NIL consultancy Altius Sports Partners is establishing on-campus operations at six of its partner schools as it launches a new program to create NIL-specific departments at colleges across the country. LSU, South Carolina, Virginia, Oklahoma State, Northwestern and Cincinnati mark the first partners to expand and extend their relationships with Altius as it tests the in-house approach, which is a similar model to those of other third-party college athletics partners, such as Learfield and Anthony Travel.
No financial or term details were disclosed, but Altius said the agreed-upon contracts with the schools give sufficient time to allow the new programs to grow.
Since NIL got the green light from the NCAA a year ago, schools have grappled with how to handle it internally without getting too involved or taking on risk of liability. College athletic departments have hired numerous third-party contractors and consultants to help with everything from education and marketplace building to deal tracking and reporting. Some, such as the University of Tennessee, created new roles and appointed individuals to oversee NIL within their athletic departments. Others have shifted the burden to compliance officers and other athletic department personnel, or have relied heavily on outside help.
Altius is offering a new solution: a standalone NIL vertical, staffed by one full-time Altius personnel (one ‘general manager’ to start, but the consultancy anticipates building out these departments as the industry matures), within participating athletic departments. Though these on-campus departments will not operate as a complex web of individual subsidiaries of Altius, a la Learfield, having third-party contractors on campus is a model schools are already both comfortable and familiar with.
“The way athletic departments are structured, everyone has several different roles that they’re focusing on and it’s really hard to add duties and areas of expertise,” Brittney Whiteside, Altius VP of collegiate partnerships and a former deputy athletics director at Virginia, said. “Staff just don’t have the bandwidth on campuses. NIL has really fallen on compliance, but it’s evolving into branding, marketing, licensing, legal, all of these different areas. [Altius meets] the need by providing staffing on campus that’s plugged into the national landscape [and] plugged into the resources that we have and can focus daily on NIL.”
Whiteside will lead the program with support from Altius’ EVP of collegiate partnerships, Andrew Donovan.
“We’re trying to bring together all of those different areas of focus that touch NIL, because [in the future] NIL is going to be its own department,” Donovan said. “So how can we intelligently staff that department to maximize opportunities for athletes in this space while keeping all of the other stakeholders that need to be involved appropriately informed?”
These third-party departments will also help shield schools from liability—a major NIL concern. NIL strategy, education, day-to-day compliance and even deal identification and facilitation, along with the marketing and branding efforts required to support those opportunities, will fall within the purview of the newly created departments.
“A lot of us [within the athletic department] have been involved with NIL in the past year or so, but having individuals that our student athletes, our coaches and our staff members can access at all times is critical,” said Dr. Derrick Gragg, Northwestern AD. “Altius has been in the market and they have their hand on the pulse. So we felt this was best way to go, as we move into the next frontier of more in depth NIL situations.”
The actual unfolding of this program will vary by school, and Altius emphasized it does not represent athletes or collectives directly. Until now, the company has abstained from involving itself in any actual deal-making entirely.
While the company says NIL deals will be facilitated “based on institutional risk tolerance and applicable rules,” it marks a significant shift in approach. Identifying and connecting athletes to potential brand partners and finding opportunities to integrate NIL into existing university and athletic relationships requires greater interaction with the athletic department and third-party stakeholders. In return, that burrows Altius deeper into the athletic departments it counts as partners.
That digging is driven by a belief that the NIL landscape is shifting toward much greater and more direct school involvement in NIL than in year one. Collectives backed by prominent athletic department donors and team-wide deals have hinted that the market is already trending in that direction, giving Altius confidence as it commits to the scale and sizable human capital investments required by the new program.
With more than 30 Power Five schools among its clientele, including athletic departments at Auburn, Clemson, Georgia, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Penn State, Texas and Wisconsin, Altius hopes to expand the NIL program beyond its initial launch partners.