Partnering with college athletes is a natural elevation of sports apparel company Cherry Co., said Thalia Cherry.
The KC-based brand signed agreements with 18 athletes for NIL (name, image, likeness) endorsement deals, shared Cherry, founder and CEO.
“It’s a perfect alignment,” she continued. “We were already working with professional athletes in some capacity. So when the NIL opportunities came available and the restructuring of the policy it was just a win-win for us.
“We really focus on building and elevating athletes through our product, so it was a natural fit.”
In June 2021, according to the NCAA, the governing body of college athletics adopted an interim policy that allows college athletes the opportunity to profit from the use of their name, image, and likeness — although state laws must be followed.
Cherry — who received the KC Innovator Award from Junior Achievement in 2021 and was named to the EBONY Power 100 List in 2020 as a community crusader — said Cherry already has partnered with female and male student athletes at such schools as the University of Kansas, Kansas State University, the University of Missouri, and the University of South Carolina.
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With a woman-owned company and as a former college athlete herself, Cherry added, she is especially passionate about elevating female athletes. She played volleyball and softball at Bethany College in Kansas.
“I wish it was there and available when I was an athlete,” she said. “I read a white paper early on — when NIL was even in the preliminary stages — which I thought was pretty interesting. It (predicted) that, for female athletes, there will be more equity than any other time within the sports realm.”
According to Opendorse, a NIL technology company, women’s basketball is ranked third behind football and men’s basketball in the top sports by NIL compensation.
Two of Cherry Co.’s major deals with athletes include S’mya Nichols, a five-star basketball player at Shawnee Mission West who has committed to KU, and Serena Sundell, a K-State basketball player from Maryville, Missouri.
“Male athletes are still (entering contracts where) the dollar amount is larger, but more females are receiving opportunities than males,” Cherry added. “I think it’s gonna be intriguing to see some full data because it’s still in the early stages. (Will) it really, truly prove that the White Paper was accurate – that this will create equity for female athletes? … I think it’s gonna be intriguing to see where this all lands. It’s just beginning.”
The NIL partnerships provide female athletes — no matter their sport — an opportunity to pursue their dreams of elevating their own personal brands, Cherry noted. But she sees potential that goes beyond athletics, such as leveraging their resources and network to make connections for athletes in certain career fields.
“Just what really sets us apart is that we really work on developing the whole person and really helping to elevate their goals and aspirations and dreams beyond the sport,” she continued. “I’ve been around the industry long enough to know that that is uniquely different than other companies. Because we really care about them and what their goals and aspirations are.”
On top of benefiting college athletes, Cherry said, NIL partnerships can also benefit smaller sports brands like Cherry Co., which currently sells merchandise at the Made in KC Plaza and Lenexa locations, Halls at Crown Center, and online.
“I think it also gives the opportunity for businesses that are not on the scale of a Nike or Adidas to really enter into the market to really expand their brand,” she added.