The College Athletes Who Are Allowed to Make Big Bucks: Cheerleaders - Republik City News

The College Athletes Who Are Allowed to Make Big Bucks: Cheerleaders

During the three years Jamie Andries spent as a member of the University of Oklahoma cheerleading team, she cheered at two Big 12 championship football games, the Orange Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the Rose Bowl and the 2016 Final Four.

And while the star football and basketball players in those games — including the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Baker Mayfield and the future N.B.A. guard Buddy Hield — were forbidden to make money from their athletic fame beyond what the university provided to cover their attendance, Andries was receiving thousands of dollars through sponsorship deals with Crocs, L’Oréal, American Eagle and Lokai.

“Coming to OU for college was a big milestone for me but it has given me so many amazing opportunities like being able to cheer for the Sooners,” Andries said in an Instagram post in February 2016 that shows her wearing her cheer uniform and holding up her left wrist to display two Lokai bracelets. “This month I support @livelokai and the Alzheimer’s Association.”

The lucrative opportunities for Andries came because of her fame and a social media following in the cheerleading world — she is one of the top “cheerlebrities,” as such stars are known — and because the N.C.A.A. and its universities do not regulate cheerleading in the same ways they do other sports.

Long-held rules governing amateurism among college athletes do not apply to cheerleaders, meaning they can sell autographs, appear in commercials and wear their cheer uniforms while promoting products as social influencers, without fear of being disciplined. In sports governed by the N.C.A.A., athletes risk their eligibility to compete if they engage in similar activities, and their teams and universities can also be punished.

As Andries’s follower count grew, so did the deals. She has been in partnerships with Nissan, Amazon, FabFitFun, Colgate, SmileDirectClub and Urban Decay.

Andries said that her coaches in college had no problem with her promoting products while wearing her cheer uniform; their main rule was that she wasn’t allowed to miss practice for outside appearances.

“Their only concern was anything that would affect the team,” she said.

Mackenzie Sherburn and Shannon Woolsey, who are now at Texas Tech, were featured in the Netflix documentary series “Cheer” while they were teammates at Navarro College, a Texas junior college. They were able to turn that buzz into financial gain, unlike the college football players who gained fame while appearing in another Netflix documentary series, “Last Chance U.”

Some universities offer meal plans, small scholarships, access to athlete housing, tutoring services, early class registration and waivers of out-of-state fees. Taryn Burke, a former cheerleader and current assistant coach at the University of Central Florida, said that the team there gets “access to the same exact things as any other sport would have” and awards scholarships based on a cheerleader’s skill level, grades and seniority.

Cheerleaders may also receive free or discounted products as a result of companies’ sponsoring their teams. Jessica Pak, a former U.C.L.A. cheerleader, recalls receiving Vera Bradley bags and NARS makeup through sponsorships that were specifically tied to the spirit squad. The sponsors expected the gifted products to be used by the cheerleaders during games and to be promoted on the spirit team’s social media account.

“I don’t really understand why that rule is a thing,” Pak said of the N.C.A.A.’s restrictions.

Peg Fitzpatrick, a social media marketing expert and the co-author of “The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users,” said brands have focused on college cheerleaders for two particular reasons: The cheerleaders can directly reach a target demographic (people in their late teens and early- to mid-20s), and they present an opportunity for companies to tap into the excitement of college sports without N.C.A.A. interference.

Woolsey and Andries independently hired agents while in college to help manage their endorsement deals, and Andries, now a social media manager for the apparel company Rebel Athletic, still makes extra income from deals related to her popularity from her cheer days.

She said she had realized in college that she got “the best of both worlds” at Oklahoma.

“I was like, ‘Wow I get to cheer and I get to have this sort of side job that I get to focus on,’” she said, “‘and I get to make some money that I can save up for myself to use after college.’”

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