Jordan Lynch can’t tell you exactly how many items bearing his photo or autograph exist on eBay. But he knows they’re out there.
Among the collection of 35 football cards, miniature Northern Illinois football helmets and even a pair of orange end zone pylons with the NIU logo on them that are currently up for bid online, 28 include the Heisman Trophy finalist’s signature.
In today’s open marketplace, fans seek top dollar for merchandise signed by star college athletes like Lynch. The athletes, according to NCAA rules, are not permitted to be paid for their football services or for jerseys, photos and cards bearing their likeness are sold. And yet, universities like NIU are benefiting financially from the exposure that comes from having high-profile players on the field.
Exposure means money. How much? The president of a Michigan-based firm that evaluates corporate sponsorships said nationally recognized athletes like Lynch can be worth up to nearly $5 million a month in media exposure, putting not only the player on a national stage but his school as well.
“At the end of the day, you’re exposing that name to potentially millions of readers and viewers and that’s pretty powerful,” said Eric Wright, the president and executive director of research at Joyce Julius and Associates in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Wright’s firm tracks media exposure impressions, whether it be on television, in print or online, and uses a formula to determine how much money – using traditional advertising methods – would be spent to generate that kind of media attention.
Joyce Julius can’t translate its formula into how much in real dollars the university takes in because of the exposure. But between the financial gain coming to the university and the money being made from the sale of signed merchandise, plenty of people – with the exception of the players bringing the attention in the first place – are being compensated financially.
Lynch told Shaw Media this week it’s something he hasn’t given much thought to.
“It would be pretty cool to be paid for some of this stuff – sign autographs and get paid for it,” Lynch said. “But it’s all about giving back.”
Lynch said, because he’s on full scholarship, he feels like NIU has done plenty for him. Wright said that, in the 90 days before last week’s Mid-American Conference Championship game, the number of media mentions of Lynch would be similar to that of players such as Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner. Wright’s firm was commissioned to track Gardner’s media exposure and valued it at approximately $4.5 million a month using traditional advertising pricing models.
For Lynch, the attention can be a bit overwhelming.
“I’m still not used to it,” Lynch said. “It still hasn’t sunk in and it’s kind of surreal. But I never really pay attention to the media stuff – New York Times or anything – this whole Heisman thing hasn’t sunk in and probably won’t for a while.”
Since the six Heisman finalists were announced on Monday night Wright’s firm tracked media mentions, across the country. As of Wednesday morning, Auburn running back Tre Mason has generated the most media buzz among finalists, with 5,100 media mentions while Lynch had earned 1,900 mentions.
Despite knowing that some signed items would likely end up on the open marketplace, Lynch said he never concerned himself with how much other people were making off of him. He said he tries to sign one autograph per fan and personalize it, if possible.
“I know there’s going to be people out there – no matter how nice they ask – that are going to sell (signed items) out there and I have no part with that,” Lynch said. “I mean, I just sign it to be nice.”
NIU associate athletic director Donna Turner said the university does not sponsor autograph-signing events. Charities seeking signed items must go through NIU’s compliance office to obtain the items. Once given to charities, though, the school has no control over where they go.
After leading the Huskies to the Orange Bowl last season, Lynch became the subject of Jordan Lynch For 6, a marketing campaign that the athletic department spent $9,400 on, Turner said.
Turner said money was spent on putting together a website, lunch boxes, notebooks and mailing costs, putting promotional materials into the hands of media members who cover college football.
Turner also said she received two to three requests from national radio stations per week with requests picking up substantially during the month of November.
NIU received more than 100 credential requests for the Huskies’ win over Ball State. Among the national media outlets present: SI.com, ESPN.com, The New York Times, USA Today and others.
The attention given to NIU compares to that of another favorite example of Wright’s of how one player can place a school on a national stage. When Robert Griffin III won the Heisman Trophy in 2011, Baylor University saw the popularity around its football program explode.
An ESPN.com story said Griffin’s Heisman Trophy resulted in a 10 percent uptick in giving to Baylor’s Bear Foundation while licensing royalties went up 50 percent. The result? Plans for a new $250 million football stadium were announced after Griffin’s Heisman win.
While Lynch is not the favorite to winh the Heisman, NIU will continue to reap the benefits of Lynch’s legacy. The exposure paid dividends in recruiting and in ticket sales – something NIU coach Rod Carey hopes continues once Lynch’s career ends.
“This gets you on a stage where, sometimes, we’re not,” Carey said. “We’ve been fortunate in the last year to be on it, but it gets us on that stage and gets our name out there and that’s a good thing for our university, our students, our community and obviously, in this case, for Jordan.”