Name, image and likeness took college athletics by storm last summer, opening new opportunities for nonprofessional athletes to profit on themselves. For Missouri, one company — HornsDownShop — jumped into a select group of the team, signing all 18 defensive backs to its DBZOU22 collective over the last year.
HornsDownShop founder Jesse Cox saw an opportunity early, applying for corporation status a week after Texas and Oklahoma announced a move to the SEC. Ennis Rakestraw Jr. was the first Missouri player to sign with HornsDownShop, paving a path for Cox to pitch the collective to other players.
Cox, a Missouri alumnus, has since spread the company to other SEC and Big 12 schools — Iowa State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Arkansas.
The idea struck from Texas and Oklahoma’s plan to join the SEC in August, while schools like Missouri and Texas A&M were ones to leave the Big 12 for the SEC back in 2012.
“Our bet was there was some angst amongst Missouri and (Texas) A&M fans of ‘Great, Texas is coming back into our conference. We left them already,’” Cox said. “And so our bet was SEC fans would also have learned to not like Texas when they came into the SEC.
“We already have Big 12 teams that might say that Texas was kind of tearing the conference apart and anything as it existed in its original state, so they have a natural hate for Texas.”
This is where the name of the company originated. Cox noted the “Horns Down” monicker would sell, pointing out fans’ enjoyment of jumping into the rivalry with one of the largest programs in the country.
Growing from the “Horns Down” idea, Cox wanted to build a brand that wasn’t the typical logo on a shirt and provided an outlet for retro ideas and pro-school merchandise.
“We wanted to design pro shirts that aren’t your typical stuff that you get with the tiger logo or the trademark and copyright-type ideas you can get at any university bookstore,” Cox said. “We wanted to create some kind of more retro, unique shirt ideas that are pro designs for all of our schools.”
Beyond selling T-shirts, Cox looks to incorporate a human element between younger fans and players through the events they attend.
On May 1, Missouri defensive backs — Rakestraw, DJ Jackson and Davion Sistrunk — attended a birthday party for a local Columbia fan, playing kickball and signing autographs with him and his friends at his 10th birthday party.
Rakestraw also visited a local elementary classroom to hand out Christmas presents last December, promising the students he would return again in late May.
Giving back to the community and implementing the human element into what HornsDownShop does are more important to Cox than selling merchandise while he looks for an avenue to grow the fandom and provide opportunities for fans to support Missouri athletes.
“They might think, ‘Oh, go buy my shirt because I’m a big-time college athlete.’ That’s not Ennis (Rakestraw) at all,” Cox said. “Ennis loves Mizzou, he loves everything about this and he loves impacting his community.”
Because of scheduling conflicts with finals, HornsDownMizzou’s appearance at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbia will happen after summer break. The company plans to bring T-shirts and a $500 check once classes resume.
On the social media front, Cox eyes a “Barstool-like approach” with accounts run by interns from the respective schools, but he holds true to the opportunities the athletes and fans have from sponsoring the company.
“A lot of fans don’t realize that when you can go buy something at Rally House, it’s going to trickle its way back to KU donors (who own the company),” Cox said. “Where you can buy something with a pro-Mizzou business, it’s going to trickle its way back to Mizzou.”
Cox also sees a promotional issue from other companies regarding NIL deals, while some leave the athlete in charge of promotion of their own sales. Through HornsDownShop, interns help boost the engagement for each player in the collective.
“We’re trying to get our players to help them create more sales but also to represent them as human beings, not just football players,” Cox said, “because when a fan connects to that human element, they’re more likely to go buy a T-shirt, because they now see him as a human, not just some football player.”
HornsDownMizzou athletes make 75% profit of the items they sell through the company’s website, Cox said. He recognized HornsDownShop is not turning a profit right now, but with the growth and bigger opportunities down the line, he expects to do so.
Missouri women’s basketball forward Haley Frank and Missouri defensive backs Isaac Thompson and Rakestraw have sold in the neighborhood of 100 shirts, according to Cox.
“Through all of those types of experiences — community service football camps, endorsements, radio appearances — the kids have opportunities to make extra money besides the guaranteed quarterly payments that we’re gonna give them,” Cox said.
Through social events and sales, Cox hopes to guarantee athletes anywhere from $2,000 to $3,000 in quarterly payments.
The DBZOU2022 collective will be hosting football camps in Columbia, St. Louis and Kansas City this summer with Missouri alumni and former Missouri coaches as it looks to grow the Missouri fan base through youth outreach around the state.
“(We are) just trying to get our kids involved and doing cool things for the community and giving back, which allows us to pay them more because they’re doing something for that NIL money,” Cox said. “At the same time, (it is) making them want to be a Mizzou Tiger for life. That’s the goal.”
The goal isn’t to stop with the Missouri defensive backs or the six schools covered. Cox hopes to spread to all Big 12 and SEC schools while later looking into ACC and Big Ten deals.
But for now, HornsDownShop isn’t looking to compete with local companies like 573 Tees. Cox respects what other small businesses bring to the NIL world and Columbia while noting how 573 Tees has helped with back orders of HornsDownMizzou shirts before.
For more ways to support Missouri athletes and learn about the company’s collective, you can visit HornsDownMizzou.com. Incentives for donors will be posted this summer, with donations being rewarded with unique custom T-shirts and autographed footballs from Missouri defensive backs.
“We want to educate fans that not only can you go buy a T-shirt, but you can go sponsor the collective,” Cox said, “and 100% of that sponsorship will go to these players.”