When the NCAA changed its rules this past summer to allow college athletes to benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness, one young Columbia man set out to pioneer an easy way for athletes to benefit from the new rules through simply dining out.
Jacob O’Connor, a member of the 2018-19 Monroe County startUP class and junior at Wichita State University, is the inventor of Player Card. The startup simultaneously benefits restaurants and college athletes through harnessing the power of social media.
Athletes can dine at a restaurant, post about it on social media and the restaurant will provide a complimentary meal – or more, depending on what the restaurant decides.
“Whenever the NCAA was looking to change the regulation allowing college athletes to monetize their name, image and likeness, I was working with a local restaurant,” O’Connor said. “I went to the restaurant owner and said ‘Hey, if I get a college athlete in here, would you be willing to comp their meal if they were to post on their social media about the restaurant?’ So that is kind of the base premise that sparked this whole idea: If a college athlete – in my eyes – is arguably one of the most credible people on a campus, the idea of having them in a college town at a restaurant lends credibility to the restaurant and they can point their followers toward the restaurant as well.”
Player Card partnered with 3Pointe Restaurant Group for its first pilot, in which University of Kansas men’s basketball athletes were given a Slim Chickens complimentary meal voucher if they posted about the fast food restaurant on social media.
O’Connor said most of the athletes chose to post videos promoting Slim Chickens on their Instagram stories.
Kansas captured the NCAA men’s hoops championship Monday night.
Player Card provides more than just meals to college athletes, though.
“College athletes spend so much time dedicated to their craft with practices, film sessions (and more), and a lot of it is so regimented for them,” O’Connor said. “For them to have a break and the opportunity to go visit these restaurants and get to enjoy college life in that sense, I think that’s another added benefit.”
While O’Connor is not a college athlete himself, he played basketball at Columbia High School. After seeing the demands this placed on him – and knowing they are more severe at the college level – O’Connor became interested in giving athletes a way to benefit from their hard work.
“Whenever I was in high school we would have meetings or film sessions before school, we’d go to class all day and then we’d have practice for two hours after school and we had to try to cram to get our homework done. Personally, I wasn’t able to work many jobs in high school because of it,” he said. “Now college athletes, I would argue, are probably spending five or six hours a day in their sport that they’re going to school for, plus they have all of their school work, and so I think I kind of have an understanding of their situation and how busy they are and how hectic it is.”
O’Connor, Jon Peterson – another CHS alum and former Eagles hoops standout – and team are working with 3Pointe to set up another Slim Chickens pilot with Wichita State athletes. O’Connor said he hopes to have the pilot up and running by late next week.
Player Card is also developing an app to help streamline the process of connecting interested restaurants with players. Restaurants will get to decide which athletes they want – whether they want a certain player, division or team – and athletes using the app will see which restaurants they’re eligible to receive compensation from in exchange for social media promotion.
“They just got done with practice, they want to grab a bite to eat, they open the app, see the curated list of restaurants and pick a restaurant. They’re like ‘Oh, I can go eat here, all I have to do is post on social media.’ It’s easy,” O’Connor said, adding, “It’s something that hopefully one day all college athletes are able to use in some form.”
Restaurants and athletes can sign up to receive more information at playercard.us or email O’Connor directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.