New company helps former Michigan, Michigan State athletes cash in on their memorabilia

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

A 1989 throwback uniform worn by Charles Matthews. Four pairs of Jordan shoes sported by Jon Teske. Jordan Poole’s locker room name plate from an NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 game. A sideline chair from the 2018 Final Four signed by the entire Michigan team.

These are a few of the many items that have been put up for sale on The Players Trunk, a new company that was founded by former Michigan basketball players Zavier Simpson and Matthews and three team managers.

Since NCAA rules prohibit student-athletes from selling team-issued apparel while in school, the online marketplace provides former college athletes an opportunity to sell and profit on the athletic gear they received during their career.

Michigan basketball managers Jason Lansing, left, and Austin Pomerantz, right, and ex-Wolverine Zavier Simpson, middle, are three of the five founders of The Players Trunk.

The idea came about when Jason Lansing, a Michigan team manager, noticed the difficulties Matthews and Simpson both experienced when they tried to sell some of their Wolverines attire through social media.

After Matthews declared for the NBA Draft following the 2018-19 season, he wanted to make some money off his Michigan gear and Lansing, a close friend, helped him list some items on Instagram. Most of the response, though, was from people who wanted to interact with Matthews, whether it was a comment or follow.

After Simpson’s career ended this past spring, he tried to sell some of his team-issued shoes. He posted stories on his Instagram requiring prospective purchasers to pick them up in his hometown of Lima, Ohio, where there isn’t exactly a huge demand for Michigan apparel.

“They wouldn't get a bunch of serious buyers coming in,” Lansing said. “They're missing a big market of adults who don't have an Instagram, Michigan fans all across the country, even the world. So Instagram was fine for some fans that follow them, but it wasn't reaching what we wanted it to reach.”

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Lansing thought there had to be a better way. He consulted with classmate Austin Pomerantz, a fellow rising senior and team manager, and Pomerantz’s brother Hunter, a former Syracuse basketball manager. The three of them, who all study sport management, then went to Matthews and Simpson with the idea, and they were all on board.

From there, the group immediately got to work, with Lansing and the Pomerantzs building the website and Matthews and Simpson using their connections to find others who were looking for a place to sell some of their athletic gear.

On July 2, launched with 14 “trunks” from former college athletes across the country. Since then, there’s been a domino effect and that number has grown to 33 as of Sunday, with merchandise items ranging from game-worn jerseys and shoes to T-shirts, backpacks, practice jerseys, warm-up jackets, hats, shooting sleeves and much more.

Among the current listings are six former Michigan basketball players — Zak Irvin, Moritz Wagner, Matthews, Poole, Simpson and Teske — and two former Michigan State basketball players — Kyle Ahrens and Nick Ward.

So far, the website has been a hit. Matthews had 22 items up for sale and most have already been purchased, including the 1989 throwback uniform set worn against Michigan State during the 2018-19 season for $750. The aforementioned autographed folding chair — the most expensive item on the site at $20,000 — is still available for purchase in Matthews’ trunk.

Ahrens sold the shorts he wore in the Big Ten tournament and Final Four for $600. Ward sold his game-worn jersey from the 2017-18 season for $600. All four of Teske’s Player Exclusive Jordan shoes sold for $150 apiece. More than half of Irvin’s 20 items have already been scooped up.

Simpson’s trunk only features a personalized video message for $60 — he’s currently in Las Vegas training for the NBA Draft and all his Michigan gear is back home — but there has been no shortage of inquiries about when more will be added.

"It has definitely been overwhelming,” Lansing said of the site’s early success. “I think us five are excited that it has launched so well and we're soaking it all in. … I think it's definitely refreshing for these athletes recently out of college to see that it’s five people their age that want to create this platform for them and it’s not another big-time company coming in to try and swoop as much profit as they can."

According to Lansing, the founders only take a “small percentage” of the sales — Matthews and Simpson provided feedback of the amount they thought was fair — with the vast majority going to the athlete. Each player sets the prices for his items and there’s no cost to list them.

Lansing added the website's focus right now is on recent former college football and basketball players. The goal is to eventually expand into different sports and attract former college athletes of all ages because “no matter what sport, what team, how long ago, there's always a demand out there for team-exclusive gear that you can't go and buy at an M Den.”

“I think people are appreciative that there's now a platform that can give them a chance to get their hands on this gear that they've watched for however many years and wanted and had no way to get it,” Lansing said. “We've heard everyone saying how this is a very smart idea, which is obviously great to hear, but we want to keep growing it, too.”

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins