When the NCAA announced its updated name, image and likeness (NIL) policy in the summer of 2021, university athletics across the country were thrown into uncharted territory. After the announcement, some student-athletes began pushing for merchandise connected to their school’s brand.
Enter The Brandr Group (TBG), a brand management, marketing and licensing agency partnering with universities to provide student-athletes with opportunities and resources. In the partnership with GU, they specialize in co-branding — using the player’s name alongside the GU logo — and the licensing, sponsorship and media of student-athletes.
GU announced its partnership of a group licensing agreement for all student-athletes with TBG on Nov. 12. The current agreement with TBG is for three years, but will be reevaluated as policies change and evolve.
“What The Brandr Group did is bring in the ability to co-brand, so it brings in the opportunity for merchandise specifically to be on the market,” said Sam MacDonald, director of trademark and licensing at GU.
According to MacDonald, student-athletes had expressed interest in exploring merchandise opportunities, and GU wanted to ensure all student-athletes had this opportunity. While searching for partnerships, TBG stood out because it allows GU to bring merchandise to market for the entire student-athlete population.
“It was really important for us to include all of our student-athletes in that opportunity, and I think we were unique in that,” said Chris Johnson, senior associate athletic director. “We understand that it’s all market driven, but we thought it was important for us to create an avenue that was able to feature all of our student athletes.”
According to MacDonald, TBG is working on behalf of the university and the student-athlete, with the main focus on the student athlete and what they can do to assist on that.
TBG oversees anything related to using GU’s IP, which is anything that would be trademarked by the university (logos, fonts, mascot, etc.), in conjunction with an athlete. TBG is also available for agency with student-athletes if they express interest in pursuing NIL opportunities, but that is up to the individual and done separate from the university.
“The biggest benefit of the Brandr partnership is just from a licensing side, having somebody that’s out there — they’ve got partnerships with a lot of the players associations at the professional level,” Johnson said. “They helped us get shirseys — shirt jerseys — up and running and it’s in part because of the partnerships that they have in the industry and across the country to make that happen.”
Alongside the Collegiate Licensing Company (CLC), TBG works with the vendors in conjunction with the athlete on the production of merchandise. The university’s main role is artwork approval.
According to MacDonald, TBG was the group that allowed GU to make key dates and deadlines. In order to have shirseys ready for the end of February, action had to be taken in the beginning of November. TBG assists in every step of the process, keeping it running so the final product will be ready when expected.
Current official Gonzaga Bulldogs merchandise available on breakingt.com shows the final shirsey product, along with other T-shirt designs made with TBG. As of right now, only the men’s basketball team shirseys are available, as well as one for GU women's basketball alum Courtney Vandersloot.
“The best part of this partnership is showing that we are in support of our student-athletes and NIL,” said MacDonald. “We’re able to support them because we’re allowing them to use their NIL in conjunction with the university IP, and that’s what people want.”