By Tim Reynolds
The Florida Panthers may soon be signing a quarterback. Or a center who plays basketball. Or a goalie who plays soccer.
It all makes sense.
The Panthers are the first NHL team, and they believe the first U.S. major pro sports team, to establish an opportunity for college athletes to align with them as part of recent rule changes that allow college athletes to profit off their name and celebrity.
Florida unveiled the plan Wednesday, starting the process of gauging interest from athletes who attend college nearest to where the Panthers play — primarily meaning Miami and Florida Atlantic.
“Right now, at the very least, we’re getting an understanding of who’s interested,” Panthers Chief Strategy Officer Sam Doerr said. “We’re really trying to understand what schools, who they are, what program, kind of their social media following and then we’ll internally set guidelines about who will qualify for the program.”
Doerr is hoping the Panthers can have some deals in place within the next four weeks. The team will value diversity, he said, and wants to ensure women’s athletes and those from Olympic sports are part of the program.
Final details on what will be involved are still being arranged, but the Panthers are for now planning to offer merchandise such as jerseys to the college athletes that get signed, along with the opportunity to earn money through a “pretty robust social media marketing campaign,” Doerr said.
“They’ll get paid probably per post or per campaign,” Doerr said. “They’ll benefit off of posting. It’s really taking the existing infrastructure of social media influencer marketing and extending it to college athletes, but using a pro team as an extension of that.”
There are no NCAA hockey teams in South Florida, but there are many schools with club teams. It remains unclear how, or if, the Panthers may be able to involve some of those players in its endorsement program.
“We’re plowing forward,” Doerr said. “I’ve already gotten a bunch of texts from folks at Miami saying they have kids interested. I’m sure we’ll see the same from FAU and some of the other schools. So far, so good, and we’ll see where it goes.”