Navigating NIL, How Fan Collectives Like LockerRoom Help
SALT LAKE CITY- Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) has been a major buzz term in college athletics. In June of 2021, the NCAA passed that student athletes could start making money off their persona. Since then there has been a mad scramble for schools, their athletes, and the fans to understand the dos and don’ts of NIL. With three “guidelines” given by the NCAA, it has mostly been up to the people who want to be involved with NIL to interpret what exactly the “rules” are.
Some have taken a “better to ask for forgiveness than permission” approach. Others took their time to research state and federal law on the matter. Whether your school took a more guarded approach or went all in, one thing is for certain; NIL is here to stay and it only works if everyone understands it and buys in.
The Basic Concept Of Fan Collectives
Collectives are an easy way for fans of different means to pool money that is put toward NIL opportunities for a school’s student athletes. Often this is for some kind of service performed by said student athletes. (There are many more details that can go into collectives, but more on that in a minute.)
An important aspect to note about collectives before diving into one that is currently serving University of Utah student athletes, is collectives operate completely separate of universities and their athletic departments. Just as schools cannot facilitate NIL deals for their student athletes, they also cannot work with outside entities who facilitate NIL deals for their student athletes.
LockerRoom, NIL For All
Founded by four passionate University of Utah Athletics fans, LockerRoom has been designed with fan engagement in mind. Once it was clear NIL was going to be allowed, Tom Cella, Welby Evangelista, EJ Bowen, and Tony Norrie got to work investigating how they could help the student athletes they love to be competitive in an ever-evolving market. By the time LockerRoom was ready to make a move, the first wave of fan collectives had already been out. This provided LockerRoom an opportunity to do few things differently than their predecessors according to Norrie.
“Unfortunately, most collectives are focused on the same thing,” Norrie said. “The big schools are focused very little on the diversity of sport and gender. When we looked at the landscape of what collectives are doing, what the big boosters are putting into different programs, and what the different schools focus on, everything seems to be focused on the same thing. We disagree with that.”
Don’t get these guys wrong. LockerRoom loves college football and Norrie’s son currently plays on a college team. However, they saw an opportunity to even the playing field for smaller sports, female athletes, and even smaller Division II and III schools along with providing money for football.
“If you are a tennis player, you are putting in the same work since you were five years old as the star running back,” Norrie said. “You’ve put in the work, you’ve put in the hours, and the same effort. For us it was super important to look across things a little different. To be able to support the entire athletics within a school. Not push 99% of the dollars to one program. We wanted to open the doors to male and female athletes of all different sports, and all different school sizes while brining value to the student athlete, the school in general, and the fanbase. We want to be a platform for all athletes, not just a small segment of the student athletes.”
Devil’s In The Details
Protecting student athletes has been the number one concern for the LockerRoom crew when they started their NIL journey. That is why LockerRoom says they really took their time to learn the legalese of what they can and can’t do with the student athletes they want to help.
“Initially we spent the time just figuring out the landscape and the rules. As you know, they are very gray,” Norrie said. “They are hard to interpret, and are hard to get a straight answer. A lot of it was just trying to wade through with our legal council. Trying to make sure the program we put in place for our student-athletes first and foremost protected them. That we aren’t doing anything to jeopardize their scholarship.”
“We wanted to design a program that is easy for a student athlete,” Norrie continued. “I think us coming in three, four, five months after other companies gave us and schools the ability to understand the dos and don’t of NIL. How do we make the student athletes’ job easier to wade through this NIL space?”
LockerRoom hopes their extra research allows them to be a kind of buffer by sourcing out credible opportunities. They also want to limit the amount of paperwork that needs to be filled out by student athletes. Once again, the schools and administration are not clients and do not work with the collective. However, student athletes do need to turn in NIL deal paperwork to compliance departments regardless if they are working with an individual business or a full fan collective.
LockerRoom for their part, figured out a way to streamline the paperwork process by having all work the student athlete does be through them and not their individual brand partners.
“We structured our program so that our student athletes are ambassadors for LockerRoom doing marketing or social media,” Norrie said. “The student athlete doesn’t sign on with our brand partners. We sign the partner on and then the student athlete does work on behalf of us.”
Debunking A Major NIL Misconception
Perhaps the biggest detractor of NIL for fans has been the mega-dollar deals that some athletes have walked away with. LockerRoom points out this is not what most college NIL is going to look like. According to conversations they’ve had it’s also not what most student athletes are realistically looking for.
“As the father of a football player, I see the struggle,” Norrie said. “I think the reality is the .01% of what is heard in the media is Caleb Williams signing a million dollar deal. I think that puts a bad taste in the average fan’s mouths. They have this misunderstanding about what student athletes get.”
“I think if we change the perspective of looking at it from a Caleb Williams or some of these stars that have big deals come through—when you realize that is ten, 15, 20 kids in the country and not what most get,” Norrie continued. “The whole goal of our platform is to bring in as many monetary opportunities as possible and pay it across our platform. Not just to the football players, but every sport. It’s for simple things like cell phone bills, and travel home during the holidays.”
“We Want You”- Building Fan Engagement
NIL has opened the doors for fan engagement like never before. So far, however, most platforms have failed to capitalize on that aspect. Knowing how rabid Utah fans are about their teams because of being Utah super-fans themselves, LockerRoom wanted to give the average fan the opportunity on their platform to form those connections.
“We realized the fan engagement is really important and not common within the NIL space,” Norrie said. “There is a component of it, but we wanted to merge every aspect of it into one platform. We wanted to have the brand deals that the student athletes can help monetize, we have the NFTs that we want to merge, but then we also have the fan engagement. That is something we are continuously working on. We are in the final stage of building out our platform online where fans will be able to interact with student athletes and it will support stores for those student athletes as well.”
Right now, LockerRoom is covering overhead costs through their other entrepreneurial pursuits. However, some of the technology they will be adding to their platform will require them to eventually have to cover some costs. LockerRoom says when that happens, about 95% of the fan dollar will continue going to their student athletes. They also want to keep the minimum range of membership around $10-$20 per month on up depending on how much someone is able to spend.
“What we wanted to do was open it up and bring on as many average, mainstream fans as possible because it is that level of connection,” Norrie said. “They enjoy the sport, they enjoy the school, they enjoy the athletes so to contribute into different NIL programs, we in turn want to be able to push back into the value of supporting our student athletes in our program through meet-and-greets, through our virtual program, our online program, our merchandise, through NFTs and autographs. We want to create that close-knit community for all of our schools and all of our student athletes.”
The First Utah Clubhouse Collective
Understandably, NIL and collectives can be a lot to take in. This is partially why LockerRoom is holding their first “Clubhouse” event from 7-9 p.m. on April 21st at Flankers. (Something LockerRoom wants to continue doing on a quarterly basis going forward with different sports.) The event will be a good opportunity for fans to see first-hand what LockerRoom is building, while also getting to meet several athletes from Utah football and Utah gymnastics. The LockerRoom staff will also be on hand and it is their hope fans will ask them any further questions they may have about fan collectives and how/why they should get involved.
“This is a big opportunity to come out and interact with your favorite football players and the team from LockerRoom,” Norrie said. “It’ll be the first time fans can see the value we bring back to the fanbase through this ‘clubhouse’ concept.”
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