There was no guarantee that Crazy Dough’s Pizza would financially survive the COVID-19 pandemic, according to store owner Ernie Rozzi.
But when three Boston College freshmen on the softball team became restaurant regulars and told their friends about Crazy Dough’s, Rozzi’s business returned to thriving as a gathering spot for students and a mainstay for off-campus food options.
“This store is no longer my store,” Rozzi said. “This store now belongs to all the students at BC. This store belongs to the softball team that gave this business such a purpose. I truly believe I wouldn’t be here today without the support of those girls.”
Crazy Dough’s, which opened in April of 2015, has become the hotspot for students wanting a late night pizza slice on game days and weekend nights.
But it wasn’t until recently that it became a hub for BC softball players—at least not officially.
Crazy Dough’s relationship with BC softball started when current juniors Kamryn Warman, Nicole Giery, and Elisabeth Laviolette started frequenting the restaurant two years ago. Now, Rozzi has transformed his relationship with BC’s players into a business deal. Rozzi partnered with the Eagles in a Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) deal in which Rozzi will pay BC’s players for them to use their NIL to promote his restaurant.
The seeds of the deal were planted when Rozzi noticed the energy Warman, Giery, and Laviolette brought to his restaurant when they dined there.
“Three years ago, when BC decided to come back after the pandemic, I could no longer have students or customers for like nine months,” Rozzi said. “I got to the point where I thought, ‘Am I really making connections with these kids? Am I really making a difference in what I’m doing?’
“And that’s when I noticed these three freshmen that kept coming back. They were excited to be there. I saw a different energy in these girls that I hadn’t seen in any other freshman class before.”
Rozzi said he then noticed the pizzeria gaining more attention from BC students and other players on the Eagles’ roster.
“I noticed that those girls’ favorite slices—the balsamic and ricotta pizza and the margherita pizza—started becoming the bestselling slices in the store,” he said. “This wasn’t just a coincidence. There was something happening. Some other special kind of influence. Then, when their friends and other members of the softball team started coming, I knew what was happening.”
(Vikrum Singh / Heights Editor)
But Rozzi didn’t want to just pay back Warman, Giery, and Laviolette—he wanted to help the entire team. Rozzi attends the Eagles’ home games, supplies food for team football tailgates, and even paid for a “Crazy Dough’s Pizza” advertisement on the windscreens of Harrington Athletics Village, according to Rozzi and BC head coach Amy Kvilhaug.
“The girls started putting their game schedule on the wall, and I do my best to go to all the games,” Rozzi said. “I’ve always loved softball and baseball, so it’s a joy to go. I even got some extra help around the store during the hours they play so that I could go see them.”
Rozzi was grateful for what the girls had done for his business, and he made it his mission to find a way to return the favor, Kvilhaug said.
“At a time when he wasn’t getting much business, my girls were giving him a lot of business,” she said. “That really touched Ernie, and he kind of made a promise to himself that when COVID was over, he was going to pay it back.”
Rozzi decided the best way he could show his support to the players was through an NIL deal.
NIL laws were first implemented in college athletics in June 2021 when the Supreme Court ruled in a 9-0 decision that the NCAA could not restrict educationally linked benefits for college athletes.
As a result, college athletes can now profit off themselves through social media, brand deals, and more. It’s as simple as a college athlete creating their own merchandise and selling it, something that was illegal prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling. To date, 29 states have passed NIL laws.
Rozzi said he had never written up a contract or been part of an NIL deal prior to his agreement with the Eagles. With the help of BC Athletics and the softball team, Peyton Schnackenberg became the first individual BC softball player to help create a contract and sign with Rozzi’s company, partnering with Crazy Dough’s during the 2021 season.
Senior Djhane Valido worked this year to help put together a more extensive contract. Valido spent her summer interning with Front Runner Sports, where she worked on marketing and brand partnerships, including NIL legislation. She said this experience gave her the opportunity to help Rozzi and Doug Fillis—a consultant for NIL at BC—draft the contract.
“Ernie kept telling me, ‘I’m just a pizza guy. I don’t really know how to do this stuff,’” Valido said. “And so I was really, really happy to help him … figure out just the little details of what NIL is about and kind of give him more information on how the team could be more involved and how we can give back to him since he’s been so supportive to us.”
The terms of the deal, which will last from Sept. 3, 2022 to May 2022, include that all of BC’s returning players will utilize their social media accounts, particularly Instagram, to promote Crazy Dough’s.
(Nicole Wei / Heights Staff)
Details of the contract include that players must “post about the announcement of the partnership,” and “post 3-4 Instagram stories per month” to promote Crazy Dough’s Pizza, while also having to make one “in-person appearance” during the term, according to the contract.
In exchange, the players will receive $50 every month, along with a variety of Crazy Dough’s apparel, according to the contract.
Rozzi said that the entire team was crucial in putting the agreement together.
“Nicole [Laviolette], Elisabeth [Giery], and Kamryn [Warman] worked with me all summer on every detail of what the contract is today,” he said. “Djhane [Valido] is seemingly an expert in all of this, throwing around words and terms I didn’t even know. The girls always answered my texts and phone calls. They carefully looked at every draft of the contract and gave me their input.”
Not only has the NIL shaken up the game for current collegiate athletes, but it has also changed the recruiting and transfer game. BC football’s Zay Flowers was reportedly offered $600,000 to transfer from BC this summer, but he declined the offer and decided to return for the 2022 season.
Due to the passing of NIL legislation, Kvilhaug said she now fields questions from recruits about what NIL opportunities BC has to offer. Now, thanks to Crazy Dough’s, she said she can point to Rozzi as a partner to show recruits that BC softball is taking NIL seriously.
The partnership is important to Kvilhaug because NIL deals for women’s collegiate sports have lagged behind men’s since first legislation was introduced in 2021.
“I think companies that do invest their money and their marketing into female athletes are ahead of the game,” Valido said.
Although the status quo may be changing, Valido said that it doesn’t make sense that women’s sports are further behind than men’s in terms of NIL agreements. Valido said she believes that female athletes are generally more comfortable on social media than their male counterparts and often have larger followings that would benefit potential NIL partners.
Kvilhaug said that partnering with Rozzi is a step in the right direction in terms of progressing the visibility of women’s athletics.
“It’s always great to be partnered with somebody who you actually believe in and want to see succeed as well,” Kvilhaug said. “And even if the needle is moving slow, the needle is moving in the right direction.”