Most television viewers probably know “Jake” of State Farm Insurance fame.
Now meet Max, the local version.
Nate Matousek State Farm Agency recently announced an official NIL signing with standout Waconia wrestler Max McEnelly. The Waconia High school senior, on his way to the University of Minnesota after graduation, already has been featured in local State Farm social media posts and could lend his likeness in the coming months to other marketing/advertising promotions and events.
“Max is not only a standout athlete but an amazing young man who embodies helping others, giving back and working hard. We could not be prouder to partner with such a great role model,” said State Farm agent Matousek, a former wrestler himself still vested in the wrestling community.
Professional athletes have been promoting products and services since before baseball great Lou Gehrig became the first athlete to appear on a Wheaties box in 1934. But it wasn’t until 2021 that the NCAA implemented a policy which allowed college athletes to make money off their name, image and likeness (NIL). That has changed the collegiate landscape forever creating a rush of athletes to cash in on their name and fame.
To date more than 450,000 student-athletes across the United States have earned NIL money by partnering with local businesses in promotions, according to the NCAA.
That opportunity was extended to high school athletes this year and McEnelly is believed to be the third Minnesota high school athlete featured in an NIL deal, according to Matousek.
“Max is the right person and the right fit for us,” Matousek said. “He’s a great athlete, but a better person. He fits the model of our agency in the way he conducts himself, gives back and represents the community.”
“Nate has always been very supportive of me and my wrestling, and this is my opportunity to support his agency through my social media platforms and appearances,” McEnelly said.
McEnelly won’t be selling policies and admits he didn’t know a lot about insurance before his deal with Matousek, but his presence is a way to represent the agency, he said.
Whether a local athlete will get others to buy an insurance policy is speculative, Matousek acknowledges. But it’s another marketing approach and a way to reach a local audience – maybe even a national clientele as McEnelly further pursues his wrestling career.
McEnelly’s dad Bret is convinced that NIL deals are good for student-athletes in terms of being rewarded for their commitment, hard work and accomplishments. Matousek also views NIL as a way to assist deserving individuals, although he laughs that his is not a six-figure or million-dollar deal like some college football and basketball players are getting.
At the high school level, an NIL deal can be more challenging in terms of meeting eligibility requirements, Bret McEnelly notes.
Ironically, while high school student-athletes are able to promote businesses through their sports participation, they are not allowed to promote their own programs in those endorsements over “pay to play” concerns. So, the McEnellys are cautious about running social media posts by the WHS athletic director and a representative from the U of M.
Meanwhile, since NIL deals were allowed at the high school level earlier this year, concerns have been expressed statewide about younger athletes dealing with NIL pressures, the potential impacts of NIL deals on locker room chemistry, how student-athletes are coached, and that they could lead to “free agency” and recruiting of high school athletes – a charge already made today in some sports circles.
“I’m still just one of the guys on the team,” said McEnelly, who laughs that some of his Wildcat teammates have “ribbed him about being Jake.” He adds that he doesn’t feel any undue pressure about being in the public eye – maybe because he has already taken the “big stage” at the state, national and world levels, and says he does try to limit his time spent on social media.
Like a high school education, his dad says he hopes the NIL deal will be another “good lesson learned” as his son pursues college and other future opportunities.