Los Angeles Times

Athletes take lead role in NIL venture

Bruin Fan Alliance will be centered on community outreach and fan engagement.

- By Ben Bolch

fundraisin­g. Show them the money, yes, but also watch them show you the many ways they can galvanize the UCLA sports community.

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

The concept was created by BFA chairman Gene Karzen, a UCLA alumnus who took $50,000 in seed money to start the nonprofit organizati­on that will be athlete-driven, such former Bruins stars as Olympic gold medalist hurdler Dawn HarperNels­on working in an advisory capacity with current athletes to craft the program.

If linebacker Carl Jones Jr. wants to hold a football clinic in his Bakersfiel­d hometown, go for 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 do something that’s really unpreceden­ted,” Karzen said. “We’re rolling out an NIL model within a charitable organizati­on driven by and owned by current and former athletes.”

Big names such as 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, with scores more expected to join. The athletes will fundraise through social media and word of mouth, directly pocketing 20% of donations sent to a link on the BFA website.

Karzen, who is ceding control of the BFA he founded in 2015, estimates that the athletes will make roughly 75% of all the money coming in, with the balance going to operating expenses and the former UCLA athletes who will provide support services such as financial advising. The goal is for the collective to raise between $750,000 and $1 million per year.

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

“Former athletes, it was tough for guys — once they had left, they weren’t really returning to campus,” said Dietrich Riley, a former Bruins safety who is now a liaison between the collective and the athletic department. “So now that we’re having guys that are coming back and showing their face but also aligning with charitable work and also being able to work with current athletes, it’s pretty cool, it’s special.”

The endeavor has already sparked new friendship­s between athletes from different sports who often silo themselves among teammates. At a recent event that served as a test run before the formal launch, Campbell went one-on-one with cornerback Jaylin Davies and buried a jumper over Davies’ outstretch­ed arm.

“I hadn’t met any of the basketball team before this,” receiver Logan Loya said, “so that’s a big thing.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared nearly 2½ years ago, Bruins athletes also haven’t interacted much with fans. That changed during a Memorial Day weekend football youth clinic in South Park that the BFA held in conjunctio­n with the Los Angeles Police Department, running back Keegan Jones lofting passes, Charbonnet signing footballs and running back Deshun Murrell drawing chuckles with his cowboy boots.

Then the group visited the nearby Pueblo Del Rio housing project to shoot baskets with kids on dilapidate­d backboards featuring rims without nets. The hope is that some of the kids who cherish these encounters will also be spurred to follow their heroes to Westwood.

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

The collective has planned a robust schedule in coming weeks to trumpet its launch and the ways it can serve the community. Remember those dilapidate­d backboards at Pueblo Del Rio? At a ceremony on July 27, the group will unveil new backboards and a resurfaced court adorned with the BFA logo. Three days later, the group will hold a fundraiser barbecue in Irvine that will allow the athletes to mingle with fans.

Starting this fall, the collective will celebrate an athlete ambassador of the week by donning buttons bearing their name and meeting with fans for a pregame drink or meal before gathering again to root for the athlete on campus. BFA-affiliated athletes who show up will receive an appearance fee.

“The idea is you’re developing a much more passionate, connected fan base,” Karzen said. “All the fans see what’s going on and they’ll say, ‘What is this group? They’re fantastic.’ And while they’re out there, sure, they’re going to tell the public who they are, what they’re doing and please check out the website with all the things we’ve been doing in the community.”

Karzen also envisioned a program in which the collective recruited at-risk kids with athletic talent and put them on 15 to 20 clubstyle teams, each coached by a UCLA athlete. The collective would provide tutoring, life counseling and nutritiona­l support with the hope of landing each kid an athletic or academic college scholarshi­p, some of those kids possibly ending up in Westwood as part of the philanthro­py.

“We see so many other schools across the nation that their athletes are being compensate­d,” Riley said, “but does it really leave an impact in the community? Is it really going to be heartfelt amongst others? With this, you’re able to inf luence the community working with kids and you’re gaining a fan at the end of the day, you’re going to have 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’re going to have lifelong fans and kids are going to be looking up to you for many years to come. This is what UCLA was missing.”

The Bruins have it now, the athletes in the collective gaining business and leadership skills that could open doors to other NIL opportunit­ies, not to mention postgradua­te jobs. In the meantime, they expect to enjoy themselves while representi­ng their school and pocketing some extra cash.

“This is like my dream job-type thing,” Clark said, “because I just get to be myself.”

Their name will be revered by those they inspire to wear the four letters.

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

Their likeness will be displayed on buttons worn to UCLA games, fellow athletes from their school gathering to cheer them on while getting paid.

One year into the NIL era, the newest moneymakin­g endeavor to reach Westwood is rich in novelties. It will be run by Bruins athletes from every sport. They will make the decisions. They will raise the money. They will design the program centered on community outreach and fan engagement.

The athletes will profit by showing up to events, serving on an advisory board and

 ?? Bruin Football Alliance ?? DEVIN KIRKWOOD, a UCLA cornerback, interacts with kids during a Memorial Day youth football clinic in South Park.
Bruin Football Alliance DEVIN KIRKWOOD, a UCLA cornerback, interacts with kids during a Memorial Day youth football clinic in South Park.

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