On Monday, the Florida Panthers inked Miami Hurricanes quarterback D’Eriq King to an endorsement deal in their Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) program, becoming the first professional sports team to sign a NIL deal with a college athlete since the NCAA allowed college athletes to profit off of their notability on the field in June.
Sam Doerr, the Chief Strategy Officer for the Panthers, sat down with The Hockey Writers and discussed the team’s innovative NIL program, what’s to come with it, and how the team plans on marketing itself to the college campuses in South Florida.
Guy: With the Name, Image, and Likeness Program, are you trying to reach more colleges around Florida to get students to come out to games?
Doerr: Yeah, certainly, it’s part of the reach that’s attractive to us is reaching the sports audience in South Florida, and part of that in the South, and especially South Florida and Florida in general, is college football. College football is a very popular sport with a fanbase that looks much different in many instances than the hockey fanbase, so part of that definitely is the college students. It’s definitely an ingredient to our thinking behind this program.
Guy: The program notes that it’s helping local athletes. By local do you mean just the ones in South Florida like Florida Atlantic University, Miami, and Florida International University, or are you extending that reach to try to get to places like Florida State, University of South Florida, and the University of Florida?
Doerr: Yeah, I think everything’s on the table. Obviously, for our first athlete, we wanted it to be from [Miami], FAU, or FIU, but as the program expands, I would not rule out FSU, UF, University of Central Florida, etc. I think we’re open to athletes from Fort Lauderdale or Broward County that are playing at other schools, so everything’s on the table, but I think it was important for us for that our first big announcement that the individual was from the South Florida area.
Guy: What seperated D’Eriq King from the rest of the candidates you had to announce first?
Doerr: I think any time you’re the quarterback for the University of Miami, eyeballs are on you, so he’s probably the most high-profile athlete in South Florida. It was a no-brainer for us, but secondly, he’s somebody that wanted to innovate within the space. I think you look at the things he’s already done with his other partnerships. He’s been really innovative on that front when it comes to NIL and that was really important for us to partner with someone like that.
Also importantly, he’s a humble, team-first-oriented individual and shares a lot of the same values that our organization has in terms of giving back to the community and doing things the right way. So, you put that all together and we think it’s a perfect match.
Guy: With this first-of-its-kind program in all of professional sports, in what ways are you guys trying to use that program to innovate and put the Panthers’ franchise ahead of other franchises in the league?
Doerr: I think we already have. The response on Monday was unbelievable and we had over 1.1 million impressions just on Twitter alone from the announcement. A lot of other major media outlets [picked up the news], we were trending on Twitter at one point we were on the front page of ESPN. I don’t know how often that’s happened for the Panthers in August ever before, and I think right there shows you the success and innovation we want to have.
Since then, numerous teams, not only in hockey but in the NBA and other leagues, reached out to see how we did that, to see how we were thinking about it to see how they could do it, too. I think we made a name for ourselves in the space and we want to continue to innovate, not only in this space but in other spaces.
Guy: So, you mentioned that King has some idea as far as innovating the NIL program, but what are some things the athletes would be doing to help push the Panthers’ brand on their college campuses and beyond?
Doerr: I think it’s no different than some of the things we’ve already been doing with social media influencers in terms of posting on social media about games and big events and obviously meet and greets, doing community events, getting involved in the Florida Panthers Foundation, and autograph signings at games.
Obviously, merchandise is a big one for us as well. We want to start reaching different demographics when it comes to merchandise — that’s one of the things we’re really excited to do with King. We certainly want to reach more females, so I think there’s a lot of exciting things on the horizon that we can do.
Guy: So, there are some club college hockey teams in Florida, but do you think a move like this where the Panthers are enriching themselves in college sports could possibly open up opportunities for Division I hockey schools in Florida?
Doerr: I don’t know, I think that’s really up to the schools, I don’t think this will have any impact on that. We obviously would be an advocate for it. Coming from Arizona, seeing what Arizona State hockey did for the state, you know, we certainly would love to see one of the universities [in Florida] at Division I hockey here, but I don’t think there’ll be any direct correlation to what we’ve done.
But we would certainly welcome having a division one program in the state and I think you’ll see it eventually. The more success Tampa Bay has and the more success that we have, I think it’s a natural progression and we certainly look forward to welcoming whatever school it is that brings that on.
Colby Guy is a writer for the Florida Panthers department here at THW. He’s a senior at Florida Atlantic University and currently serves as a football contributor, social media contributor and photographer for FAU Owls Nest.
Previously, Colby has written for FanSided as a New York Islanders, Florida Panthers, and Nashville Predators writer. He also served as Editor-In-Chief for FAU’s University Press. You can find him on Twitter at @ColbyDGuy.