, 'Hey, I have this opportunity. What questions should I ask?', we are like the on-demand resource for athletes at our schools."

Sandra Richards, who leads Morgan Stanley's Global Sports and Entertainment business, has nearly 200 financial advisors who work exclusively with celebrities, professional athletes — and, more recently, college players, too. She said providing financial education is a winning strategy for young athletes' ultimate success.

"They have access, more access than those that came up in the past, to really elevate and leverage the opportunities in front of them," she said.

Penn State offensive lineman Caedan Wallace, pictured with his father, is currently juggling deals with a car dealership and athletic apparel store.
Wallace family
Penn State offensive lineman Caedan Wallace, pictured with his father, is currently juggling deals with a car dealership and athletic apparel store.

Penn State offensive lineman Caedan Wallace, 21, is currently juggling deals with a car dealership and athletic apparel store. The communications major said he's been leaning on his father for advice and plans to put the money he has earned toward long-term goals.

"I see myself in the next few years starting to invest a lot," he said.

Track and field star turned TikTok influencer Matthew Boling has racked up millions of views on social media. With more than 1 million followers, he grabbed the attention of a major brand — Taco Bell. The 20-year-old University of Georgia business marketing major wouldn't disclose the terms, but said this first deal has been a game changer.

"It's just fun to be a part of it and be able to eat some tacos," he said, adding he's excited to be able to make money for the first time. He is working with financial advisors and his father to help manage new income and new opportunities.

"I do feel like the CEO of my own brand," he said.

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