116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Raygun had a bit of a surprise when checking its Twitter direct messages in early July.
“Whoa, s---, Brock Purdy messaged us,” Raygun owner Mike Draper said.
The Iowa State quarterback was the first athlete to reach out to Raygun about using his name, image and likeness on T-shirts.
He won’t be the last, though.
The Des Moines-based store is “kind of charging into” the era of collegiate athletes profiting off their name, image and likeness with hopes of lining up deals with “lots and lots of people,” Draper said.
After Purdy’s direct message, Draper estimated they brainstormed 40-plus ideas before narrowing it down to the couple designs that are now for sale.
“Your first name rhymes with rock and your last name is an alternate way of saying pretty, so you’re kind of like the absolute perfect contender for somebody whose name you can make shirts out of,” Draper recalled telling Purdy.
Purdy’s shirts came out July 8. At one point in the first week of sales, the “Ames: We’re a Purdy Big Deal” shirts sold out online.
Iowa State running back Breece Hall joined Purdy in agreeing to NIL deals with Raygun, and Draper said the company has “obviously reached out to others.”
Customers have requested shirts about Iowa women’s basketball star Caitlin Clark and wrestling star Spencer Lee more than any other athletes.
“We’ve talked to both of them,” Draper said. “Obviously Caitlin Clark has been approached by more people than just Raygun. … They’re thinking about it.”
While Iowa doesn’t have the restrictions against NIL deals gambling, tobacco, alcohol and marijuana that some other schools have, Draper still plans to keep any NIL ideas to “PG stuff,” a reference to the relatively mild movie rating.
Raygun is also avoiding combining a school’s logo with a player’s name as it navigates the uncertainty still surrounding NIL.
“We emailed our lawyer to ask like, ‘What are the rules going to be?’ Draper said. ”And he was like, ‘I don’t know.’“
James Pokrywczynski, a strategic communication professor at Marquette University who does research in sports marketing and branding, said these NIL deals are valuable for companies like Raygun in a variety of ways.
“One of them is the social media followers that the person has,” Pokrywczynski said.
Purdy has about 16,600 Twitter followers and 24,900 Instagram followers. Hall has about 13,500 Twitter followers and 15,900 Instagram followers.
Some of the athletes Raygun is hoping to still reach an agreement with have even bigger followings. Lee has almost twice as many Instagram followers than Raygun’s account and has more than four times as many Instagram followers than Purdy.
There’s an added value in a state like Iowa that does not have any professional teams either, Pokrywczynski said. A deal with an Iowa or Iowa State athlete “will resonate better with their customer base” because of the strong regional appeal.
Whether athletes see benefits outside of the monetary payments from Raygun is a “tougher nut to crack,” Pokrywczynski said.
Raygun’s NIL deals operate entirely on royalties, so more shirts sold means more money in Hall’s or Purdy’s pockets.
Athletes can terminate the partnership with Raygun at any time, Draper said, and Raygun does not require exclusivity.
Even without an exclusivity clause, Pokrywczynski sees a relationship with one company affecting an athlete’s ability to negotiate with another company.
“The other companies are still going to be worried about confusion,” Pokrywczynski said. “They’re going to be worried about the association that a student-athlete has with one company overwhelming the association a second company wants to make with that student-athlete.”
The concept of partnering with brands in collegiate athletics to sell merchandise is certainly not new to Raygun.
The store has licensing agreements in place with Iowa, Iowa State and UNI.
“If we use an Iowa State logo, we’re already going to pay a percentage to Iowa State,” Draper said. “So we already did licensing checks every quarter.”
Draper wanted to make T-shirts based on individual collegiate athletes long before that early July direct message from Purdy and had one short-lived attempt in 2017.
Raygun started selling “Best Kempt Secret” shirts after then-Iowa State quarterback Kyle Kempt led the Cyclones to an upset over No. 3 Oklahoma in 2017 with some of the proceeds going to a charity of Kempt’s choosing. It didn’t last long before NCAA rules got in the way.
“We didn’t realize that even making (and selling) something about that person can put that person into a possible NCAA violation,” Draper said.
Raygun celebrated the July 1 NIL rule changes by putting “Best Kempt Secret” shirts back on its shelves.
This time, Raygun is giving a royalty to Kempt, now a graduate assistant on Iowa State’s football staff, and donating to a charity of his choosing without breaking any NCAA rules.
“It’s finally legal,” Draper said, “even though technically he’s a private citizen now, so we can make all the shirts we want about him, but that doesn’t make the joke as funny.”
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