In the new and ever-evolving world of name, image and likeness (NIL) in college athletics, opportunities for student-athletes to now earn money during their playing days are abundant in 2022.
Michigan State University has been at the forefront of trying to support and guide its athletes through the NIL landscape with educational sessions and programs like EverGreen, or group licensing programs allowing use of the university’s logos and trademarks, among other things. The MSU football players also recently launched the East Lansing NIL Club, which provides fans an opportunity to meet with and talk to the players.
With that said, it is ultimately up to the student-athletes themselves when it comes to choosing what NIL deals are right for them.
One of the more unique and recent NIL happenings for Michigan State student-athletes is the Players’ Input Collection, a collective deal with 25 players from MSU’s 2022 true freshman class.
The participants in the program include quarterback Katin Houser, wide receiver Germie Bernard, tight end Jack Nickel, cornerback Caleb Coley, defensive end Zion Young, safety Jaden Mangham and defensive back Dillon Tatum, among many others.
The Players’ Input Collection gives the freshmen an opportunity to not only earn money for their work, but will also teach them how to design, manufacture and market merchandise to help expand their resumes, and help build their individual portfolios and brands for the future. It allows the players to connect with MSU fans, perhaps even at live events, and provides new apparel options for the community.
Instead of just simply paying the student-athletes to attach their names to the project, this initiative aims to teach them real life skills they can use during and after their playing days.
While the players will be making some cash for their efforts, 100 percent of the profits from the endeavor will be pooled together and used for group outings instead of each person getting individual paychecks.
The teammates will then use that money to go on excursions with one another, such as going to dinners, renting out an axe throwing venue for some team bonding and fun, watching a Detroit Pistons or Red Wings game from a suite or even traveling somewhere for a mini vacation. The players, together, will choose what they want to do with the money.
Doug Haggadone, president of the Players’ Input, LLC, has partnered with Gabe Viscomi, the owner of Nudge Printing — who will assist the players with producing the officially-licensed merchandise for the project — along with the first-year football players, a couple of freelance graphic designers and some student writers.
“Players’ Input Collection is a project that will be worked on by the players and a few MSU students to develop merchandise that will be produced by Nudge Printing and sold on the Nudge website,” Haggdone said. “These will be ideas that they come up with together as a group, and profit together as a group.
“The fact that Nudge has been licensed with MSU for 11 years is a big deal because it helps with the ease of getting approvals for whatever creative designs the team comes up with to turn into merchandise that is accessible to fans.”
Haggadone was looking for something different and wanted to think outside of the box while brainstorming potential NIL ideas. He established the Players’ Input business itself to “help assist in connecting athletes in different ways with the public and finding ways to maximize their NIL in fun and new initiative ways.”
When asked how he came up with the idea for Players’ Input, Haggadone said the following:
“I came up with the idea of the business last year at the Peach Bowl when my mentor Steve Smith (not the basketball player) and I were hanging out with a former player, and we discussed doing more to help guys in the upcoming season. Since then, I have just been writing down ways to help, and this idea just kept sticking out to me. So when I mentioned it to different individuals and everyone’s feedback was positive, I knew I had something that I should approach the players with.”
Meanwhile, Viscomi — who also owns Fabricated Customs, which prints for businesses, schools, or anyone looking to have apparel made — was already familiar with Haggadone because he was a longtime customer at Nudge. The two got to know each other through that relationship, and Viscomi felt it was natural to partner with Haggadone on this endeavor.
“Doug has really spearheaded the (Players’ Input) project, working on connections to the athletes to get the ball rolling,” Viscomi said.
Viscomi, a Michigan State alumnus, is a veteran of the printing business. He started Nudge Printing in 2011, which now has collegiate licenses to more than 60 universities, including MSU. Viscomi will be a valuable resource to the student-athletes who are looking to learn about the apparel-making process, and he plans to teach them the tricks of the trade along the way.
“The student-athletes are going to start with a product idea, product design, walk through actual production, market the product and learn a lot about the licensing process with a major university,” Viscomi said. “It should be a very hands-on learning experience.”
So, what kind of products can Michigan State fans expect in the collection? There will of course be clothing — T-shirts, hoodies, etc. However, there will also be wall graphics, stickers for laptops, car decals and more.
Viscomi says the T-shirts and hoodies are Nudge Printing’s most popular products, while the company also sells long-sleeve shirts, sweatshirts, car decals, corn hole board decals and more.
As the freshmen begin fall camp this week and turn all of their attention to the football field, which likely means less time to secure potential NIL deals, several of the players expressed gratitude for what the Players’ Input Collection offers them.
“I wanted to get involved (with the Players’ Input Collection) because it’s just for the guys in my class and I think it’s a good opportunity for us to get closer,” Nickel said.
Nickel is also excited about the prospects of getting to know his teammates better off of the field through their creative processes.
“I’m looking forward to making merchandise with all of my brothers and working together to make designs,” Nickel added. “I’m hoping to learn more about them through their ideas.”
For Tatum, he felt a connection with Haggadone and thinks the project can be something special.
“I felt like Doug was a great person, and I think we can grow this together,” Tatum said.
Tatum is hoping the group can raise enough money to go on excursions where they can have fun and bond together, which he believes will help the team grow stronger. He also wants the group to put its collective touch on the products and connect with MSU fans.
“I think (my vision for the Players’ Input Collection) is we can make something really, really nice and it just sells out and everyone is happy,” Tatum said. “I feel like we can make a design that includes a piece of all of us so that we can all enjoy.”
Coley sees this as a way to broaden his horizons away from the gridiron, and is looking forward to working with his teammates on the project.
“I can learn a lot from Doug about stuff outside of football, and this is a good way to bond with teammates and get our feet wet in NIL,” Coley said.
In the short term, Coley is hoping the profits earned from the endeavor will allow the teammates to travel on a vacation together. In the long term, he plans to apply the skills he learns from the Players’ Input Collection project to eventually start a venture of his own.
When asked about what he was hoping to learn from the Players’ Input Collection initiative, Coley responded with “Learning how to start my own small business.”
Young is excited about the opportunity to connect with Michigan State fans and give back to the community.
“I was happy to work with my teammates in the same class as me and I’m very big on giving back, so I couldn’t miss the opportunity,” Young said.
Young is also looking forward to building his brand and learning how to market products — skills he can take with him even after his playing days are over. Overall, Young appreciates the uniqueness of the project.
“(The Players’ Input Collection) is kind of different (than other NIL opportunities) because this is just for the freshman class alone to build and explore our thinking,” Young said. “I feel like it’s a one-of-a-kind thing because it’s the first deal that had us working together to create something.”
Of course, Nickel sees NIL as a good thing for student-athletes and thinks it is a big step in the right direction for the work they put into their craft.
“I think NIL is definitely a positive for college football,” Nickel said. “I think it’s a great way for us athletes to benefit from all the work we put in for our universities.”
Meanwhile, Coley had some advice for young players on how to navigate through the NIL landscape:
“Take your time, the (NIL) opportunities will come,” he said.
So why did Haggadone choose the freshman class? The players participating in the project are at the beginning of their eligibility and still have multiple years of college to experience before moving up to the professional ranks or moving on to a career in another profession. Getting to them as first-year players/students provides the players a chance to learn the NIL landscape early, which they can leverage later in their careers.
“I chose the freshmen specifically so that they can get valuable experience with NIL, while building even stronger relationships with their teammates in the process,” Haggadone said. “I think we will get to see their different personalities shine with their creativity, and with them being able to use profits for team bonding activities, it will be fun to see what they choose to do with it.
“This really is something that the guys can use on their resumes, not just something that they can use for NIL purposes,” Haggadone continued. “Also, with this project, they will get to learn valuable information on how to cut down on costs when doing projects so that they can maximize their profits for their individual brands.”
As for Viscomi, he has some advice for the freshmen or anybody looking to get into the apparel manufacturing business.
“Most people who want to be an entrepreneur suffer from paralysis by analysis,” Viscomi said. “They dwell on their business idea and how to make it perfect and never actually take the first step toward starting their own business. I did this for years before starting my businesses. However, what you should do is just take action. Get your feet wet and let your business take shape on its own.”
While the Players’ Input Collection does not yet have a specific launch date, Haggadone is expecting it to come soon — while the players are in fall camp, which has now officially started.
Overall, Haggadone and Viscomi just want to do what is best to support the players. That is the driving reason behind starting this initiative. If you are looking to support the players and purchase their merchandise, be sure to check out the collection on the Nudge Printing website, where the collection is available.
“The Players’ Input Collection is all in favor of supporting the guys and any other NIL deals they have,” Haggadone said. “Whether it is with NIL Club East Lansing, or whatever it may be. We just want to help continue to see these guys maximize off their name, image and likeness. There will be some live events that we host, and the guys will be there with gear excited to meet the fanbase.”
Any business looking to partner with Haggadone and the 25 student-athletes that make up the Players’ Input Collection can reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.