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The abolition of NCAA rules which barred college athletes from using their name, image and likeness to earn money — whether from selling endorsements or merchandise — manifested for the first time on Pitt’s campus this week.
Pitt super-senior quarterback Kenny Pickett became the first Panther to announce an endorsement deal on Thursday afternoon. Pickett tweeted that he is partnering with The Oaklander Hotel on Bigelow Boulevard for his first NIL deal and will treat the offensive line to what he calls weekly “Hog Dinners” at Spirits and Tales, a restaurant on the hotel’s top floor.
For my first NIL deal, I want to make sure I can take care of the big guys who take care of me. I’m excited to announce my association with the Oaklander Hotel & their restaurant, Spirits & Tales, where I will be treating my linemen to our weekly Hog Dinners! #OaklanderPartner pic.twitter.com/hek0x0ujB3
— Kenny Pickett (@kennypickett10) July 15, 2021
“I’m excited to announce my first NIL deal in association with The Oaklander Hotel and their restaurant, Spirit and Tales,” Pickett said in a 37-second ad. “I’ll be able to treat my linemen to a meal at our weekly Hog Dinners. My guys deserve the best.”
Perry Ivery, general manager of The Oaklander, said the terms of the deal were very straightforward. No money will be exchanged and there’s no requirement for Pickett to regularly post on social media endorsing the hotel. Simply, the reward for Pickett’s one-time endorsement are free meals for him and the offensive line.
Ivery said the idea to compensate Pickett in the form of a free meal every week came from Pickett himself. Ivery called the Panther signal-caller “unselfish,” and praised him for thinking beyond the popular concept of NIL deals. He added that the fact that no money is involved makes him feel more comfortable about going into business with Pickett.
“It’s very unselfish,” Ivery said. “It’s not a me, me, me thing. He can go get a BMW and get sponsored by BMW or Mercedes Benz, but instead he said ‘Let me take care of my guys’. … It was his camp’s idea, absolutely.”
Ivery was not initially contacted directly by Pickett or his representatives. Ivery’s old friend Jordan Rooney, a personal brand consultant who works with the athletics department at nearby Duquesne University and was advising Pickett, said there was an unnamed athlete that would be a good fit for an NIL deal with the Oaklander.
Ivery sat down with Rooney at Spirit and Tales and the two agreed to meet with Pickett and his representatives from Younger & Associates, a California-based law firm. Ivery said Pickett and his team agreed that a deal with the Oaklander was a “natural fit” and they came to an agreement after meeting in Spirit and Tales at the beginning of July.
Ivery said he wanted this to be a distinct opportunity for Pickett, so if another athlete looks to partner with The Oaklander, he will try to branch out from the structure of Pickett’s deal.
As a former college football player himself, Ivery was somewhat prepared to introduce The Oaklander’s marketing department to the newborn world of college athlete endorsement. He wishes he could have had these kinds of NIL opportunities when he played wide receiver for Toledo and the University of Pennsylvania.
In his post-football life he still followed the struggle between the NCAA and current and former players who wanted a cut of the billion-dollar college athletics industry. He cheered the reforms, but also wanted to emphasize how valuable he thinks a free college education is and claimed that “99% of athletes” just want to be a college student and play their sport.
“I think this is a great thing for all parties involved,” Ivery said. “Now, athletes do get full scholarships and I think that can’t be lost. I think they are well taken care of, but I think this also helps student athletes.”