USC Football, J1S launch creative lab to enhance student-athlete brands

BLVD Studios aims to place USC football players in a favorable marketing position.

USC football announced a partnership Thursday with the J1S agency to launch an in-house creative lab, BLVD Studios, to provide current and former student-athletes with resources to help enhance their brand and maximize their marketability.

This move comes less than one year before the NCAA adopts the name, image and likeness rule at the start of the 2021-2022 school year.

J1S is a creative agency based in Dallas dedicated to helping those in the sports and entertainment industry enhance their brands. In the last four years, J1S has worked with the Georgia Tech and Oklahoma football programs as well as Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray and San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Solomon Thomas.

“Being able to bring in J1S and BLVD Studios to focus on the student-athlete and their brand marketing is huge for us,” USC head coach Clay Helton said in a statement. “This is a new landscape in college football and to be successful you have to be proactive.”

BLVD Studios will produce and direct athlete-driven content, which can already be seen on USC football’s social media channels. It’s most notable on the revamped Instagram page, where all 12 posts are produced by the creative lab.

The partnership was announced on the team’s social media channels through its first athlete-driven video, featuring Helton, quarterback Kedon Slovis and wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown at a Hollywood red carpet event and a pool party.

Its second video featured recent USC football alums — Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, Colts wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. and Titans cornerback Adoree' Jackson — talking with Helton about the new partnership with J1S.

In addition to social media content, BLVD Studios will offer its student-athletes an annual education on brand growth, social media strategies and financial literacy. It will also provide brand management and brand narrative skills, as well as data reporting to teach athletes about analytics and metrics.

Jeffrey Hirsch, USC Annenberg adjunct professor and expert in marketing and branding, said this partnership is a win-win for the student-athletes and the university.

“The more individuals from USC are promoted, it obviously wears off positively on USC," Hirsch said. "You’ve got these great, attractive compelling athletes who are out there ... They make more money, [and] the university gets prestige.”

Hirsch added that personal branding is an ultra-competitive market and that in order for the program to be successful, the athletes must learn to differentiate themselves. By creating a compelling and unique brand persona, they could potentially put themselves in a good position heading into professional sports.

“If the football players can start thinking like business people and like marketers early on, that’s going to be invaluable to them as they kind of get to the pro arena," Hirsch said.

Though there are many other variables that will dictate athlete brand success, such as agents or managers, Hirsch said with the absence of similar programs at other universities, USC football players will absolutely be a step ahead of others.

“The alliance with USC Football sets a new standard by placing one of the most iconic programs at the forefront of innovation, all while sitting in college football’s media capital,” J1S Founder and CEO Michael Jones said. “The potential is limitless.”