CHICAGO (CBS)- College athletes are supplied with a plethora of team gear during the course of their careers. But, once those careers have ended and they have either gone pro or entered into another career, that gear is often left collecting dust in the back of closets and drawers. Now, there’s an opportunity for those athletes to make money off of that gear, leveraging their notoriety with fans to sell that gear.
The Players Trunk, co-founded by Chicago native and former Kentucky and Michigan basketball star Charles Matthews offers those athletes a platform to sell their items directly to fans without having to deal with the hassle of doing so piecemeal on their own. Matthews says that the idea for the platform came to him in the time after he finished playing at Michigan and one of the team managers was selling his gear for him.
“Jason Lansing came up with the idea, he’s basically my little brother we spent so much time together,” said Matthews in an interview with CBS Local’s Ryan Mayer. “After I finished playing at Michigan, I gave him a boatload of my gear and Jason would sell it all basically. He’d find ways to sell it for me. We were doing a lot of stuff via Instagram and stuff like that.”
Matthews and Lansing, now a senior at Michigan, are joined by brothers Hunter and Austin Pomerantz and former Michigan guard Zavier Simpson in running the business. Matthews says that after seeing that initial interest in his own gear the group started talking and realized that there was a way for players to leverage their fame as college athletes to make some money for themselves after their careers ended.
“We started noticing that this is a great way for players to capitalize off their own name once their collegiate career is over with,” said Matthews. “We really wanted to give them the opportunity to profit off this gear they did receive. Since there was no marketplace for that, we decided to create one.”
Since starting with a small group of athletes, the site has now expanded to include trunks from basketball and football players across the country from a variety of schools. Looking for a pair of University of Washington football cleats? They have you covered. How about a Texas team issue duffel bag? Yup, got that too. Or what about a Northwestern basketball team jacket? That’s available too.
Gear isn’t the only option fans have however. Matthews had another idea for the site after seeing just how many messages he was getting asking for personalized videos or text messages for friends and family members of fans. Normally, that might be accomplished by a player texting or emailing the file. Instead, the founders of The Players Trunk have built out a page for fans to request video shoutouts.
“So many times fans will say, ‘hey do you mind sending this video to my son or sending this video to my father or things of that nature. We know a lot of players still have personal lifestyles and don’t want to just send their personal phone numbers and personal emails out like that,” said Matthews. “So, since we were already selling their gear we figured we would add on to the site and give these players a way to make video shoutouts. We started doing that and have been getting great energy through that part of the site as well.”
Through an email associated with the site, fans can request what the message will entail. Then, the video is recorded by the player and sent back to the fans through that email account. The centralized nature, Matthews says, was the point. He and his co-founders wanted to take the hassle out of the process for the athletes, handling everything from shipping to customer questions.
The site has a section for athletes to sign up to be sellers, but Matthews says a lot of the business has also come from the fact that he and Simpson know many athletes in the college game.
“The great thing about having Zavier and I as part of the company as well is that a lot of these players know us. The basketball world is a very small world. Even if some person didn’t have firsthand experience to know who we are, they know someone they can ask or we know of each other,” said Matthews. “We’ll either reach out or many times now, players will reach out to us. That’s even better because word of mouth is starting to travel and the site can continue to keep growing like that.”
While the site is strictly limited to athletes who have already wrapped up their college careers, Matthews and his co-founders are watching closely the movement to allow current players to benefit off their name, image and likeness. The NCAA is considering measures to allow for that with several states having already passed laws set to go into effect next summer. If that opportunity does open up, Matthews says The Players Trunk would be more than willing and able to expand their operation to include current athletes.
“We would love to. That’s something that we wouldn’t want to touch until we know the players are protected at the end of the day. It’s about ensuring the trust and the safety of their eligibility and allowing them to still play the game they love while they’re at the collegiate level,” said Matthews. “But, if the NCAA does pass the NIL and allow players to profit off of their name, image and likeness, we would love to have them on the site and it would be no problem for us at all.”
While running a business is keeping Matthews plenty busy, it’s not they only thing on his plate. He is still pursuing his dream of an NBA career and has spent this year rehabbing from an ACL injury. But, he says being away from the game has only made his love for it stronger.
“It’s sickening to watch as a lover of the game. But, at the same time as a huge fan of the game I can’t keep my eyes off of it. I’ll just continue to work, continue to grind and as I said I miss it more than ever,” said Matthews. “But, I’m happy my passion and love for the game hasn’t dropped one bit since this injury. If anything it has grown even more.”