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On3’s NIL Most Impactful Person: Miami businessman John Ruiz

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Jeremy Crabtree•12/28/22

While plenty shaped NIL in 2022, nobody generated more national headlines and impacted the world of name, image and likeness more than businessman and Miami Hurricanes supporter John Ruiz.

The owner of LifeWallet and Cigarette Racing used NIL deals to help promote his companies. He allocated $10 million to spend on compensating student-athletes in Year 1 of the NIL era and increased that investment in 2022.

NIL deals became more mainstream, especially with talking heads on ESPN and Fox Sports, largely because of the long list of marketing agreements Ruiz made with athletes from across the college athletics landscape. Many cried foul because they believed deals he executed with Miami student-athletes bordered on “pay-for-play,” which is a no-no per the NCAA’s interim NIL policy.

Yet, in many ways, Ruiz navigated NIL’s murky waters better than many by creating opportunities that rewarded student-athletes and benefited his businesses. Plus, he did it in public. He disclosed dollar amounts for the deals and defended his partnerships as “true NIL.”

There’s no question he’s a polarizing figure. But Ruiz’s impact on NIL in 2022 cannot be denied. All of those reasons are why he’s been named On3’s NIL Most Impactful Person in 2022. He was selected by On3 staff.

“John Ruiz has brought a tremendous amount of attention to the NIL industry,” said Darren Heitner, a NIL expert and attorney with Heitner Legal. “He would argue that the awareness has generated a significant return on investment for his companies. No one in the world of sports knew the name John Ruiz prior to July 1, 2021. But you would be hard-pressed to talk to any sports fan, particularly in South Florida, who has not heard of him by now.”

John Ruiz’s NIL deals turn heads

John Ruiz caused the largest NIL stir of 2022 when he signed Nijel Pack – a former Kansas State basketball player who transferred to Miami – to a two-year $800,000 deal that includes the use of a car. In exchange, Pack promoted LifeWallet, a company that allows people to store, share and access their medical records.

The move to sign Pack was the talk of college sports for weeks during the spring. It even drew the ire of Alabama football coach Nick Saban. Ruiz’s NIL investments coincided with Mario Cristobal‘s first year in South Beach, only helping piece together Miami’s fourth-ranked class.

Saban mentioned Ruiz’s deal with Pack as part of a long rant about the negatives with NIL. It generated a sharp response from Ruiz, who said he was, “shocked that somebody in the business for such a long time and on top of his game was totally clueless of what all of this means.” The partnership also sparked a “voluntary discussion” between Ruiz and the NCAA.

Ruiz isn’t just focused on football

But the Pack deal was just one of the many he executed in 2022.

His first 10 deals with Miami football players totaled around $400,000. Plus, don’t forget he also signed Haley and Hanna Cavinder, basketball-playing twin sisters with large social media followings and massive On3 NIL Valuations after they transferred from Fresno State to Miami.

With the Hurricanes looking to finish with one of the nation’s best-recruiting classes, Ruiz grabbed more headlines recently by re-upping contracts with Miami quarterback Tyler Van Dyke, safety Kamren Kinchens and cornerback Te’Cory Couch.

Additionally, plans are also in place to execute another deal with Akheem Mesidor in Canada during the 2023 calendar year. The West Virginia transfer defensive lineman previously signed with LifeWallet, traveling to Canada in May to fulfill the agreement. He also recently agreed to a partnership with Ohio State softball player Hannah Bryan.

All in all, Ruiz has worked to sign more than 110 active athletes from sports ranging from football to women’s basketball to softball and baseball. That’s an impact on the NIL world that’s simply unmatched by anybody else in college sports.

Ruiz evolved NIL partnerships in 2022

Similar to any NIL collective in the nation, John Ruiz has placed a significant emphasis on roster retention with his NIL agreements in the final months of 2022. Plus, as part of his new deals, he’s added a new layer of activation. Athletes will have a little brother or sister to give back to the Miami community.

“LifeWallet has had a very good experience with NIL athletes,” Ruiz told On3 recently. “As a result, we will be supportive of athletes that provide an ROI to LifeWallet, while having to fulfill their contractual obligations. Starting in 2023, any LifeWallet athlete will be required to have a little brother or little sister, respectively, as one of the ways of giving back to society.

“While many focus on just money and winning, LifeWallet will make sure that the scope of what NIL is truly intended for is carried out.”

There have been many NIL critics over the past 12 months. Plus, like Saban, there are also plenty of critics of Ruiz and the way he’s used NIL to help LifeWallet and his favorite school. 

But if this year has taught us anything, it’s that Ruiz doesn’t plan on slowing down with his NIL pursuits in 2023. All of this is why he was a natural fit for recognition as On3’s NIL Most Impactful Person in 2022.

“Some believe he is throwing money at athletes solely for the purpose of persuading athletes to commit to the University of Miami,” Heitner said. “But he will argue vehemently against that theory. What can’t be disputed is that his role has helped provide publicity for the NIL marketplace at large and ultimately put more money in the hands of athletes who historically were denied the opportunity to monetize their fame.”

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