“Tried to get me, bro, tried to get me,” he laughs in the video. “Can’t wait to play your guys, to play your squad. Will be a fun little matchup. I hope you have a great Fourth of July.”
And, of course, he closed it with a “hook ’em” and tossed up the horns.
The brief exchange smacks of the ribbing and rivalry common in college football. But it wouldn’t have been possible just a month ago.
At the beginning of July, the NCAA said college athletes could profit off their name, image and likeness. For many, this felt like a victory — “This changed the entire landscape for college athletics,” said Davion Mintz, who plays basketball for the University of Kentucky — but one that replaced long-simmering frustration with burning new questions. Namely, how?
Many of the NCAA’s top stars quickly signed endorsement deals with major corporations. Auburn quarterback Bo Nix partnered with the Alabama-based Milo’s Tea. Sisters Hanna and Haley Cavinder, who play hoops at Fresno State, became spokeswomen for Boost Mobile. University of Arkansas wide receiver Trey Knox teamed up with PetSmart.
But not every college athlete will be able to snag a big-name deal. For them, Cameo has turned into a potentially profitable alternative.
The social media platform’s concept is simple: Users pay celebrities to create short, personalized videos. The buyer outlines a request, and the celebrity fulfills it however they see fit. It launched in 2017 with a menagerie of D-list celebrities and professional (often retired) athletes, then skyrocketed into the public consciousness during the pandemic as Carole Baskin of “Tiger King” fame sang 50 Cent songs, and it attracted an increasingly strong roster of talent, including everyone from the NFL’s Drew Brees to actor Richard Dreyfuss to rapper Juicy J. For $15,000, boxer Floyd Mayweather will say your name on camera.
Each video only takes a few minutes and a smartphone camera to make — useful when you’re racing between practice and classes. According to a Cameo spokeswoman, the college athletes set their own prices on the app, though the company makes suggestions “based on anonymized industry comps and anecdotal feedback.” The athletes’ prices are subject to change. So far, they range from $5 to $177 per video.
Since the new rules for college athletes took effect on July 1, 280 players have joined the app, with at least 200 more pending, according to a Cameo spokeswoman. The players have made more than 1,600 Cameos so far, with the company taking 25 percent of each transaction.
“They were on their phones already,” said David Ridpath, a professor of sports management at Ohio University. “Now they’re just able to monetize that time a little more.”
Developing a social media following could also help bridge the divide between all-star athletes and the second string, he says.
“Maybe you’re an obscure athlete, but you might be a TikTok superstar or a YouTube superstar, and Cameo can be used to enhance that brand,” Ridpath said. “Some are going to make more than others, but I think we’ll be very surprised that it isn’t always going to be superstars. Some of the superstars may be viewed as surly and not very marketable.”
Mintz, the UK starting guard who made headlines in July when he pulled out of the NBA draft to play another year as a Wildcat, creates Cameos for $25 a pop to build his personal brand — and to gain some firsthand experience in self-promotion.
Not every college athlete’s dreams of going pro are realistic, Mintz said. Acquiring some real-world business experience could give him a leg up after graduation.
“Part of being professional is marketing yourself,” he added. “And trying to maximize your brand, your identity, who you are as a person, because that’s where your income comes from.”
Mintz says he fires off the videos as he’s heading to class, in the locker room after practice, or at night before he goes to sleep — though he tries to send his videos earlier in the day so his fans can share them on social media.
The athletes say they have fielded requests for personalized birthday shout-outs, their thoughts on the upcoming season and even some light Don Rickles-esque roasts.
Montana Fouts, who pitches for the University of Alabama softball team, says she routinely is asked to give pep talks to 7- and 8-year-old players. “It’s a nice head start,” said Founts, who plans to work with children at softball and pitching camps after graduation.
Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton unveiled his fantasy football league’s draft order in one video and in another, at the request of a grieving widow’s son, offered condolences for a late Irish fan.
UT quarterback Casey Thompson made a short video for a lifelong UT fan who was dying of cancer.
“It was really humbling,” Thompson said, adding that the realization of how much these videos might mean to some people has him reshooting some of them five to 10 times to get them perfect.
“I just think I’m a normal college football player. I’m not always realizing the impact of this name, image and likeness. It’s more than just me being able to profit and benefit financially. The new rule changes can impact a lot of people’s lives.” He donates some of the proceeds to No Kid Hungry, a national organization dedicated to ending childhood hunger.
Sedona Prince was one of the first athletes to sign up for the Cameo app.
The University of Oregon basketball forward already had a massive social media following, including more than 2.5 million followers on TikTok, which she used to draw attention to the massive disparity between the men’s and women’s weight rooms at the March Madness tournament earlier this year.
Once she joined Cameo, where she currently charges $63 per video, the requests came pouring in. “I know that I wouldn’t pay … to get a video of myself, so when other people do it, I’m like, ‘Wow, y’all are awesome,’ ” Prince joked. “It means a lot to me.”
In one, she was asked to be a digital maid of honor (though she’s still figuring out how to fulfill that one). Someone else asked Prince, a tattoo aficionado, what ink to get. She frequently dances on her coffee table in her videos. But perhaps the most touching one was when a fan asked Prince to help her come out as bisexual to her friends and family.
“So I made a video, and I was like, ‘Hey everyone, my dearest friend has a really important message for you guys. She’s bi,’ ” Prince said. “It was the coolest thing for me because I remember when I was a young teenager, figuring out how to come out was so difficult. Now that I get to do that for someone else is really, really special to me.”