The view from Lane Avenue has changed a lot since Brandon Fuss-Cheatham dressed at Value City Arena. Looking south of Lane Avenue, new dormitories dot the sight lines from his second-story perch in a mixed-use office building adjacent to the famous Varsity Club watering hole.
A four-year-old player for the Ohio State Men’s Basketball Team from 2001 to 2005, Fuss-Cheatham sits in front of a huge TV screen inside what is known as the Scarlet Room. It is a private club, owned by local businessman and friend Bill Lewis. The building also occasionally serves as the base of operations for NILManagement, the new company co-founded by entrepreneur Fuss-Cheatham and Columbus (and agent for country music artist) Zach Beebe.
With Ohio Stadium looming through the windows and the Value City Arena just blocks away, Fuss-Cheatham has seen the campus experience change for student-athletes. And now, with Buckeyes freely allowed to make money from their names, pictures and likenesses, the former playmaker has positioned himself to help those who are having a decidedly different college experience than he has had.
It has been a natural extension of Fuss-Cheatham’s undergraduate years and professional life since then.
âI wouldn’t even say it’s a transition,â he said. âWe just opened our door wider for the athletes. I am a former Ohio State basketball player so I am very passionate about athletes. I have lived their life.
âI understand what they are going through and the life they are living, and now with the great opportunity and experiences that I have had over the last nine years in business, being able to lend them that knowledge and that experience and then represent them in the right way.
It is the culmination of about two decades of experience.
From Buckeye to businessman
Armed with a degree in sports and recreation, Fuss-Cheatham said that after graduating he rebounded a bit while looking for a career. After coaching basketball and working with mortgages and a sports technology company, Fuss-Cheatham launched his own brand of t-shirts, Lamp Apparel, in 2013.
Today, it has an 80,000 square foot warehouse near the airport and employs over 50 people who take care of everything from logo design to merchandise delivery and all other stages of the process. the creation and management of the brand. This infrastructure put Fuss-Cheatham in a good position to recruit athletes from the state of Ohio as soon as the NCAA passed new NIL legislation in July.
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It wasn’t just business acumen that helped NILManagement win over Buckeyes. Fuss-Cheatham spent time touring the current roster in the Ohio State locker room, and goaltender Jimmy Sotos said the team visited the warehouse last year as part of events scheduled by the coach Chris Holtmann to help prepare players for life after basketball.
Fuss-Cheatham’s time on hardwood has also gone a long way in making athletes like fifth-year male basketball player Kyle Young feel comfortable with Fuss-Cheatham. After hearing from a number of other start-ups, it took only one meeting for Young to sign with NILManagement.
âIt just seemed like (other companies) were trying to get a lot of athletes on board early on just to get the name,â Young said. âI really felt more comfortable talking to them and Brandon. Them being from Columbus, I felt like it was okay, like a hometown thing. They don’t sign too many guys and they want the best for us.
Once a player signs up with NILManagement, a collaborative process begins to build that player’s unique brand. In-depth conversations get things done, and once a profile is established, the real work of making deals can begin. The ultimate goal, Fuss-Cheatham said, is to accurately match players and companies with comparable values.
NILManagement is far from being the only player in the game. Kyle McCord and fellow quarterback Quinn Ewers have signed with New York-based agencies, VaynerSports and Rubicon Talent, respectively. Defensive end Tyreke Smith signed with A&A Management Group, a local company that has former Ohio State football player Nate Oliver as chief recruiter and director of player development.
But branding is a process that Fuss-Cheatham believes he is uniquely qualified to facilitate after working with celebrities and doing business with companies from New York to Los Angeles. Most of those details come with signed nondisclosure agreements, but Fuss-Cheatham cited Logan Paul with Maverick as a brand his company helped develop.
âWe are able to paint a picture for a lot of companies that weren’t prepared for this or just don’t understand how to work at it,â he said. âWe’re really good at establishing that base so that they really understand. “
There’s a lot of conversation going on and behind-the-scenes work at the warehouse ahead of an official brand launch, which sees athletes and like-minded companies starting to do business. Currently, a month and a half after the entry into force of NIL legislation, a typical working day begins around 8 a.m. and often lasts well after 9 p.m.
âUsually we are sitting at the desk or traveling around town doing meetings, strategizing, meeting players, making their mark, making deals, talking with parents, uncles, aunts, mentors – you l ‘call,’ Fuss-Cheatham said. âIt’s a full day. It’s a lot of upstream work right now.
The brand’s final results are still in their early stages of development, but Sotos and Young said they expect the product lines to be finalized soon. NILManagement signed an autograph signing on August 1 for football players Zach Harrison, Haskell Garrett and Teradja Mitchell, three of this year’s six football captains.
These efforts will gain momentum over time.
âI never thought I could make real money that could help pay bills until I started working with Brandon and some of these deals that we’re working on right now,â Sotos said. “At first they tell me all these numbers and the possibilities that are out there, all the money I could make, and it’s super exciting, but I have to be patient.”
In search of the value of Ohio State players
In a city with two professional sports teams, but where Ohio State football is king, what kind of money can Buckeyes reasonably hope to make?
This is a question that will be answered as deals are made and details are finally released, but Fuss-Cheatham has said there is a demand that will be met. His job is to make sure players cash in their maximum value, whatever it is.
âYou might think you’re worth something, but the market is going to tell you, and it will be very black and white,â Fuss-Cheatham said. âWe are able to make sure that expectations are set. Nothing is promised, but our job is to work hard for you. While you work hard in your craft, we’ll work hard for you to connect the brands that make sense.
Teammates on the pitch, Sotos and Young present totally different brand profiles. Young, a fan favorite after four seasons with the program and a native of Canton, has established brand equity based on his high profile exploits on the pitch.
Sotos, a transfer from Bucknell who was knocked out with a shoulder injury in his first season with the program, has a more global presence thanks to terrific social media subscriptions. He has over 487,000 subscribers on TikTok, where one of his recent clips has been viewed over 6.6 million times.
âA lot of already famous influencers and YouTubers etc are doing their stuff for, they help promote their brand, they help support their brand,â Sotos said. “They were already famous, and Brandon being a former Ohio State basketball player, it kind of seemed perfect for me in our backyard.”
Young, on the other hand, said he hoped to attract opportunities that could help him expand his reach beyond his already established fan base.
âI want to have a bigger impact,â he said. âI think it’s important to find the right group that you bring this brand to. I just want to reach more people who might experience similar things or have similar values. “
There are inherent risks for companies entering into business deals with college athletes, a fact that Fuss-Cheatham readily recognized. A bad night on social media, or a public misstep, can hurt a player’s brand and business interests.
âPeople do stupid things at 50 or 60 and they do stupid things at 20,â Fuss-Cheatham said. ” Is there a risk ? Life is a risk. But I will say that the children are very intelligent, but they are human.
Fuss-Cheatham knows it. He’s been there, seen it, and walked in those shoes. But as the campus has changed and the rules have changed, there is one constant.
There is a financial value inherent in being an Ohio State athlete, and the new era of varsity athletics will confirm that.