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From pickles to T-shirts, how St. Louis brands are putting cash in the pockets of college athletes

Companies say letting college athletes earn income from their name and image is effective at reaching one of the most sought-after demographics: young consumers.
Credit: Justin Kelley
Mizzou quarterback Brady Cook has signed several NIL deals with various brands.

ST. LOUIS — Arch Apparel wasted no time at all.

After the NCAA in July 2021 enacted a policy allowing collegiate athletes to cash in on their athletic status, the St. Louis clothing brand knew immediately it wanted to be a player in the emerging marketing opportunity.

"When that decision came through, we immediately had a little powwow and got together to discuss how we wanted to move into that area,” said Aaron Park, owner of Arch Apparel, which specializes in St. Louis-inspired designs. “We were right to it.”

Within a month, the leadership of Arch Apparel, which has three brick-and-mortar locations locally, developed a strategy to add collegiate athletes into their marketing strategy. By mid-August, the company unveiled its “Arch Athletes” program, featuring endorsement deals with eight collegiate athletes. Through the program, the athletes were given Arch Apparel items to promote on social media with a special discount code, recouping 50% of the profit from anything sold using the code.

The NCAA policy shift last year, allowing athletes nationwide to earn income from their name, image and likeness (NIL), reversed long-held policies that prohibited university students from profiting off their status as student-athletes.

Less than a year later, more than two dozen St. Louis-area companies have entered the upstart NIL industry, a figure that is likely low and certain to get significantly larger as the market evolves and gains more clarity.

So far, with one notable exception, St. Louis' largest companies have yet to wade into the NIL space, leaving it the domain of smaller brands like Arch Apparel, whose leaders say such deals give them an opportunity to connect with a broader audience. In particular, small companies say NIL is an effective avenue to reach one of the most sought-after demographics: young consumers.

“I feel most businesses will in one way, shape or form integrate collegiate athletes within their marketing within the next few years because that’s the best way to reach young audiences," said Ashton Keys, co-founder and CEO of Athlytic, a St. Louis-based startup with technology that connects collegiate athletes and brands. "Sports reaches everybody."

Read the full story on the St. Louis Business Journal website.

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