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Brand Squad assisting athletes in creating their own brands

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Media Contact: Terry Tush | Director, Marketing and Communications | 405-744-2703 | terry.tush@okstate.edu

A group of Spears School of Business marketing students are teaming up with Oklahoma State University athletes to assist them in creating opportunities to brand themselves and take advantage of the Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) rules implemented by the NCAA.

The Brand Squad — the brainchild of Dr. Maribeth Kuzmeski, assistant professor of professional practice in Spears Business — is a group of marketing students who volunteered to advise and educate Cowboy and Cowgirl athletes. The purpose is to find ways to help the student athletes generate deal opportunities, assist with their social media presence and work on ideas to monetize their name, image and likeness.

“I was preparing to teach the new class, Personal Branding – Name, Image and Likeness, and realized that the new NIL rules are really complex,” said Kuzmeski, who has run her own marketing firm for the past 20 years. “There are so many things that the athletes should be doing, but they’re not marketing experts, and we shouldn’t expect them to be. It occurred to me that we should pair our best marketing students, who would love to help out, with the student athletes.”

Cowgirl basketball player Tori Garza is one of those taking advantage of the resources provided by Spears Business students. A freshman from New Caney, Texas, Garza was pleased when Kuzmeski shared with her and about 50 athletes at last fall’s initial meeting that the new NIL legislation could benefit student athletes.

Kuzmeski says student athletes do not necessarily have the time or resources to capitalize on their notoriety which is exactly what Garza was struggling with as she began her collegiate playing career.

“That was just confirmation that the Brand Squad is necessary,” Kuzmeski said. “Here’s a really great recruit that’s now a freshman here, and she wants to take advantage of NIL. She has followers but she doesn’t know what to do, so our marketing students can offer advice and direction.”

Garza had nearly 250,000 TikTok followers (it has since grown to more than 286,000 followers) and was already receiving a monthly check from the video-focused social media company, but she realized she was missing out on other opportunities. She was paired with two Brand Squad members, Eden McCormack and Maddie Nicholson, who have begun educating and advising her as she attempts to monetize her name, image and likeness through sponsorship and branding opportunities.

She began posting videos four years ago as a sophomore in high school but it wasn’t until the end of her junior year that her popularity exploded when Garza and her best friend dressed up for homecoming. “We did a transition from before and after, with the makeup, hair and our outfits, and everyone loved it. I got a lot of exposure from that video,” said Garza, who saw her followers increase from 20,000 to 70,000 almost overnight.

A TikTok video from her high school prom last May got 3.3 million views and another one in which she catches a football with one hand topped out at more than 5 million views.

“I’m relying on TikTok but I’m hopeful that the Brand Squad can help me with some other opportunities,” Garza said. “I think once I get my first brand deal, more brands will come.”

Kuzmeski says the partnership between the Spears Business students and OSU athletes is a win-win for everyone.

“One, obviously we want to help the student athletes and we want to show measurable results for the student athletes,” she said. “Two, we think it’s really beneficial to our students who are getting on-the-job training, and it also provides credibility for the Spears School of Business.”

Students must apply and be accepted into the Brand Squad, and also complete Kuzmeski’s Brand Squad Training course before being paired with student athletes.

“These are our top marketing students, along with professors, who are providing assistance,” said Kuzmeski, who emphasizes that the students must be knowledgeable in the following areas before being paired with an athlete: 1, trained in general branding and social media guidelines , 2, understand and follow the University’s policies, 3, adhere to confidentiality and confidentiality rules, and 4, understand and follow all OSU and NCAA compliance rules.

The Brand Squad started with just a handful of marketing students, but Kuzmeski says it is already growing.

“We started with 10 students and now have over 60 in the Brand Squad, and I expect this number will continue to grow,” she said. “Right now, we have a student athlete join us almost every day so we will continue to grow to meet the need. We think this is good for the student athletes, good for our marketing students and good for the Spears School.”

To learn more about the Brand Squad, visit the group’s website: https://www.brandsquad-osu.com/.

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