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MOGL: Student-Athlete Empowerment Takes Flight in the NIL Era

Before NIL became a national frenzy, former Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush created MOGL to empower undervalued collegiate athletes. Now, its potential is supercharged.

March is traditionally all about the men’s and women’s NCAA Tournament. The pressure is turned up for established stars, and the stage is set for Cinderella darlings. (Looking at you, Doug Edert!) This month has also been major for another four-letter collegiate entity: MOGL.

Co-founded by former Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush and former financier Ayden Syal, MOGL is the go-to NIL marketplace for 3,000 collegiate athletes. The platform exists to connect athletes with businesses and brands “in a safe, secure and compliant manner” — using an interface similar to LinkedIn for each athlete to put forth their best skills as an entrepreneur and person outside of what their athletic resume might lead people to assume.

“We don’t take a percentage of athletes’ deals,” Wimbush told Boardroom. “It’s a completely free product for athletes. There’s no subscription cost. There’s no percentage taken from the athlete, as opposed to an agent typically taking 15 to 30% of a marketing deal.”

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As the MOGL Chief Athletic Officer continued:

“Everything that we’ve done, everything that we’ve built, is in favor of the athlete. We charge a 20% surcharge fee to the brands. The way we’re able to warrant that 20% fee is we’re giving them access to thousands of athletes. We’re providing standardized contracts. We automate contracts, and then we also are keeping brands compliant within a very not-so-much regulated new NIL landscape.”

Running parallel to the name, image, and likeness frenzy is the boom in the NFT marketplace. MOGL established its presence there with a live-minting event at Z’Tejas Southwest Grill in Austin, Texas, on Wednesday night as part of the South by Southwest festival— fresh off claiming the top prize in the Social & Culture category at the 14th SXSW Pitch Event.

The goal was to prove to local business owners the immense value in marketing with collegiate athletes, and the room was filled with Texas Longhorns as well as athletes from the University of Texas at San Antonio and Texas State.

Each athlete stood in front of a green screen “to create and mint their own NFTs” on the spot. Together, they formed the first batch of non-fungible tokens that would establish a MOGL collection housed on the blockchain network SIMBA Chain.

The hope is for MOGL to be universally recognized as the NFT hub for college athletes everywhere.

MOGL’s template for athletes to create their own NFTs (Photo courtesy of Ayden Syal)

“There’s so much beyond just the typical NIL one-off social media post that I think we should pay attention to,” Wimbush said. “From a creative development standpoint, from a creator economy standpoint, what’s going on with the NFT space, we want our athletes to have access to every single segment of NIL.”

Wimbush wants every student-athlete now and in the future to fully relish in an opportunity he himself never had the choice to explore.

The Player

Remember Drake rocking a custom Johnny Manziel jersey during the peak of the Johnny Football era at Texas A&M, long before NIL profitability was possible for NCAA stars, let alone the new norm?

Around the same time, Wimbush was a touted quarterback honored as the 2014 Gatorade New Jersey Football Player of the Year and committed to wearing the legendary Notre Dame golden helmet under center in South Bend.

“My childhood was pretty clear-cut,” the former 4-star recruit said. “It wasn’t very dramatic, but I think it did represent a lot of the 495,000 athletes in college, though. You grow up in a single-parent home. Your mom has to work multiple jobs to support you. She’s paying off $100,000 in student loans for my brother. We didn’t come from a lot of money, so everything wasn’t always sweet. We didn’t qualify for financial aid programs. There wasn’t always that extra dollar to go around. That forced some struggle when I was at Notre Dame.”

Wimbush’s mom stressed about affording to fly from Jersey to Indiana and watch her son play on Saturdays, especially with the added costs of having to put herself up in a hotel for the weekend. So, if you’re wondering if Wimbush ever lets his mind wander and consider the NIL possibilities he narrowly missed, the answer is a resounding yes.

“For me — and for any quarterback at Notre Dame — it’s going to be a lucrative opportunity for you if you do it right,” he said. “You’re playing on a national level every week, national television, with a national audience and a national alumni base. There’s just gonna be endless opportunities.”

Now 25 and acting as the co-founder and chief athletic officer for MOGL, Wimbush can identify those four years were his athletic earning window. He wonders what his bottom line might have looked like if he was on the come-up today.

Along the way, he had dreamt of making it to the NFL — which boy who puts on pads doesn’t? — but he was never naive about it. He never saw it as a given that he’d cash in as a pro; Wimbush’s mindset was actually the opposite. He chose Notre Dame because he believed the university would “drive more value for me beyond the white lines on the field.”

He studied accounting due to the security it represented. As confident as he was in his ability to whip a tight spiral and dodge defenders, he held the same convictions in developing his mental capabilities.

Wimbush was attending his senior prom at St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City when Tom Mendoza rang him for the first time. Mendoza — the man behind Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business since 2000 — quickly became a mentor to Wimbush, teaching him to “put people first” and passing on his habit of calling at least one person every day to recognize the good they had done at his company, NetApp, or the world at large.

Wimbush tucked Mendoza’s advice away, and he sought his own first-hand experience.

“Real-world application would have been my go-to reason for doing NIL activities,” he said. “My professional mindset early on, I would’ve been able to develop that times 10. Connecting with alumni, creating and monetizing, and seeing how business actually works. I would’ve done something to put me in position to land a job.”

Wimbush interned — for free, of course — in the audit department at KMPG and on the sourcing team at Accel, the latter at the heart of venture capitalism in Palo Alto, California.

Come January 2019, with a Notre Dame accounting degree in hand, Wimbush announced his intention to leave the Fighting Irish and play as a graduate transfer at UCF in Orlando for his last collegiate campaign.

But football is not what stands out in Wimbush’s memory from the fall of 2019.

The Plan

In September 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom stopped by HBO’s reality conversation series The Shop. Newsom was seated next to LeBron James, Maverick Carter, Rich Paul, Diana Taurasi, and Katelyn Ohashi when he signed into law the “Fair Pay to Play Act.”

The bill granted collegiate athletes in California the right to benefit off their name, image, and likeness beginning January 2023.

“He’s trying to make sure I don’t use this pen tonight,” Newsom said of NCAA President Mark Emmert during the episode. “They’re a little panicked because they recognize they’re vulnerable.”

Syal, meanwhile, felt empowered watching Newsom on The Shop. The now-MOGL CEO was working in private equity at Lexington Partners and felt “less passionate about my day-to-day than I wanted” and “looking for a way to make a much larger impact in the lives of others.” He drew up a 15-page business plan that night and called Wimbush.

The two grew up together in New Jersey, and Syal graduated from Notre Dame in 2017, earning the Student Service Award for the management consulting major. Syal had always been a sports fan, too, but he didn’t play at the collegiate level.

He needed Wimbush’s insight.

“More than anything else, Brandon brings the ability to empathize with that collegiate athlete experience,” Syal told Boardroom. “He’s been in their shoes. He’s played at the top level. He’s experienced the highs and lows of that prominent college athletic career. He brings an inherent trust factor to our athletes who want to engage with the platform.”

Wimbush’s past representation by Roc Nation added yet another layer of trust because he understood “how the traditional agency representation model works,” including contracts for marketing.

“He provides a lot of perspective on the compliance, and the internal athletic department,” Syal added. “I never had to attend compliance sessions or had to be worried about going out to dinner with people and disclosing it to [the university].”

With their powers combined, MOGL was officially born in 2020.

Today, Syal’s original business plan is mostly still in place. The only real changes have been more widespread implementation and updated platform functionality. But after the NCAA opened the NIL floodgates last summer, there was suddenly infinitely more room to grow.

The Pivot

Newsom’s monumental “Fair Pay to Play Act” was overshadowed last July, when the NCAA adopted an interim policy enabling all college athletes to monetize name, image, and likeness.

Predictably, an NIL influx followed. MOGL had a head start, and what set the organization apart was its specific attention to compliance. Essentially, any of the 3,000 (and growing) athletes utilizing MOGL does not have to worry about accidentally running afoul of NCAA rules despite operating in good faith.

Within MOGL’s staff of 12 is Khalil Wilkes, an in-house director of compliance. Wilkes, like Wimbush, attended St. Peter’s in New Jersey and developed into a proven college football player. He played at Stanford as Andrew Luck’s center, and then worked at both the university and the NCAA before joining MOGL.

With emerging phenomena like NFTs entering the NIL chat, the compliance component only grew more crucial.

“One of our major pushes here in recognizing how valuable these individual athletes and influencers are becoming is figuring out a way to more actively and strategically engage with fans,” said Syal. “At the end of the day, traditional influencers — athletes included — are becoming more and more valuable just because their audience reach is growing as a result of the creator economy. They can reach fans in numerous ways, notably Web3 and NFTs.”

The ultimate goal is to set athletes up for sustainable success in whatever avenue they feel passionate about pursuing.

“I just hope athletes see [NIL] more as an opportunity to grow personally beyond a one-off social media post,” Wimbush said. “You should be building your brand value before anything. That’s how you’ll make the most money — not just posting here and there.”

The Purpose

From day one, Syal and Wimbush had a clear vision for MOGL.

“There’s always gonna be that 1% of athletes with agent representation,” Wimbush explained. “That’s where the value is for agents, but then the rest of the 99%, that’s 495,000 athletes, and they still needed a source of value.”

MOGL has aided some of the nation’s premier athletes, including UCLA quarterback Chase Griffin and UNC hooper Puff Johnson — both with men’s grooming brand Scotch Porter — but not at the expense of lesser-known athletes.

Wimbush reflected on the “ridiculous amounts of money” a guy like Manziel would’ve made at A&M before his NFL career flamed out almost as quickly as it began in Cleveland, but he emphasized that Manziel “is an outlier.” So is Nico Iamaleava, the 5-star California quarterback who committed to Tennessee and reportedly inked an NIL deal worth up to $8 million.

“Seventy-five percent of deals on our platform have been facilitated for non-revenue-generating athletes,” Wimbush said, sharing that MOGL has worked closely with the Georgia and Notre Dame women’s soccer teams as well as baseball players, men’s and women’s lacrosse players, softball players, and swimmers.

Detroit Mercy lacrosse player Maddie Johnson became the first-ever Black woman in collegiate lacrosse to strike an NIL deal earlier this year, and she did so through MOGL:

“Gymnasts, too,” he said. “I mention gymnastics in this lower end, but honestly, gymnasts have more of a social presence than a lot of the football players and men’s basketball players. Let’s not get that twisted. They’ve provided tons of value on the platform, and brands have been excited to work with them.”

MOGL’s commitment to inclusive empowerment was bolstered in February. Jackson State University dual-sport star Malachi Wideman came on as the in-house HBCU development partner. The basketball guard and wide receiver called it “an honor and privilege” and hyped up MOGL as “a 100% fully compliant platform … made by athletes for athletes.”

Whether it’s Wideman or Johnson — or anyone in between — the dividends are undeniable.

“It’s changing lives,” Wimbush said of NIL. “There’s been so many stories around graduation — the fact that athletes can stay in school for four years and make money that is pretty comparable to what they would make if they left early. That’s exciting to me.”

The Path Forward

It’s easy to draw a line between NIL and NFTs. Both marketplaces are engulfed by manic energy — by eager people who are simply thrilled they exist, yet aren’t exactly sure what lies ahead.

Yuga Labs, the Bored Ape Yacht Club people, just raised $450 million on a $4 billion valuation,” Wimbush said when asked about the future of the NFT market once the first wave of buzz wears off. “If Andreessen Horowitz is throwing that type of money at NFTs, they have a pretty successful history of investment. I see this as a long-term play and something that is here to stay, but I’m continuing to educate myself on it.”

Similarly, as NIL continues to evolve, MOGL is launching its seed funding round and attracting interest from potential lead investors, including several professional athletes. Simultaneously, MOGL in-market sales reps are fostering relationships with local business owners in Austin as well as Athens, Georgia, Columbia, Ohio, Raleigh, North Carolina, and Palo Alto, California.

Wednesday’s NFT live-minting event in partnership with local Austin brands and businesses embodied MOGL’s mission to showcase hometown heroes for the authentic value they can provide locally — in this case, in the tight-knit Texas communities surrounding their respective universities.

This grassroots approach protects MOGL, and all athletes who use it, from the slippery NIL slope.

“Inducement is one of the laws around it,” Wimbush said. “You can’t induce a player to come play for your program by giving them loads of money. An 18-year-old is going to love the sound $50,000 or $100,000, even $1 million, to come play for a program and completely throw by the wayside the value of an education.”

“I hope that inducement doesn’t really become a recruiting strategy, even though it already has,” he continued. “I don’t know what has to be implemented from a legal standpoint that could monitor that activity, but I just hope it stays as ethical as possible.”

Wimbush was once a starry-eyed 18-year-old kid with offers from Alabama, Boston College, Connecticut, Notre Dame, and Penn State. He could have been lured by the big business and championship aura of Bama, but he chose Notre Dame to play the long game. He invested in his future, regardless of how long football would be part of it.

And with MOGL, it’s all paying off.

“I’m healthier,” Wimbush said. “I’m doing things that feel uncomfortable more often. I’m more at peace. I feel happier generating my wealth this way. I can make more of an impact through MOGL than I was on the field. I just need five more years, and I think I’ll be in a better position than I would’ve been if I was playing in the NFL.”

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