If you’re wondering how Penn State’s Roman Bravo-Young made such a seamless transition from unpaid athlete to brand superstar, you’re not alone. You may even be wondering if college athletes are allowed to be paid? With new NCAA legislation, college athletes are, in fact, allowed to profit from their name, image, and likeness (NIL).
While the name, image, and likeness legislation has been discussed for quite some time within the NCAA, many athletes were caught off guard by such a significant change. However, one athlete who has been handling the NIL legislation quite competently is Penn State’s Roman Bravo-Young. In this article, I will dissect RBY’s brand and explain how he set himself up for success.
Putting in Active Effort
Roman wasn’t built in a day. While his new deals with Barstool Sports and Wings Over may have seemed sudden, he has been building up to this moment. If you scroll through his Instagram feed with over 130K followers, you can see exactly when he made an active choice to start marketing and branding himself. In fact, RBY is one of the top 20 most followed wrestlers on social media.
Starting in March of 2020, after the unfortunate virus-ending season, he began to post monthly content that elevated the value of the RBY brand. In fact, he has posted more content in the past year than from 2015-2019 combined; this is likely because new NIL legislation was just on the horizon for student athletes and he knew he could begin making money in the future. Just as in wrestling, he decided to put in consistent effort to achieve big results.
Telling His Story The Right Way
Wrestling fans know RBY. What do I mean? They know he was a top recruit in the class of 2018, 4X undefeated State Champ, and high school superstar from Arizona. They know he wanted to be an NCAA Champ after he made it onto the stand with an 8th place finish in 2019. But he started to peel back layers and show who he really is as a person off the mat.
For example, his training posts and videos showed him putting in the work for the 2021 season, and the editing added a bit of flair, similar to his wrestling style. He shared small tidbits of information in videos and interviews that let fans know his creed: he is a laid back guy who puts in consistent work so he can let it rip with a crazy wrestling style on the mat. Sharing a look at how college athletes train also makes his followers feel like insiders.
Sharing his story and goals publicly did two things. First, it made them concrete for him to live up to. But, more importantly for his brand, it built stronger fans who became even more enthralled with him after he won the 2021 NCAA Championships because he shared these special, behind-the-scenes moments that they felt a part of all season.
A Side Note on the RBY Brand
This is a great time to note that Roman’s name is important in telling who he is. Not many fans refer to him as “Roman Bravo-Young”; they call him “RBY.” That’s why I keep referring to the “RBY brand” because that is the one he built up with his posts, interviews, and even the iconic tattoo on his arm. His image is consistent across Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. People know it. This may seem like a minute detail, but it is key to understanding his specific brand.
Style That Flows On & Off the Mat
If you looked at RBY’s social feeds before 2020, you might recognize him as just another Penn State superstar wrestler. Today you can scroll through and see a complete 180°. Penn State is sprinkled into RBY’s brand, not vice versa. That’s important. Fans will always remember him as a Penn Stater, but he is more than just the singlet that he wears.
His posts display his savviness. On the mat he hits Winn Dixies and shows off smooth footwork. Off the mat he posts up around State College or at the gym while wearing a suave outfit. RBY’s brand flows from one place to the next with transparency so that you know who he is. His rituals and icons are important to building up the brand.
Showing He is a Brand Ambassador
We dove into the primal elements of the RBY brand, but what else has he done differently than other wrestlers? Why could he immediately capitalize on his social media following?
Roman has been doing product placement for years, you probably just haven’t noticed.
He promoted custom RBY Nike wrestling shoes with a caption “Nike x RBY.” In another post he asked “what’s ur @dunkin order” with a stylish photo of him holding a coffee and donuts. While at the gym he even posed for a few shots in his Gym Shark tank top. That’s not to mention his other brand placements for Champion, Scrap Life, Blender Bottle, Vans, and Under Armour.
He posted these photos FOR FREE (brands did not pay him for these), so that brands would recognize he is a desirable athlete who knows how to reliably show off products without being in your face about it.
Improving the RBY Brand
You may be thinking Roman Bravo-Young has a social status that is as polished as his technique. And it is. However, these are a few ways I would personally improve his brand. . .
- Interact more in the comments. Roman actually does a great job of interacting in the comments on social media, but he could take it a step further. He should consider writing back to more comments that aren’t just his friends and maybe sending a few custom Instagram DMs to fans. (Disclosure: he may respond to direct DMs, but I have no way of knowing.)
- Start posting again on YouTube. Roman already has 3K subscribers and 45K views on YouTube from eight videos. He likely meets the requirements to monetize his channel, so now is an excellent time to start vlogging again.
- Start posting to TikTok and Facebook. RBY already has 1.8K followers on Facebook and 94K followers on TikTok. If he starts leveraging these two platforms, he will grow even more and start earning better brand deals.
Why RBY Stands Out
Right now Roman has one of the top 5 brands in all of college wrestling and arguably one of the best in the NCAA. He stands out from others because he is authentic on the mat, in interviews, and on social media. His fans know what he stands for and where he is headed. Because he has been consistent and strategic, Roman Bravo-Young has set himself up for tremendous success.
If you’re interested in seeing me dissect more wrestling social media accounts or want to learn more about how to build your own brand, check out my Rokfin page for exclusive videos meant to help you change levels with your brand.