Rick Ricart’s suburban Columbus, Ohio car dealership has been family-owned for nearly seven decades, but during that lengthy stretch of time, Ricart Automotive had never partnered with an athlete at any level to be a pitch person for its vehicles.
Earlier this year, however, after Texas high school star quarterback Quinn Ewers announced he would forgo his senior year at Southlake Carroll and enroll at Ohio State University, Ricart had the means to contact Ewers’ father, Curtis, and pitch a business deal.
“I thought to myself, ‘This is the No. 1-rated recruit in the history of (Ohio State),” says Ricart. “With a generational talent, and the potential that (Ewers) has and what he can do for this city — national championships, Heisman Trophy race, and the impact he can have on the community with his influence and his outreach… He’s a good representation for our brand and the university.”
Ewers, 18, has yet to take a snap for the Buckeyes this season, and is below starter C.J. Stroud, and Buckeye quarterbacks Kyle McCord and Jack Miller III on the depth chart. But Ricart says after the NCAA changed its rules on name, image and likeness (NIL) policies earlier this year — allowing college players to profit from NIL deals — he took the leap to try and capitalize on a unique partnership opportunity.
“I said, ‘What does Quinn drive?’” says Ricart, referring to the phone call with Ewers’ father. “‘How would he like to drive a 2020 Ford F-250 when he gets to Columbus?’ I offered Quinn the use of the vehicle for three years.”
Ewers, in turn, agreed to partner with Ricart Automotive, and in late August, Ricart posted to his Twitter account a video of him and his new pitchman driving around in Ewers’ shiny white Ford pickup. Ricart even dons a wig in the clip to match Ewers’ now-famous blond mullet.
The Ricart Automotive partnership is just one example of what the future looks like, from a business perspective, for amateur athletes, after decades of NCAA policy prevented college stars from being able to monetize their NIL rights. A Supreme Court ruling earlier this summer opened the door to massive change for amateur athletes and how they’re compensated. And while business owners like Ricart are entering a brave new endorsement world — Ricart calls it the “wild west” — forging deals now while the NIL market is still in its infancy may be the smarter strategy.
“Who knows where the NIL market will go? Some players are only willing to do one-year deals,” says Ricart. “But come the offseason and an opportunity arises, big auto manufacturers get involved, the local dealer might get washed out.”
Ewers chose to give up his senior high school season since Texas state laws prohibit high school athletes from profiting off NIL deals. According to OSU’s profile of Ewers, he’s the school’s highest-rated recruit in the modern era, which means from 2000 to present. While he was a high school junior, Ewers threw for 2,442 yards and 28 touchdowns in eight games, and led his Dragons team to the 6A state championship game.
“These athletes are the cream of the crop, players that have the recruiting grade, beyond-the-field performance, the social media following,” says Ricart. “From a marketing standpoint, these will be desirable individuals for companies that want to partner in the future.”
According to ESPN, Ewers had signed three NIL deals by the end of August alone, including a reported $1.4 million pact with GT Sports Marketing. Although Ricart Automotive would not disclose the financial figures for its deal with Ewers, the business relationship has already paid off in the short term, Ricart says. The dealership was able to partner with Ewers’ OSU teammates, freshman running back TreVeyon Henderson, and junior wide receiver Garrett Wilson.
“Definitely getting our foot in the door and at least establishing that initial relationship (with Ewers) has already proven to have some of those residual effects,” says Ricart.
Ewers, Henderson and Wilson have a combined 95,000-plus Twitter followers, one layer of many marketing strategies Ricart says a business needs to consider when formulating these partnerships.
“I sat down and thought, ‘What makes sense for a car dealership to truly do a partnership like this from a business standpoint?’ There’s media attention, social media posts,” says Ricart. “You almost have to think about it as the level of influence and marketing and what the growing rate would be. What’s the value of the vehicle, the value of appreciation, and the return on that investment when it comes back to us?”
And there is the gamble a business takes on the individual athlete, as well. Ricart says Ewers checked off all the important points in the character department. Now it’s a wait and see game, and what the young quarterback may achieve on the gridiron when that chance finally comes.
“I knew it would be a waiting game with Quinn. But at the same time, to be able to form a partnership with him early, help build his brand, and have him start being able to do good things in the city and community is important,” says Ricart. “A lot of companies are sitting back watching the (NIL) storm unfold. We decided to saddle up, jump in the middle of it. I’m going to ride this thing out, and have a whole lot of fun.”
Social Media Executive