Months After New NCAA Rules, Florida Gators Athletes Team Up With Gainesville Businesses


For Joshua “Dave” Rittenour, entrepreneur and longtime University of Florida Gators fan, being able to partner with college athletes is more than just a business opportunity.

“I love UF and working with athletes is something I’ve always wanted to do,” said Rittenour. “So for me, partnerships were obvious. “

Rittenour, 26, is the owner and founder of vintage clothing store Florida Gators Dave’s Freshly Used and is one of several owners of a Florida-based business that chose to partner with college athletes after the law on name, image and likeness. , or NIL, has been passed.

The law, which came into effect statewide on July 1, allows college athletes to receive compensation for the use of their name, image and likeness, which was previously prohibited by the regulations of the NCAA.

Until July 1, athletes were prohibited from accepting any compensation from organizations on the basis of their sporting status, nor were they able to promote brands or companies to organizations. for profit in any way. Now, varsity athletes are allowed to partner with any participating organizations that may choose to engage with athletes for their advertising potential. This means that small local businesses like Dave’s Freshly Used can connect to their hometown roots through the athletes who represent it.

“It’s a great business opportunity for me, but it’s also a great opportunity to support the athletes that I partner with and who represent the Florida Gators. They deserve it too, and I’m happy that we both can get something out of our collaboration, ”said Rittenour.

Lexi Morton, a senior UF lacrosse player and partner of Dave’s Freshly Used, was one of the many athletes who chose to seek out a local company to partner in the area. Morton said she wanted to create a relationship with a company that would be mutually beneficial to herself and the company she represented.

“[Rittenour] Gainesville really cares and it shows in his business so I really wanted to support him and I feel blessed to be able to represent his brand, ”Morton said.

Lexi Morton, 22, is a member of the UF Lacrosse team. She is one of many student-athletes across the state who have chosen to enter into a business partnership after the NIL Act came into effect on July 1. (Grace Blair / WUFT News)

Rittenour said he had seen a definite acceleration in business since partnerships were formed with athletes like Morton. Dave’s Freshly Used is primarily an online store that occasionally hosts pop-up stores throughout the state.

Rittenour said he gives athletes free coins from his shop and in return, they then post photos and ads on their social media pages that showcase his items and business. He said many people think of the benefits NIL agreements bring to athletes, but it is often unclear how partnerships are useful for businesses as well.

“I notice that when these athletes post photos in my gear or tag me in stories, I get a lot of subscribers and website buys immediately after,” Rittenour said. “It shows that when people say the Gator Nation is everywhere, it really is everywhere.”

Vale Food Co. is another Florida-based company that has partnered with athletes across the state since NIL law.

Joab “Jojo” Francois, a track athlete at Florida State University, was one of the many Florida athletes who chose to partner with Vale. Francois, a 20-year-old sociology student, said the decision to partner with a local business was unintentional, but that he’s happy to be working with a small business because it allows him to build better relationships. with its members that it could with a national company or online only.

“The team behind Vale are always able to respond to me very quickly and provide me with many products and benefits in person as this is a Florida based group that only has a handful of athletes. to think about, ”François said.

Francois said he found the partnership opportunity at Vale through the sponsored ads other athletes posted on their social media accounts, which drew him to the company and ultimately to form a partnership with the group.

Sunny Ilyas, owner and CEO of Vale Food Co., said the partnerships are a welcome support group that he believes is helpful to a local business.

“It’s still a little too early to see any big financial effects,” said Ilyas, “but the brand awareness that athletes and their social media have helped bring is a huge thing because now more people know what it is. ‘is Vale and what it is About. “

Ilyas, 30, founded Vale Food Co. in 2014 while living in Tallahassee. The company has since grown to have six different locations throughout Florida. Ilyas said he believes the partnership with athletes is bringing his local business into a niche for growth.

“Maybe we can become the Gatorade of food,” Ilyas said.

Meanwhile, some local businesses are choosing to refrain from forming partnerships so early in the existence of the NIL Act.

Keith Miller, owner of Big Mill’s Cheesesteaks on Northwest 13e Street in Gainesville is one of the many local business owners who have yet to use the marketing strategy. Miller, 53, said he felt he didn’t know enough about the law to be comfortable partnering with athletes.

“The most important thing for me is still not to be familiar with this,” Miller said. “I’m not sure I fully understand the rules, but it is definitely an opportunity that I will consider in the future. I’m not trying to lose a fortune on something that I don’t quite understand yet.

Big Mill’s Cheesesteaks is one of many small businesses in the state that have yet to form sports partnerships. (Grace Blair / WUFT News)

Thanks to college athletes, businesses now have a way to advertise more effectively than traditional advertising methods or regular social media activities. Elizabeth “Lissy” Calienes, director of the professional masters program and lecturer in UF’s advertising department, said having members of a community promoting a business rather than a celebrity or public figure non-local can be extremely effective.

Calienes said this can play a big part in why companies have had some success with supporting athletes on social media.

“The more authentic an influencer can be with their audience, the better the potential of an ad,” Calienes said. “When it comes to athletes involved in a community or a school, the authenticity transfers to their support for the business.”

Kevin Camps Sr., Creative Media Director for UF Football, said many athletes choose to represent small local businesses for reasons other than personal gain, which will likely bring big profits to those businesses in the future. . He said that a good partnership can be beneficial for both the athlete and the company if there is compatibility between the brands that both parties are trying to build for themselves.

“Some famous athletes just want to support their hometown or their friends with a small startup, while other athletes just like the company they partner with,” Camps said. “If it’s relevant to both parties – if it’s a good relationship – it works for everyone.

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