New Haven Register (Sunday) (New Haven, CT)
Behind Norwalk native D’Amelio’s NIL collective for UConn athletics
NEW YORK — Drinks were flowing, spirits were high, and trays of appetizers were everywhere.
It was a few hours before the UConn men’s basketball team was set to play its first Big East Tournament game at Madison Square Garden and Husky fans were gathered at high-end Legasea Bar & Grill just a few blocks from the arena. This was not a typical pregame sports bar event — no pub food or cheap beer for this group.
And amid this group of UConn faithful was one of the school’s most famous supporters. Marc D’Amelio, social media influencer and father from the TikTok-famous family, was hosting the exclusive brunch that was connected to his D’Amelio Husky Collective.
There were UConn chants, UConn cheerleaders, and a Husky mascot. Even athletic director David Benedict was on hand to represent the school.
D’Melio, a Norwalk native and 1991 UConn graduate, has increasing become a prominent figure in the UConn athletic world. As name, image and likeness changes the college sports landscape, D’Amelio has stepped forward for his alma mater.
D’Amelio and his family became well-known after youngest daughter Charli went viral on TikTok in 2019. Her popularity grew exponentially, and her following has amassed to 150.2 million followers on TikTok and 48.2 million on Instagram.
With this level of celebrity came a heightened interest in her family. Marc and his wife Heidi capitalized on their increased following and have constructed a D’Amelio empire, one that includes their own reality TV show on Hulu called “The D’Amelio Show.”
Marc now has 10.4 million followers on TikTok and 1.5 million on Instagram while Dixie, Marc’s and Heidi’s oldest daughter, has 80.7 million on Instagram and TikTok combined.
The D’Amelio’s have their own successful ventures to keep them busy. Dixie has become a wellknown singer and was unable to attend Thursday’s brunch because she was launching her own shoe line with Puma the same day.
Charli and Heidi are both touring as a part of the “Dancing with the Stars” cast, but Marc said the family plans to reunite in Las Vegas for the last show of the tour on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Marc is using his social media and branding experience to assist UConn student-athletes through the collective he created.
Collectives are business entities that are independent of schools, often formed by alumni, supporters and donors, and they operate as vehicle to raise money and help facilitate NIL activity for student-athletes. Collectives have sprung up around the country since NIL policy began in July 2021.
“I want to help with the collective the same way I help Charli, the same way I help Dixie, the same way I help my wife and myself. I’m not saying I have the blueprint, but I have a pretty good idea on how to help people build their personal brand,” Marc told CT Insider.
The mission of the D’Amelio Husky Collective is to aid student-athletes in navigating the NIL landscape —specifically helping the student-athletes understand NIL contracts, build their personal brands, and cultivate a strong social media presence.
“The overall NIL space has grown tremendously. It’s something where I’ve spent time to figure it out. And I think we have a good handle on how we’re going to go forward as a collective, and ultimately, not only put money in the pockets of athletes, we will also do more than that and be an entity that could help kids grow their personal brand,” D’Amelio said.
“If they’re not going to go pro, they have a degree from UConn, but they also have a strong social media following. Those are the types of things I’m looking at. Not only just do what some of these big football schools are doing, where they’re just putting money in their pockets, and it’s basically pay for play. I do not want to be involved with that. I want to bring deals together with student-athletes that pay them for things that they do.”
D’Amelio approached Benedict about giving back the school that helped shape him. The two collaborated on what the right partnership would look like and the D’Amelio Husky Collective was born in May 2022.
“Marc was the one who came forward and said, ‘Hey, I want to do this.’ I mean, we obviously had been talking about things, but he came forward and said, ‘This is a unique space I know very well,’ ” Benedict said. “A lot of student-athletes are leveraging their own social identities and following, to monetize (their content) and make money forever. And that’s obviously what he does. So he really wants to help all of our student-athletes in that way.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to have someone like that. He’s a nationally known individual and in the space of social media ... like our kids know who the D’Amelios are and that’s a big deal. So it’s very helpful.”
The D’Amelio Husky Collective is also launching a subscription model for the brand. When it was announced on Twitter, some were confused about how this could work.
“The model is one that a lot of collectives have used successfully, where we can get more kinds of continuous fulfillment pieces. The hardest thing about these NIL deals, though, is everybody gets excited about it, and you get a pot of money. It creates good opportunities, and then that pot goes down...” said Chris Schoemann, Executive Director of the D’Amelio Husky Collective. “I think that the subscription model represents the opportunity for the donor to get a piece of the D’Amelio brand in terms of a deliverable while at the same time helping us to make sure that we’ve got this replication strategy so that we’ve got the opportunity to to engage these kids on some meaningful learning opportunities.”
This type of funding is not new to alumni groups and other schools have had success running a subscription-type model or ‘club’ model. According to both Schoemann and D’Amelio, the Husky Collective used Tennessee as one of their model for rolling out a subscription plan.
“The hardest thing when looking at a collective like this is, what does the donor get? So you can even give them that tactile sense of being close to the athlete or close to the brand or close to Marc,” Schoemann said.
“There’s not a tax benefit for making that donation to the collective. So you’ve got to be strategic in terms of saying if, if that individual gives you X number of dollars in terms of resource, there has to be some affinity there and whether that’s opportunities like with being with the family, you know that it’s kind of one off unique pieces, we’re open to being strategic to continue to create those things so that these folks are as excited as Marc and I are about what we do with these kids.”
There will be levels to the subscription model, with varying perks depending on which level of subscription. The highest level will consist of the most exclusive perks and events, including an opportunity to meet the entire D’Amelio family.
“Another thing that we’re trying to do is to use the notoriety of my family to sell subscription services. So if you buy the (for example) $500 a month subscription service, we’re going to plan a tailgate event that my whole family will attend,” D’Amelio said.
Schoemann added,”Marc is committed to having this family at a tailgate function before or after a football or men’s basketball game, and that obviously would be a special, unique opportunity for folks to take advantage of. That’s what the benefit is across the board for everyone.”
D’Amelio said he will not gain a monetary benefit from the D’Amelio Husky Collective, even with the new subscription model. He wants to re-invest everything into UConn’s student-athletes through NIL activity.
“We’re a nonprofit, I’m not taking a dime out of this. I’m doing it totally with my own free time, but there’s going to be money exchanged. So I want to make sure that everyone knows that if you give us $1.00, I want to try to make sure that 95% of that goes back to the student-athlete,” D’Amelio said.
D’Amelio’s obsession with UConn men’s basketball runs deep and came before he even showed up in Storrs.
“Why I went to UConn is because I saw those guys beat Ohio State in the NIT back in the late ’80s,” Marc said. “I’ve seen a lot of UConn games in Madison Square Garden.”
A few of Marc’s college friends made it to the brunch, among them was longtime friend Tom Zaiss, who talked about D’Amelio’s time as a DJ at Huskies Tavern.
“I used to DJ for fun and then it happened one night for whatever reason, there was no DJ at Huskies but the place was packed and I had records back at my dorm,” D’Amelio recounted. “I just came in and started doing it and it was one of the coolest things. It was so much fun.”
Others are the brunch remember the DJ days, including a notable UConn basketball alum — none other than Chris Smith, the program’s all-time leading scorer.
“It was one of my best experiences,” D’Amelio said.