Troy Bell always wanted to integrate his business with Idaho State. Yet, for years as he tried to partner his Chubbuck-based supplement company, Black Label, with his alma mater, some sort of red tape always arose, some problem or concern that left opportunities on the table.
When the NCAA passed name, image and likeness laws over the summer, finally allowing college athletes to profit off their personal brand, Bell saw a symbiotic partnership without a barrier.
“It’s almost more beneficial for a company like us to just go directly to high-performance athletes,” said Bell, who played football at Idaho State in the early-2000’s.
That the NIL market in Pocatello is being spearheaded by Bell should be no surprise. While other local businesses decided to take a wait-and-see approach with NIL or flat-out note they would only donate to the ISU athletic department as a whole, Bell sees the bigger picture of NIL.
He understands its benefit for student-athletes, knowing the struggle of balancing sports and school while your pockets are empty. He sees it from the fan point of view, knowing the more kids garner NIL opportunities at Idaho State, the easier it’ll be to recruit kids to Pocatello. And he sees it from the vantage point of a business owner, one who can use the wide appeal of college athletes to help sell his product.
“If certain schools become Black Label NIL schools, (Coaches) can say, ‘Hey, come to ISU. I’ll try to help you get set up with Black Label, which is a local company,’” said Bell. “We’re a newer company, so we’re rolling out probably six to eight new products in the next six months … I want to grow my company with student-athletes.”
With NIL, Black Label sees a way to expand quicker. Each student-athlete and each school bring a unique reach that stretches far past Pocatello. The more kids that jump aboard, the more eyeballs Black Label has on its products.
And the student-athletes seem to be on board to help that endeavor.
First, it’s important to understand the model Black Label is using when it comes to NIL and paying student-athletes.
The company has set up two programs. One for any college athlete in the country and one for a few hand-picked athletes. The major difference lies in the compensation.
“They’re all sponsorships but with the higher-tier athletes, we pay (them) a monthly stipend as well as some other perks they get from us,” said Black Label marketing manager Tyson Gunter, a former Idaho State sprinter who has competed in previous Paralympics. “We ask for their time and effort in exchange for getting supplements for a discounted rate.”
How it works is this: Any student-athlete from around the country can go to Black Label’s website, click on the “College Athlete Support” tab, fill out five rudimentary questions and, voila, they’re a Black Label athlete.
Usually, soon after, Gunter or someone from Black Label will review their responses, shoot off an email and try to get a contract signed. In exchange for one or two social media posts a month, every athlete receives Black Label gear, a 40% discount on all products and a commission off any products bought using their discount code.
“We’re just trying to figure it out as we go. And everyone else is too – whether they want to admit it or not,” Gunter said. “Troy and I were like, ‘Man, we can support every athlete – it’ll be to varying degrees – but we can support every athlete who wants to be involved. That’s the cool part about this.”
“One of the most important elements is that students learn to navigate and capitalize on their ideas and their brand,” added ISU Athletic Director Pauline Thiros. “These deals are also important in demonstrating that our athletes have opportunities, and they do provide some modest income.”
In the last few weeks, Black Label has begun to generate buzz within the Idaho State athletic department and started to see a number of Bengals begin signing up for the program.
Soon after the launch, the company announced it signed three athletes to sponsorship deals: ISU wide receiver Tanner Conner, Gonzaga volleyball player and Century alum Zoe Thiros (who is also the daughter of ISU AD Pauline Thiros) and Paisley Specht, a freshman on the Bengals’ women’s basketball squad.
“With Paisley, she has a huge social media following. I think on her Instagram, she has like 70,000 followers,” Bell said. “When you look at a guy like Tanner Conner, we think he has potential to maybe get drafted in a later round or get on as a free agent. We want to get a guy like that at the ground level so he can grow with our company.”
Added Conner: “It’s a pretty cool deal. They give me supplements and I’m able to go out there and be an athlete that endorses them … Just to be able to get anything – because I wasn’t expecting to get any sponsorships at all – is a blessing.”