YSU athletes score $540K in NIL deals

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes. YSU quarterback Mitch Davidson dives into the end zone during the Penguins' game at Ohio State last season.

YOUNGSTOWN — Youngstown State University has worked to stay ahead of its competitors in offering opportunities for its student-athletes to benefit off their name, image and likeness.

“Thankfully, basically since the get go, coming down from our athletic director was that we’re going to embrace NIL and we’re going to try being the best at it,” Tyler Burk, YSU’s assistant director of compliance, said. “So far, amongst our peers and even amongst schools you’d consider a higher level than us, we’ve out performed when it comes to the NIL space.”

According to the university’s website, more than 120 student-athletes had NIL deals in 2023. YSU athletes reported more than $540,000 in NIL disclosures over the course of last year alone.

Another area in which YSU athletics has succeeded with NIL is through Opendorse, one of its third-party partners.

Opendorse serves as an NIL marketplace that helps “athletes and their supporters understand, build, protect and monetize their brand value,” according to its website.

“They’re one of, if not the leader in the NIL space,” Burk said. “They do a few different things, like … marketplace. Since we’re partnered with them, all of our student-athletes can log on there and sign up for these opportunities that they have that they go out and source.”

The Opendorse-powered marketplace offers athletes the opportunity to earn endorsement deals from both businesses and fans.

One athlete represented on the YSU Opendorse marketplace, Penguins quarterback Mitch Davidson, offers engagement opportunities for personal use. Fan engagement opportunities Davidson offers range from a $12 video shoutout to a $1,000 personal appearance.

Businesses also can directly contact student-athletes to propose endorsement opportunities.

“(Opendorse) partners with brands and companies to make these available and you basically just sign up for them,” Burk said.

Burk said Opendorse also serves as the university’s NIL compliance provider, “meaning all of our student-athletes’ deals have to get uploaded onto Opendorse so that we can review them for compliance reasons,” he said.

In terms of YSU’s role in monitoring NIL compliance, Burk said the university cannot take part in the athlete’s negotiations. But, YSU can determine whether or not an NIL deal fits within NCAA guidelines.

“No pay-for-play, you actually have to do something,” Burk said. “It can’t be based on, like you get a bonus for hitting a home run, things like that.”

According to the college’s website, YSU was the top earning college in terms of NIL deals in the Horizon League in 2023 and its men’s basketball program earned the 13th most of any division I program.


Another third-party entity that helps YSU student-athletes secure endorsement opportunities is Penguin Collective.

“Penguin Collective was formed by donors and businesses and whatnot. They came together and they wanted to support YSU student-athletes,” Burk said.

Tim Petrey is the chief executive officer of HD Growth Partners in Liberty and the founder of Penguin Collective.

Petrey said the Penguin Collective allows its partners to “raise funds for student-athletes in a unique way.”

“We’re creating partnerships with local businesses so that we can help those local businesses do a unique style of marketing,” he said. “They’re doing the deals directly with these athletes with us as the median for them.”

Last year, Petrey said Penguin Collective helped several athletes, including Davidson, find partnerships with local businesses.

Petrey said the collective connected Davidson with several local companies, including Gault Heating and Cooling and Fred Martin Ford.

“He was in their commercials. He was doing social media posts for them. He was showing up to their events and promotional events,” Petrey said.

Petrey said one of the focuses of Penguin Collective is to help local businesses get involved with influencer marketing.

“Influencer marketing has become one of the most prominent forms of marketing for any business,” he said. “It’s very difficult for small businesses to afford to be able to be involved with influencer marketing or even understand how to do it. It’s a really good, easy way for local businesses to get involved in influencer marketing.”

In March, the collective announced a partnership with Youngstown-based PALO Creative to be the marketing firm for NIL at YSU.


Petrey said when it comes to NIL deals, it’s critical YSU athletes cultivate a strong personal brand. Whether they attempt to continue their sport at a professional level or move into another career, their personal and professional image is important, he said.

“This is a life lesson beyond this for these student-athletes,” he said. “Many of these kids don’t understand that social media and the image that you put of yourself out into the world and on the internet is going to impact the success of your career, regardless of what path you’re going down.

“We’re trying to help these kids cultivate their social media, get them connected with the right people, connect them with the opportunities to participate in podcasts and show up to charity events and be a part of their community. We also have a media studio here on site in our facility that we make available to people if they want to come in and try to record their own podcast or do their own stuff.”


Looking forward, Petrey believes the universities that offer the best total NIL package for athletes will prove to be the most successful.

“The money is great for the kids. It’s not a life-changing sum of money, but the package that goes around that I think is the most important,” Petrey said. “It’s not just about who has the biggest check, it’s also about, ‘who’s going to make me a better person that comes out of this.'”

Burk said YSU believes NIL opportunities will become increasingly important in years to come for college athletics. Two of the main goals for the university going forward are to increase community involvement in the NIL process and continue to grow its impact on more university athletics, including its Olympic sports, he said.

“I think it’s going to be critical as we move forward to continue to have a great NIL program and promote it,” Burk said. “That’s where kids want to go to school.”

Have an interesting story? Contact Mason Cole by email at mcole@tribtoday.com.


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