Kentucky brought home the NCAA’s prohibition on athletes profiting off their names, images and likenesses Friday by asking a business in Olive Hill to stop selling T-shirts commemorating Ben Jordan joining UK’s basketball team. Never mind that Jordan was not to receive money. The business would profit.
Of course, there’s no such prohibition once an athlete’s eligibility expires.
That’s where Matt DiLorenzo comes in. He is the founder and CEO of Pro Player Solutions, a company that bills itself as a consultant on “travel, marketing, public relations, fan relations and social media for today’s professional athletes.”
Since 2012, DiLorenzo’s company arranges some of the autograph tours and other appearances UK players make after every season. Of course, only seniors and/or players who declare they’re staying in that year’s NBA Draft go on such tours.
Several factors are involved in how lucrative these tours can be.
“It depends on how well the team does that year,” DiLorenzo said, “and it depends on how high a kid is going to go in the draft.
“And if he’s not going to go in the draft, how much they contributed to that team.”
Oh, and there’s another important factor.
“If he’s from Kentucky’s always a bonus,” DiLorenzo said.
Availability is also a factor. If a player expects to be drafted — and 38 UK players have been drafted (29 in the first round) in John Calipari’s first 10 seasons as coach — there will likely be an agent stressing the need to spend time working out rather than signing autographs.
“I would say if you could give me 25 appearances throughout the state and you are a real fan favorite, you can probably make $50,000 (or) $75,000 realistically,” DiLorenzo said.
If a player is expected to be the overall No. 1 pick and/or Kentucky wins a national championship, he can exceed $100,000 on an appearance tour, DiLorenzo said.
Players on the end of UK’s bench can profit by their name, image and likeness. DiLorenzo cited Sam Malone, Jarrod Polson and Jon Hood as players he’s worked with on tours.
For all players, DiLorenzo has a bottom-line belief, so to speak. “If you want to make money, you’ve got to grind,” he said.
That means keeping up with school work and basketball workouts, plus being prepared to hit, say, Grayson County, then Elizabethtown with a stop in Louisville on the return home. And a drive to Paducah is a possibility.
“You’ve got to take them to smaller towns because that’s where they are bigger rock stars,” DiLorenzo said. “You could bump into these kids in the mall in Lexington, and it’s not a big deal.”
DiLorenzo, who originally came to UK in 1993 to play soccer, said that timing is also important. Ideally, players should strike while the ardor is hot. “In football, you should start the week after the last game,” he said. “You’ve got to maximize on people’s emotions.”
For example, Sports Illustrated hawks a commemorative issue ASAP after, say, a Super Bowl or World Series.
Benny Snell was a perfect storm of money-making potential. Career leader in rushing. UK enjoying unusually good success. Bowl victory. He toured almost immediately after the season.
DiLorenzo said UK players have a four-week window: From the end of the season to the Kentucky Derby.
The NCAA announcement about devising a plan to allow players to profit off their names, images and likenesses underwhelmed.
“When you say name, image and likeness rights, but within the collegiate model, what you’re really saying is we are going to do this, but we’re not really going to do it,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said on a teleconference. “So it’s not going to be much at all, in my judgment.”
Bilas noted how the NCAA termed California’s adoption of a Fair Pay for Play Act about a month ago as an existential threat to college athletics.
“Then 30, 45 days later you say, well, we’ve changed our mind, so we’re going to move forward on this, but we’re going to do it within this collegiate model thing,” Bilas said. “That’s a pretty significant flip-flop and/or about face. And there’s no explanation of well, we held this out as being this principle that we would never bend on, and now we’re bending on it.
“It basically says, we’ve never had any principle, this has always been about money, and, really, it’s just about how much money. So that’s been surprising and at the same time a little bit disappointing.”
Matt DiLorenzo, who organizes autograph sessions and other for-pay activities for former UK athletes, was also underwhelmed by the NCAA announcement.
“My first reaction is that’s just a stall tactic,” he said. “I think it’s going to take a couple years to figure anything out if anybody can figure anything out on how to do this.”
Sportswriter Billy Reed had graduated from college a school year earlier when he covered UK’s basketball team in the 1966-67 season for the Courier Journal. So he was a contemporary of the players.
Reed recently recalled how this played out on a road trip to LSU and Ole Miss that season.
The traveling party ate dinner at a Baton Rouge restaurant owned by a friend of Adolph Rupp’s, Reed said. The owner gave each person a fifth of liquor.
“Well, I wasn’t much of a drinker in those days,” Reed said. “I took my bottle, and somehow word got around.”
After the game at Ole Miss, there was a knock of Reed’s hotel door.
“It’s two players,” he said. “And they heard I had this bottle. We sat there and did a pretty good job on that bottle.
“We had to catch the team plane the next day. We all had sunglasses on, and Rupp was looking at us, like, ‘Huh? What’s going on here?’
“I was close to those guys. They were more like friends than they were guys I covered.”
Tennessee said on Tuesday that its season-ticket sales for this coming basketball season had reached 15,465. That was the third most in program history and the most since 2008-09, UT said.
Tennessee also declared that four of its home games for 2019-20 were already sold out. The Feb. 8 game against Kentucky is one of the four. The others are games against Memphis (Dec. 14), Florida (Feb. 29) and Auburn (March 7).
As for UK, the school said that it had sold out its season tickets, which number about 17,000. Any single-game tickets that become available come from the student allotment (about 2,500) and those used for department needs (about 1,000), UK said.
Change of plans
Donald Trump’s visit to Lexington on Monday for a campaign rally on the eve of an election caused UK basketball to change its travel plans regarding Tuesday’s game against Michigan State.
The Cats were scheduled to leave for New York at 7 p.m. Monday. But because of Trump’s arrival about an hour earlier and the accompanying disruption at Bluegrass Field, UK rescheduled its flight for Monday afternoon.
To former LSU coach Dale Brown. He turned 84 on Thursday. … To former West Virginia and Cincinnati coach Gale Catlett. He turned 79 on Thursday. … To Chuck Verderber. He turns 60 on Sunday (today). … To Tyrese Maxey. He turns 19 on Monday. … To Dontaie Allen. He turns 19 on Tuesday. … To Trey Lyles. He turns 24 on Tuesday. … To Vanderbilt Coach Jerry Stackhouse. He turns 45 on Tuesday. … To Doron Lamb. He turns 28 on Wednesday.