Former Buckeye Brandon Fuss-Cheatham helps current Ohio State athletes navigate NIL

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch
Brandon Fuss-Cheatham's degree in sports and leisure studies from Ohio State, along with several business ventures he participated in following graduation, helped lay the foundation for NILManagement.

The view from Lane Avenue has changed a lot since Brandon Fuss-Cheatham suited up at Value City Arena. Looking south from Lane Avenue, new dormitories dot the sightlines from his second-floor perch in a mixed-use office building adjacent to famous watering hole Varsity Club.  

A four-year player for the Ohio State men’s basketball team from 2001-05, Fuss-Cheatham is seated in front of a massive television screen inside what is known as the Scarlet Room. It’s a private club, one owned by local businessman and friend Bill Lewis. The building also occasionally serves as a base of operations for NILManagement, the new company co-founded by Fuss-Cheatham and Columbus entrepreneur (and country music artist agent) Zach Beebe.

With Ohio Stadium looming through the windows and Value City Arena just a few blocks down the road, Fuss-Cheatham has seen the campus experience change for student-athletes. And now, with Buckeyes freely allowed to earn money from their names, images and likenesses, the former point guard has positioned himself to help those who are enjoying a decidedly different college experience than what he had.

It’s a natural extension of Fuss-Cheatham’s undergraduate years and professional business life ever since.

“I wouldn’t even say it’s a transition,” he said. “We just opened our door wider for the athletes. I’m an ex-Ohio State basketball player so I’m very passionate about the athletes. I lived their life.

“I understand what they’re going through and the life that they’re living, and now with the great opportunity and experiences that I’ve had over the last nine years in business, being able to lend that knowledge and experience to them and then represent them in the right way.”

Doing so is the culmination of roughly two decades’ worth of experience.

Brandon Fuss-Cheatham played in 113 games as a Buckeye, from the 2001-02 season to 2004-05.

From Buckeye to businessman

Armed with a degree in sports and leisure studies, Fuss-Cheatham said upon graduation, he bounced around a little bit while searching for a career. After time as a basketball trainer and stints working with mortgage loans and a sports technology company, Fuss-Cheatham started his own T-shirt brand, Lamp Apparel, in 2013.

Now, he has an 80,000-square-foot warehouse facility near the airport and employs more than 50 people who do everything from logo creation to merchandise fulfillment and every other step of brand creation and management. That infrastructure allowed Fuss-Cheatham to be well positioned to sign Ohio State athletes as soon as the NCAA passed new NIL legislation in July.

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It wasn’t just business acumen that helped NILManagement win over Buckeyes. Fuss-Cheatham has spent time visiting with the current roster inside Ohio State's locker room, and guard Jimmy Sotos said the team paid a visit to the warehouse last year as one of coach Chris Holtmann’s planned events to help prepare players for life after basketball.

Fuss-Cheatham's time spent on the hardwood also went a long way toward making athletes like fifth-year men’s basketball player Kyle Young comfortable with Fuss-Cheatham. After hearing from a number of other start-up companies, it took just one meeting for Young to sign with NILManagement.

“It just seemed like (other companies) were trying to get a lot of athletes on board at the beginning just to have the name,” Young said. “I really felt more comfortable after talking with Brandon and them. Them being from Columbus, I felt like it fit, like a hometown thing. They’re not signing too many guys, and they want what’s best for us.”

Brandon Fuss-Cheatham's background as an Ohio State athlete earned him the trust of current Buckeyes Kyle Young and Jimmy Sotos.

Once a player signs with NILManagement, a collaborative process begins to build that player’s unique brand. In-depth conversations get things rolling, and once a profile is established the real work of making deals can begin. The ultimate goal, Fuss-Cheatham said, is to accurately match players and businesses with comparable values.

NILManagement is far from the only player in the game. Kyle McCord and fellow quarterback Quinn Ewers have signed with VaynerSports and Rubicon Talent, respectively, two agencies based out of New York City. Defensive end Tyreke Smith has signed with A&A Management Group, a local company that has former Ohio State football player Nate Oliver as its head recruiter and director of player development.

But branding is a process Fuss-Cheatham feels he’s uniquely qualified to facilitate after having worked with celebrities and done business with companies from New York to Los Angeles. Most of those details come with signed non-disclosure agreements, but Fuss-Cheatham cited Logan Paul with Maverick as a brand his company has helped grow.

“We’re able to paint the picture for a lot of businesses that weren’t prepared for this or just don’t understand how to work in it,” he said. “We’re really good at laying out that foundation for them to really understand.”

There are a lot of conversations that take place and behind-the-scenes work at the warehouse in preparation for an official brand launch, one that sees athletes and like-minded companies begin to do business. Right now, a month and a half after NIL legislation went into effect, a typical work day starts around 8 a.m. and often lasts well past 9 p.m.

“Usually we are sitting around in the office or traveling around town doing meetings, strategizing, meeting with players, doing their brand, closing deals, talking with parents, uncles, aunts, mentors — you name it,” Fuss-Cheatham said. “It’s a full day. It’s a lot of up-front work right now.”

The final brand outcomes are still in their early developmental stages, but both Sotos and Young said they expect to have merchandise lines finalized before long. NILManagement put on an autograph signing for football players Zach Harrison, Haskell Garrett and Teradja Mitchell, three of this year's six football captains, on Aug. 1.

Those efforts will pick up with time.

“I never thought I could make real money that could help pay for bills until I started working with Brandon and some of these deals we’re working on now,” Sotos said. “Initially they’re telling me all these numbers and about the possibilities that are out there, all the money I could make, and it’s super exciting, but I‘ve got to stay patient.”

Former Buckeye Brandon Fuss-Cheatham mainly runs the company he co-founded, NILManagement, out of private club The Scarlet Room.

Seeking the value of Ohio State players

In a city with two professional sports teams, but where Ohio State football is king, what kind of money can Buckeyes reasonably expect to make?

It’s a question that will be answered as deals are consummated and details eventually divulged, but Fuss-Cheatham said there is a demand that will be met. His job is to make sure players cash in on their maximum value, whatever it might be.

“You might believe you’re worth something, but the market is going to tell you, and it’s going to be very black and white,” Fuss-Cheatham said. “We are in a position to make sure that expectation is set. Nothing is promised, but our job is to work hard for you. While you’re working hard at your craft, we’re going to work hard for you to connect those brands that make sense.”

Teammates on the court, Sotos and Young present entirely different branding profiles. Young, a fan favorite after four seasons with the program and a Canton native, has established brand equity based on his high-profile exploits on the court.

Sotos, a Bucknell transfer who was knocked out of action with a shoulder injury during his first season with the program, has a more global presence thanks to formidable social media followings. He boasts more than 487,000 followers on TikTok, where one of his recent clips has been viewed more than 6.6 million times.

“A lot of different, already famous influencers and YouTubers, etc., they do their merchandise for, they help promote their brand, they help support their brand,” Sotos said. “They were already reputable, and with Brandon being a former basketball player at Ohio State, it kind of seemed like a perfect for me right in our backyard.”

Young, in contrast, said he hopes to attract opportunities that can help grow his reach beyond his already established fan base.

“I want to have a bigger impact,” he said. “I think it’s important to find the right group you’re bringing this brand to. I just want to reach more people that could be going through similar things or they have similar values.”

There are inherent risks for businesses making business deals with college athletes, a fact Fuss-Cheatham readily acknowledged. One bad night on social media, or a public misstep, can cause damage to a player’s brand and business interests.

“People do stupid things when they’re 50, 60 years old and they do stupid things when they’re 20 years old,” Fuss-Cheatham said. “Is there a risk? Life is a risk. But I will say the kids are very smart, but they are human.”

Fuss-Cheatham knows. He’s been there, seen that and walked in those shoes. But while the campus has changed, and the rules have done the same, there’s a constant.

There is inherent financial value in being an Ohio State athlete, and the new era of college athletics will bear that out.


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