Power 5 schools roughly twice as likely as those in Group of Five to contract with third-party NIL companies

Andy Wittry

Until several state laws that will grant athletes their name, image and likeness (NIL) rights take effect July 1, 2021, so much of the coverage about NIL is speculative and when you speculate, you often turn to experts for insight. Many universities and athletic departments have done the same, turning to companies that provide various professional services regarding NIL, including those pertaining to education, branding, social media and technology. Today’s newsletter will be the first in a two-part series that explores which universities have signed contracts with which third-party companies, which universities haven’t signed any agreements with third-party agencies and what creative services athletic departments and universities might be able to perform in-house in order to differentiate themselves from their peers.

What you need to know

Here are the highlights from today’s newsletter:

  • In less than two months – starting July 1, 2021 – some college athletes will be allowed to monetize their NILs thanks to impending state laws in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and New Mexico. Georgia’s bill was signed into law Thursday by Gov. Brian Kemp.
  • In response to the state and federal NIL bills that have been proposed – and in some cases, passed and signed – in recent years, many universities and athletic departments have signed contracts with companies such as INFLCR and Opendorse, which can offer a range of NIL-related services, such as NIL education, content creation, booking, tracking and disclosure. However, there’s significant variance in the frequency of these contracts between Power 5, Group of Five and FCS institutions, according to contracts I obtained.
  • Collectively, the 30 Division I schools that provided me with copies of their contracts with third-party NIL agencies have committed more than $2.4 million to these companies, including nine schools whose respective agreements are worth at least $100,000 – typically over multiple years. However, this isn’t always a case where the largest athletic departments have spent the most money on third-party services. An institution that competes in football at the FCS level ranks among the top spenders among the schools examined, while multiple schools whose football programs finished in the top 10 of the final College Football Playoff rankings last season haven’t signed any such contracts.

While several impending state laws that will go into effect July 1, 2021 will allow all college athletes in those states to monetize their NILs, contracts I obtained suggest that athletes who attend a Power 5 institution – a university that’s a member of the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 or SEC – are roughly twice as likely to have access to professional, third-party branding, social media and technology services pertaining to NIL compared to athletes who attend a university that’s a member of a Group of Five conference (the AAC, C-USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt). Athletes who compete at the Group of Five level are almost four times as likely to have access to such services than those who compete at the FCS level, based on the contracts obtained.

I filed public records requests to 90 public Division I universities, asking for a copy of any contracts they’ve signed with any agencies or consultants that offer athlete branding, marketing or NIL services. Sixty-eight schools have responded at the time of publishing and 30 of them have signed at least one of these contracts. Every FBS and FCS conference with at least one public university was represented in the public records requests that were filed. Private colleges and universities are not subject to public records requests.

Here are the results, organized by the level at which each institution competes in football*:

  • 77 percent of the Power 5 schools examined (17 out of 22) had responsive contracts, compared to…
  • 39 percent of the Group of Five schools examined (11 out of 28), and…
  • 11 percent of the FCS schools examined (two out of 18)
    *Wichita State discontinued football in 1986 but it was included among the Group of Five schools as a member of the AAC.

The details in this newsletter are strictly based on the contracts provided to me.

The tables below offer a complete breakdown of the Division I universities examined and which agencies they’ve contracted with, if any. The universities are organized in descending order from Power 5 to Group of Five to FCS conferences, then listed alphabetically by conference, then alphabetically by university. Universities that told me that they don’t have any responsive contracts are reflected by gray cells.

You can view the complete spreadsheet in a new window by clicking here, or by clicking on any of the tables below.

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*The university only searched for contracts with the 12 agencies or consultants that were specifically named in the request. Every public records request filed for this newsletter was worded as “including, but not limited to,” when describing the agencies.
**Contract details are for the softball program.
***The Brandr Group: The agreement and the activities described only apply to former athletes. Current and prospective athletes aren’t eligible for licensing opportunities or the group licensing program.
****Athliance: The contract between Athliance and Kansas Athletics, Inc., is for Athliance’s Pilot Program has a term of Feb. 1, 2021 to July 31, 2022, according to the letter of intent from December 2020. There will be no cost to Kansas Athletics during the program.
*****Jeremy Darlow: Entered a volunteer agreement with the West Virginia University Board of Governors on behalf of the university to provide access to an athlete brand development course to West Virginia football players from May 7, 2020 through May 7, 2021. There is no compensation as part of this volunteer agreement.
******NOCAP Sports: Agreement is for beta test service access from March 19, 2021 to July 31, 2021.

Among the nearly 70 DI universities and athletic departments examined, here are the 10 that have committed to the greatest lifetime spending to companies that offer third-party NIL services:

1. Nebraska: $263,499.00
2. Oregon State: $216,000.00
3. North Carolina: $193,303.49
4. Oregon: $174,888.49
5. North Carolina State: $155,803.49
6. Kansas: $140,419.00
7. South Carolina: $115,000.00
8. California: $114,255.89
9. North Carolina A&T: $112,339.22
10. Missouri: $99,990.00

What services do these third-party companies provide?

Here’s an overview of the services offered by some of these third-party providers, based on how their services are described in their contracts.

Altius Sports Partners: Altius Sports Partners “will provide UofSC with ongoing guidance and consulting services … on an as-needed basis to develop a strategy for UofSC’s NIL program,” according to its contract with the University of South Carolina. Services include, “Lead the building of the UofSC NIL Working Group, its structure, and education plan, as well as UofSC’s corporate partner strategy as it relates to NIL,” and “lead NIL educational sessions on an as-needed, mutually-agreed basis for UofSC student-athletes and coaches.”

Athliance: Kansas Athletics will participate in Athliance, Inc.’s pilot program, which started Feb. 1, 2021 and will end July 31, 2022 at no cost to the university, according to a copy of the letter of intent between the two parties. Athliance agreed to provide an “interactive prototype demo” on March 1, 2021, a “minimum viable product alpha demo” on June 1, 2021 and a beta product on July 31, 2021. Kansas agreed to provide ongoing reporting of feature requests and issues experienced while using the software in exchange for its participation in the program. Upon completion of the pilot program, Athliance will offer Kansas a discounted, multi-year agreement for three years at a cost of $30,000 per year, starting July 31, 2022.

The Brandr Group: North Carolina signed a first-of-its-kind agreement with The Brandr Group, LLC, in which former North Carolina athletes can engage in a group licensing program in opportunities when at least three former athletes participate in a licensing opportunity. Forty-five percent of the royalty revenue will go to the university, another 45 percent will go to the participants and The Brandr Group will receive 10 percent. The royalties owed to the participants will be divided equally amongst them.

Notable North Carolina men’s basketball and women’s soccer alumni, such as new men’s basketball coach Hubert Davis, Tyler Hansbrough, Mia Hamm and Heather O’Reilly, have already agreed to participate in the program, according to a news release. “I think it’s a great thing to do and personally, I think it’s the next appropriate iteration of name, image and likeness for our current student-athletes,” North Carolina Director of Athletics Bubba Cunningham said when the partnership was announced.

“I think this is something that is very beneficial to everyone,” he said. “It helps promote the University of North Carolina, it allows the former student-athlete to generate some income off of their name, image and likeness, and the licensing fees for the University of North Carolina all goes to need-based financial aid. It doesn’t come to athletics.”

INFLCR: INFLCR’s contracts describe its services as “a system to help Client manage brand ambassador social media channels and content.” During the configuration and training period, universities often receive “initial data entry of up to 100 of the social media channels of … recruits, current athletes, former athletes, coaches, and staff into the INFLCR Dash,” according to a copy of one of the contracts obtained. With the INFLCR app, athletes can have access to personalized photo and video content.

Jeremy Darlow: Darlow signed a volunteer agreement with the West Virginia University Board of Governors to provide access to “The DARLOW Rules, an athlete brand development course,” to West Virginia football players from May 7, 2020 through May 7, 2021.

NOCAP Sports: The Regents of the University of New Mexico signed an agreement with NOCAP Sports, Inc., for a beta test service access agreement for the term of March 19, 2021 through July 31, 2021 and there won’t be any charge in exchange for the university’s evaluation of the service.

Opendorse: According to copies of its contacts with athletic departments, Opendorse’s platform plan allows clients to “share content with individuals or groups on your roster, including recommended copy, media, hashtags, notes, etc. or schedule and publish to your owned channels without having to approve via notifications” and “automatically share collections of media with individuals and groups for publishing.” The Opendorse Ready program provides clients with assessments “to determine the quality of their username, display name, profile picture, and bio. Discover the first-person posts from the social account(s) that contain content that could negatively impact the account(s) brand value,” and it also provides valuations in which users receive an “estimated post value and annual earning potential for any social account(s), based on primary data gathered from Opendorse transactions since 2012.”

Both INFLCR and Opendorse have partnerships with photo providers, as well as Atlantic Records, which provides clients with access to royalty-free music that can be used in clients’ editorial and social media content. I obtained contracts signed that universities and athletic departments signed with INFLCR and Opendorse in 2020 after the start of the pandemic that included clauses that offered free access to the companies’ services for a limited period of time – up to a year – at the beginning of the contract term, or the ability to renew the contract at the expiring rate, rather than one at a standard price escalator.

These contracts can change, too, depending on what state and federal legislation is passed in the future, and they can adapt to potential NCAA regulations. Oregon State Athletics’ contract with Opendorse states, “In the event that NCAA NIL legislation is not in place by January 27, 2022, Oregon State will have the option to opt out of paying for the Opendorse Monitor product in year one of this agreement.”

A clause in an extension to North Carolina A&T’s contract with INFLCR states, “In the event that the terms of this Agreement are in conflict with any NCAA rules or regulations with respect to student athlete name, image and likeness, which currently exist or may be adopted in the future (the ‘NCAA Regulations’), the Parties agree that they will make good faith efforts to modify the service and/or the terms of this Agreement to bring it into compliance with the NCAA Regulations.” A similar clause in a contract between INFLCR and Oregon includes federal and state rules or regulations, along with NCAA rules or regulations.

If it isn’t possible for INFLCR to make its service or contract terms comply with NCAA regulations, North Carolina A&T can terminate the agreement and any future financial obligations prior to the first anniversary of the agreement, which is Jan. 8, 2022.

Let’s take a look at some of the schools that haven’t signed with any third-party agencies

There are some universities that are notable in that their representatives said they haven’t signed any contracts with any agencies or consultants that offer athlete branding, marketing or NIL services.

Listed alphabetically, here are some that stand out:

  • The University of Houston, which is the namesake university in the city with the fourth-largest population in the U.S. The University of Houston is coming off of a Final Four appearance in men’s basketball and not too long ago, it hired a sitting Big 12 head coach for its football program.
  • Iowa State University, whose athletic department developed a potential NIL model in 2019 that would allow athletes to receive either room, board, books, tuition and cost-of-attendance stipends, or the ability to monetize their NIL rights, but not both.
  • The University of Nevada, Las Vegas because, well, it’s the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
  • Western Kentucky University, which in 2007 received a $5 million gift from Houchens Industries to improve Western Kentucky University’s football stadium and as I’ve previously reported, two addendums to the fund agreement had the stated purpose of turning the university’s men’s basketball program into a top-25 program nationally. Houchens Industries agreed to share half the cost of the university’s men’s basketball coach’s salary above $700,000, as well as half of the cost to enter a new conference “should WKU and Houchens mutually agree that a new conference is a good move to reach a top 25 status for men’s basketball.” Maybe that nearly 15-year-old fund agreement says more about Houchens Industries and local boosters than it does about the university, but if there’s ever an opportunity for a university or one of its athletic programs to improve its relative national standing, that opportunity would likely come through the university and its stakeholders embracing the opportunities provided to its athletes through NIL.

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I publish original, enterprise reporting about college athletics that focuses on off-the-field topics, such as name, image and likeness rights and the financial side of athletics, from a public records and data-based reporting lens. My work has been published by Sports Illustrated, Sporting News, Stadium, NCAA.com, the IndyStar and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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