New NIL collective meant to galvanize UCLA sports community

Her name is revered by those who inspire her to bear the four letters.

Your image will be enhanced by running a business as college students.

Her likeness will appear on buttons worn at UCLA games, and other athletes from her school gather to cheer her on while she gets paid.

A year into the NIL era, the latest money-making venture to hit Westwood is brimming with novelty. It is run by Bruins athletes from all sports. You will make the decisions. You will raise the money. They will design the program to focus on outreach and fan engagement.

Athletes will benefit by attending events, serving on an advisory board, and fundraising. Show them the money, yes, but also watch as they show you the many ways they can shake up the UCLA sports community.

“The money is cool, don’t get me wrong, but we’re not here to get a dollar,” said UCLA guard Jaylen Clark, part of the Bruin Fan Alliance’s NIL collective, which is set to launch Thursday. “We’re really here to give more back to the people around us than trying to make a quick buck and then just getting on with our lives and doing something in a camp – that’s not what this is about at all. We all have our hearts in the right place.”

The Bruin Fan Alliance pose at a recreation center.

Bruin Fan Alliance members standing, from left: Alberto Cid, Carl Jones Jr., Logan Loya, Deshun Murrell, Devin Kirkwood, Zach Charbonnet, Gary Smith III, Kazmeir Allen, Tyler Manoa, Atonio Mafi, Jaylin Davies and Dietrich Riley together with Lt. Michael Bland Jr. of the Los Angeles Police Dept. Community Safety Partnership Group. Kneeling, from left: BFA members Vanessa Ong, Keegan Jones, Brandon Sermons and Stephan Blaylock.

(Bruin Fan Alliance)

The concept was pioneered by BFA Chairman Gene Karzen, a UCLA grad who took $50,000 in seed capital to found the non-profit organization driven by athletes, featuring such former Bruins stars as the Olympic hurdles gold medalist Dawn Harper-Nelson, who works in an advisory capacity with current athletes to create the program.

If linebacker Carl Jones Jr. wants to hold a football clinic in his hometown of Bakersfield, do it. If Clark wants to bring a group of Bruins to the Inland Empire to inspire kids where he grew up, no problem.

“We can create something that is really unprecedented,” said Karzen. “We are introducing a NIL model within a non-profit organization run and owned by current and former athletes.”

Big names like running back Zach Charbonnet, point guard Tyger Campbell and sprinter Shae Anderson are among the nearly 30 UCLA athletes from nine sports who have signed up, and more are expected. Athletes will raise funds through social media and word of mouth and will pocket 20% of the donations sent to a link on the BFA website.

Karzen, who cedes control of the BFA he founded in 2015, estimates the athletes will make about 75% of all money, with the rest going towards operating expenses and the former UCLA athletes, who will provide supportive services like financial counsel . The goal is for the collective to raise between $750,000 and $1 million per year.

Priceless will be the opportunity for some of these older Bruins to reconnect with those who are doing what they once did.

If I can help some kids grow up that can turn into future five-star stars or whatever, and they remember that and say, “Oh, I want to go to UCLA and be a Bruin,” that would be for amazing me.

– UCLA guard Jaylen Clark

“Former athletes had a tough time with guys — after they left, they didn’t really come back to campus,” said Dietrich Riley, a former Bruins security officer who is now a liaison between the collective and the athletic department. “Now that we have people coming back and showing their faces but also aligning themselves with charity work and also being able to work with current athletes, that’s pretty cool, it’s special.”

The endeavor has already forged new friendships between athletes from different sports, who often distance themselves from teammates. At a recent event that served as a test run before the official start, Campbell went one-on-one with cornerback Jaylin Davies, burying a sweater over Davies’ outstretched arm.

“I hadn’t met anyone on the basketball team before,” said wide receiver Logan Loya, “so that’s a big deal.”

Devin Kirkwood throws a soccer ball with children.

UCLA cornerback Devin Kirkwood throws a football with campers at a Memorial Day weekend event in South Park.

(Bruin Fan Alliance)

Since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared almost 2½ years ago, Bruins athletes have also not interacted much with fans. That all changed during a Memorial Day weekend soccer juvenile clinic in South Park, held by the BFA in conjunction with the Los Angeles Police Department, Keegan Jones running back with loft passes, Charbonnet autographing soccer balls and Deshun Murrell giggling with his cowboy boots.

The group then visited the nearby Pueblo Del Rio housing project to take children to shoot baskets on decrepit, rimless target boards with no nets. The hope is that some of the kids who appreciate these encounters will also be spurred on to follow their heroes to Westwood.

“If I could help some kids grow up that could turn into future five-star stars or whatever, and they remember that and say, ‘Oh, I want to go to UCLA and be a Bruin,’ that would be it amazing to me. said Clark, one of three athlete ambassador captains who will be heavily involved in decision-making.

Two children in oversized leotards hold hands.

Two campers hold hands during a Bruin Fan Alliance event in South Park over Memorial Day weekend.

(Bruin Fan Alliance)

The collective has a robust schedule planned over the coming weeks to trumpet its launch and how it can serve the community. Remember the rundown backboards at Pueblo Del Rio? At a ceremony on July 27, the group will unveil new backboards and a new-surfaced court adorned with the BFA logo. Three days later, the group will host a benefit barbecue in Irvine where athletes can mingle with fans.

Beginning this fall, the collective will celebrate an Athlete Ambassador of the Week by donning buttons with their name and meeting with fans for a pre-game drink or meal before gathering again to cheer for the athlete on campus. BFA-affiliated athletes who show up will receive an entry fee.

“The idea is that you develop a much more passionate, connected fan base,” Karzen said. “All the fans see what’s going on and they’re going to be like, ‘What is this group? They’re amazing.” And while they’re out there, they’ll be sure to tell the public who they are, what they do, and please visit the site for all the things we’ve done in the community.

Karzen also envisioned a program in which the collective would recruit at-risk children with athletic talent and place them on 15 to 20 club teams, each coached by a UCLA athlete. The collective would provide tutoring, life coaching and nutritional support with the hope of securing each child an athletic or academic college scholarship, with some of those children potentially ending up in Westwood as part of philanthropy.

“We see so many other schools across the country compensating their athletes,” Riley said, “but is that really making an impact in the community? Will it really come from the heart among others? With that you can influence the community that works with children and you gain a fan at the end of the day, you will let them go home and say they had the opportunity to work with a Devin Kirkwood or a Stephan Blaylock or a Jaylin Davies or a Zach Charbonnet. How special is that?

“So guess what, you’ll have lifelong fans and the kids will look up to you for years to come. That’s what UCLA was missing.”

UCLA's Carl Jones Jr., left, and Gary Smith III meet with campers.

UCLA football players Carl Jones Jr. (left) and Gary Smith III meet with campers during a Bruin Fan Alliance event over Memorial Day weekend.

(Bruin Fan Alliance)

The Bruins have now made it, the athletes collectively are gaining business and leadership skills that could open doors to other NIL opportunities, not to mention post graduate jobs. In the meantime, they expect to have a good time while representing their school and raking in some extra cash.

“It’s like my dream job,” Clark said, “because I can just be myself.”

https://www.latimes.com/sports/ucla/story/2022-07-21/new-nil-collective-galvanize-ucla-sports-community-basketball New NIL collective meant to galvanize UCLA sports community

Emma Bowman

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