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LISTEN / READ: New NIL rules open doors for Michigan State varsity athletes to brand themselves

Kenneth_Walker_Shirt
Nick Bradley, The 2nd String
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Nick Bradley, The 2nd String
K9 shirt art/Photo.

Some MSU football players are working with Michigan-based companies to put outlines of apparel for Spartan fans.

The NCAA’s recently revised Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) policy, which went into effect on July 1, is changing the way Michigan State fans dress for game day. Varsity athletes can be financially compensated for the use of their personal brand, now profiting through endorsement deals with businesses, appearing on merchandise, and promoting companies on social media.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed legislation last December allowing athletes from state colleges and universities to have NIL rights.

Michigan State athletes have wasted no time taking advantage of their NIL rights. Football players Jayden Reed and Kenneth Walker III have partnered with Detroit apparel company The 2nd String to design and sell personally branded merchandise, giving Spartan fans new options to add to their wardrobe.

Nick Bradley, founder, and owner of The 2nd String, approached Walker about a business partnership after the junior running back rushed for 264 yards and four touchdowns in his Spartan debut against Northwestern on Sept. 3.

“It’s way easier to sell shirts, get attention and generate interest if you strike when the iron’s hot,” Bradley said. “Kenneth Walker had a massive game, I made a design and got it out. Jayden Reed, for him it was the pose he struck after they beat Michigan last year.”

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Nick Bradley, The 2nd String
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Nick Bradley, The 2nd String
K9 Tee

Bradley, a Michigan State graduate, runs The 2nd String by himself. His design style is inspired by popular ‘90s graphic tees, and his shirts are bold and original, something he said the players he partners with prefer.

“There’s so much you can do (creatively) with these NIL designs,” Bradley said. “You see some of them that are as basic as it can possibly get, which is fine because some guys prefer that, but I like to push the envelope.”

Bradley’s apparel is available on the2ndsting.com, with shirts starting at $27. Reed, Walker III, and other athletes Bradley partners with profit by being directly cut into merchandise sales.

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Nick Bradley, The 2nd String
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Nick Bradley, The 2nd String
Jayden Reed Paulie B shirt.

Giving the players their own creative platforms is one of Bradley’s top priorities in his partnerships, something he believes stands out when comparing his NIL opportunities to those of other companies.

“I think it’s something they care about,” Bradley said. “On (Sept. 8) they (MSU) announced that United Wholesale Mortgage made a deal with a bunch of the football players and basketball players, and that’s great for them, but those guys, I assume, don’t really care about United Wholesale Mortgage. I like that the product and service that I’m providing when we do business is also something that they’re interested in.”

Spartan athletes will soon also have the chance to see their names on officially licensed Michigan State jerseys, an opportunity made possible by MSU Athletics’ partnership with The Brandr Group, a nationally known brand management, marketing, and licensing agency.

Spartan athletes can voluntarily opt into a group licensing program, allowing them to combine their branding with Michigan State’s official trademarks and logos.

Jaime Miettinen, a sports law professor at the University of Detroit Mercy and founder of Miettinen Law PLLC, believes that increased team buy-in is essential when athletes aim to profit from merchandise sales in a group licensing program.

“For jersey sales, there could be more jerseys sold,” Miettinen said. “If you think of it all as a pool, there’s a greater pool from which these athletes would be taking portions of the revenue. If you compare it to what we see with professional sports, the way the players associations handle their group licensing, that’s why nearly every athlete is a part of their own respective player's association.”

Miettinen describes The Brandr Group, Michigan State’s partner for group licensing, as the ultimate facilitator for the athletes who want to use official trademarks like the Spartan head logo.

“You can kind of think of them as a middle man,” Miettinen said. “They have their own partners that are these businesses, and they try to get these athletes who have to opt-in, in some sort of voluntary fashion, in order to try and connect them with appropriate partners that are willing to work with them.”

K9 Crewneck
Nick Bradley, The 2nd String.
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Nick Bradley, The 2nd String.
K9 Crewneck.

Michigan State athletes who opt into the group licensing program are still able to retain their individual NIL rights, allowing them to enter into agreements outside the program. That portion of the agreement makes it possible for them to partner with businesses like The 2nd String.

“You don’t want any kind of exclusivity involved because you want to be able to retain your own individual rights,” Miettinen said.

For Bradley, the opportunity for him to partner with athletes through The 2nd String is a task he takes to heart.

“I was in college, I had zero dollars to my name,” Bradley said. “And these dudes, they don’t have time to get a job at the cafeteria to make money, they have to play football.”

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