The consulting industry hoping to steer college athletic departments and athletes through the bureaucratic frontier of name, image and likeness is creating its own pile of paperwork.
Now with almost every passing day comes a press release from a Division I university announcing the hiring of an NIL consultancy or preparation partner, intent on meeting the monetary moment next summer.
“This partnership will offer our student-athletes with best-in-class personal branding tools to make the most of this upcoming opportunity,” Kansas State athletic director Gene Taylor said in a Dec. 12 statement announcing his school’s new deal with Opendorse.
Beyond the marketing jargon, what exactly do these partnerships entail?
While much still remains to be sorted out, Sportico reviewed recent agreements executed by three of the more prominent firms working in the NIL space—Altius, Opendorse and INFLCR—which bring into focus what these companies are offering and charging, as well as how they are trying to position themselves in the marketplace.
Altius, the truest consulting company of the trio, describes its services in terms of building a house: The company can operate as a general contractor, laying the full NIL foundation at partner schools, but CEO Casey Schwab said most of his university clients are looking for more specific guidance, like the equivalent of a publicity plumber.
Most of the company’s contracts, regardless of scope, are 10-month agreements, designed to conclude just before the new NCAA legislation is expected to take effect. Schwab said that his company is intentionally structuring only short-term contracts “because we don’t know—nobody knows at this stage of the game—what the rules are exactly going to look like.”
That said, Altius’ agreements with both LSU and Texas, obtained by Sportico through public records requests, include language that Altius and the schools will “use best efforts” to extend the deals for an additional two years.
In its agreement with Texas, signed Sept. 29, Altius’ “comprehensive guidance and consulting services” include tutorial presentations and sessions for athletes as well as one-sheet memos on matters such as rule navigation, compliance and cost-benefit analysis.
It’s unclear how much Texas is paying Altius for these services. A copy of the agreement redacted the fee amount, but Altius’ contract with LSU, signed two weeks before the Texas pact, is worth $50,000 over a 10-month period (plus up to $6,000 for reimbursable expenses). The Tigers’ deal, however, is a bit more extensive than the Longhorns’ and includes some additional specifics: The company will review six to eight of the school’s contracts for “NIL implications”; produce updates and recommendations related to NIL legislation; and conduct monthly teleconference or in-person sessions for LSU staff.
In an exhibit to the LSU agreement, Altius outlines a second and third phase of the relationship (to develop as NIL legislation progresses) and “optional enhancements” such as live Q&A sessions with the company’s cadre of experts, who include Oliver Luck and Urban Meyer, and a curriculum pack the school can distribute to “external parties” like corporate sponsors, boosters and fans.
Altius deploys several protective covenants in both contracts: Its agreement with Texas stipulates that the school will “not work with any other external organization that provides the same or substantially similar services.” LSU has an exclusivity clause that includes a right of first refusal for Altius if the Tigers are “contemplating a third-party NIL deal.”
Schwab described this as creating a contractual “moat” around the arrangement.
“Defensively, we want to make sure that if you’re going to partner with us as a school, that we’re all in together as true partners, and that someone else isn’t coming in to do what we’re doing,” Schwab said in a phone interview. “Offensively, we’re actually helping the schools that we’re working with potentially hire another third party, which specifically would be a social media company or a content company.”
To date, the most lucrative publicly known NIL consulting deal is Opendorse’s 12-month agreement with Nebraska, signed in March, which checks in at $235,000. That fee—which evidently includes $150,000 of discounts—pays for the “Rolls Royce” of services, according to Opendorse CEO Blake Lawrence, and includes 45- to 60-minute consulting sessions with each Husker athlete.
For the rest of its collegiate clientele, at least so far, Opendorse’s offerings are relegated to technology. Schools can choose from its basic social media athlete-marketing platform, which has been around since 2015, or spring for its NIL-specific add-on, “Opendorse Ready,” which adds educational elements, automated and ongoing social media assessments and feedback for college users.
Ready was the first program designed to help individual athletes build their personal brands ahead of the NIL era, and Nebraska the first school to get on board. Meanwhile, Indiana has a three-year, $75,000 Opendorse deal that includes a license to its platform with an “Opendorse Social” pro account and the added “Ready” program.
On the other end of the spectrum from Nebraska is Fresno State, which, according to a copy of its agreement, is leasing Opendorse’s “Ready Pro” product for 12 months at a cost of $8,500. At this price, the Bulldogs are entitled to analysis and content valuation estimates for 25 athlete social media accounts, as well as two 90-minute tutorial sessions for the entire department.
Both Indiana and Fresno State signed their deals with Opendorse in August, several months after the launch of the Ready product and Nebraska’s deal. The company told Sportico it has standardized its pricing for both its offerings “even more” for 2021, when it expects a rising number of its existing college clients to add the NIL-specific program onto their packages.
Unlike Altius, Opendorse has been increasingly signing schools to three- or four-year deals, Lawrence said, for the purposes of recruiting.
Schools are “able to say to an incoming class that they’re going to have this solution throughout their time on campus,” the CEO said. “That’s becoming more important for the recent institutions signing on.”
INFLCR, a software and image services firm, has long competed with Opendorse for the same contracts, offering similar services today in two key areas: social media content management and distribution, and now, NIL preparation.
INFLCR licenses its platform on an annual basis, although most schools have signed on for multiple years. According to the company, the average deal length among its more than 90 Division I clients is more than four years.
North Carolina, for example, is in the midst of a six-year subscription, which will cost it a total of just under $194,000. INFLCR’s subscription services agreement includes a license for unlimited users; configuration and training services for recruits, athletes, former athletes and staff; and strategic planning instruction for staff.
This summer INFLCR launched its NIL Suite add-on, which helps athletes build out their social media accounts and increase their followings. The Tar Heels were the first to sign on, and programs including Marquette and West Virginia quickly followed.
INFLCR essentially offers two versions of the NIL Suite to its clients, catering to an athletic department’s priorities: a lighter version that gives every athlete and team access to the add-on, or sport-specific NIL Suites.
“You can pay more to target certain sports and get even value, or you can spend a little less and broaden it across your athletic department,” INFLCR CEO Jim Cavale explained. “That’s how we built it, [as opposed] to blanketing one price for all and continuously having to decrease that price because people can’t afford it.”
Since Teamworks purchased a stake in INFLCR, many of the two companies’ new deals are being done in one contract, like at Purdue. Combined, the two firms deal with more than 3,000 college teams and 130,000 college athletes.
While INFLCR and Opendorse each estimate an 80/20 split between partners utilizing their traditional offerings and those adding on NIL-specific services, both expect those numbers to trend more toward an even divide as the NCAA’s rules become formalized and more concrete preparations begin in 2021. Altius expects to onboard additional clients in the coming months as well.