UW athletes learn about brand building


CASPER — With name, image and likeness legislation becoming more prevalent around the country, the University of Wyoming has teamed up with one of its own to start preparing its student-athletes accordingly.

UW’s athletic department has partnered with Firestarter, a personal branding firm, to conduct courses for its student-athletes that will focus on individual branding, marketing and public relations, the school announced Wednesday. The classes, which will be offered starting this fall and continue in the spring of 2021, will be taught as part of the department’s “Excellence at 7220” program, an initiative started in 2015 to help student-athletes develop leadership skills and promote personal growth.

Firestarter, which is based in Alexandria, Virginia, was founded by CEO Frances Reimers, a Cheyenne native and UW alum. An award-winning consultant, Reimers has worked on brand-building initiatives with numerous athletes and teams at the collegiate and professional levels over the last five years. Some of Firestarter’s notable clients include the Denver Nuggets, Buffalo Bills offensive lineman Jon Feliciano and Los Angeles Rams star Aaron Donald’s nonprofit foundation, AD99 Solutions.

“We strive to provide our student-athletes with the tools they need to be the leaders of tomorrow,” said Taylor Stuemkly, UW’s assistant athletic director for internal operations. “As we wait to learn more about name, image and likeness (NIL) legislation, we want to proactively secure services that would help all student-athletes manage their personal brands. We’re very excited to be able to provide our student-athletes access to a professional like Frances, who works daily in this space and also has first-hand knowledge of our program’s culture.”

The collaboration comes at a time when NIL legislation, which would allow athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness, is being adopted by more and more states. NCAA rules currently limit athletes’ compensation to their scholarship and cost-of-attendance stipend, but with the association dragging its feet on its public commitment to modernize its rules, more than 35 states have now taken it upon themselves to introduce their own NIL bill. Fifteen have already signed it into law with some scheduled to go into effect as early as July 1.

A handful of those states, including California (Fresno State, San Jose State, San Diego State), Colorado (Colorado State) and New Mexico (UNM), are home to some of UW’s competition in the Mountain West Conference, but Wyoming is one of the few states that has yet to act on NIL legislation. Noticing the trend nationwide, though, Reimers said the partnership with her alma mater has been years in the making after suggesting to UW athletic director Tom Burman the idea of providing brand education for if or when that changes — either within the state or the NCAA.

“Over the past year and a half, obviously name, image and likeness has become an issue, and it’s literally upon us,” Reimers told the Star-Tribune. “Wyoming will have it in their backyard starting July 1. New Mexico’s law goes into effect July 1. It’s not like they can say it’s not near. It’s at a school in a conference that they play.

“It’s been a conversation that has been evolving for well over a year in more solid terms. And I’m so glad that we’re able to finally put pen to paper and put something out for the student-athletes to see.”

Five classes will be offered to UW’s student-athletes, each one tailored to different levels of experience. For example, Reimers said, an introductory course will be available to freshmen who may be new to promoting their personal brand while older athletes can take more advanced classes. Topics that will be covered include effective use of social media, content creation, media engagement, public speaking skills and cyber security.

While the possibility of athletes making money while in college is getting the most attention when it comes to NIL rules, Reimers said the courses will also be geared toward helping athletes prepare for life after UW. For seniors in particular, that could include lessons on how to hire a publicist, how to start a business or how start a foundation.

“I have a whole thing about resume building, building a LinkedIn (profile), networking in person and how that helps and hurts your brand, so we’re talking about that stuff, too,” Reimers said. “I didn’t want it to just be all about the monetization because not every athlete wants that. Some just really want to make sure they’re putting their best foot forward, and that’s important, too.”