Inside NIL Collectives with Russell White from Oncoor Marketing

NIL Collectives have dominated the college sports media space in recent weeks. These collectives are established third-party groups with the intention to create NIL opportunities for current student-athletes at a school, usually finding funding from groups of business owners and donors. We sat down with Russell White, President of Oncoor Marketing, to learn more about the ins and outs of how a NIL collective functions.

White has worked on the business side of sports for a number of years, including stints with CBS Sports, Utah Jazz (NBA), and Real Salt Lake (MLS) – and attained his Master’s in Global Sport from New York University. While taking a couple of months to pursue contract work, White got in contact with Oncoor, a marketing agency founded in 2017 that has worked with athletes on all levels of sport.

On July 1, 2021 the athlete marketing industry grew from 5,000 to 500,000 athletes in an instant. Student-athletes could now earn money and Oncoor was ready to help support them. White noted that “overnight athletes now could make money off their name, image and likeness and none of them knew what that meant. They needed help, guidance, assistance, education, and it’s an ongoing thing. The owners of our company are very much on board with that. We needed to offer support for these kids, whether it’s helping them understand what a deal looks like, what their value is in the market, and the importance of building a brand and building it in a positive way.”

How Donors Play a Role

Donors of every major university have been supporting student-athletes for years through sponsorships, funding facility construction, project donations, etc. Now, donors can support student-athletes directly in a safe and compliant manner through NIL collectives.

With donor dollars being transacted in plain sight, trackability and transparency has led to an increase in safety.

College sports are also locally based, with many communities centered around the university. Providing an opportunity for local donors to support student-athletes can in- provide support back to the larger community.

White shared the impact Utah State student-athletes are having on the local community of Logan, Utah. “Logan is not a huge town by any means, but it’s decent-sized. But the centerpiece of that town is Utah State University. Local businesses up there live and breathe Aggie athletics. We work with student-athletes who are able to do deals with local pizza chains, we did a deal for one of our athletes with Taco Time (a Logan-based restaurant). They renamed one of the menu items after one of the players.” White continued to say, “local businesses love college kids.”

Collectives and Charitable Giving

Collectives have also played a key role in helping student-athletes pursue and fund charitable giving and Oncoor is leading the charge in that space. White explains, “One of the models that we’ve started to implement is a charitable route. When donors donate to the collective on the charity piece, we align student-athletes with local charities to help them promote their cause. It could be social media posts or an appearance at a gala to raise money for a certain charity.”

One example of Oncoor putting this in action is with the Malouf Foundation, a global organization focused on education about sex trafficking that is based in Utah. Since their goal is to get everyone educated on the topic and how to prevent it, money from the collective has gone to helping student-athletes become certified for their On Watch Program while also promoting the program on social media, why it’s important, speak about the impact it’s had, and share important learnings from the program.

White adds, “We think that getting student-athletes involved in community-based opportunities and activities and providing a way for them to make some money while lending their platform to push these causes that they care about (is a positive thing). I think collectives are starting to see ways to help kids capitalize on what they’re doing and do it in a good way.”

Creating Career Opportunities

Collectives help student-athletes get out in the community, which also includes discovering potential career opportunities after the jersey will inevitability come off for the last time. White shared a story of a recent campaign with a Utah-based solar energy company, LGCY Power, looking to expand their name and reach in the Dallas/Fort Worth community.

Oncoor worked with 40+ TCU Football student-athletes to put together an internship for the weekend. White walked through the opportunity, “We worked with over 40 kids from TCU’s football team. We put together a program, ran it through Opendorse – obviously a great platform – and we went down to Dallas. We helped the team from LGCY Power put on a renewable energy internship for a weekend.

These kids were able to opt-in, come out for a couple of days and learn about the renewable energy space. They were able to meet people that work in IT, sales, appointment setters, engineers, and just learn what these opportunities are. They were getting paid to do this. They’re making money now. They were learning about what potentially could be a career down the road if these guys don’t go professional, which most of them don’t, and they decide they want to look into that space. LGCY was introducing them to this as a potential career path.”

Through this experience, two stories stuck out to White

“One student-athlete came and told me he’s a walk-on and works other jobs, drove Uber, did whatever he had to do to get by and that the money from this weekend was going to be able to

take care of the bills that he needed for the next couple of months to free him up to do schoolwork and training for football because he’s a walk-on. He doesn’t have all those extra benefits right now and he’s working towards trying to earn that scholarship.”

The second story that stood out to White from this event was an athlete who is working towards getting his pilot’s license because he’s made the realization that he would not be going pro after graduation.

“Because of the money from this internship, he was now going to be able to pay for and complete that certification prior to the football season and then finish football. He’ll be able to walk right into his pilot’s program, essentially cutting four to six months off of that timeline for him to be able to move into his career.

Something as small as a company being willing to invest in some kids, give them an opportunity to see what’s out there, this one kid has now provided a quicker timeline, a quicker pathway to his chosen career.”

For many of these athletes, a few hundred or a thousand dollars is life-changing money. Only 57% of NCAA DI student-athletes are on full or partial scholarships. While the media may be more focused on covering huge dollar deals of college athletics’ top stars, collectives are working to truly make an impact and create local opportunities for the student-athletes who need it most.

Building the Right Brand

On the athlete marketing agency side, Oncoor is selective who they work with and represent. White noted, “We’re not an exclusive agency, but we’re very selective about who we bring into the family, because we want kids who obviously are good athletes, but we want people who care about the community and have an idea of what they want to do.

We want to align them with brands that authentically fit who they are. We want to make sure that they’re willing to put in work. I think some athletes thought that on July 1, their DMs would be full of cash offers and that’s really not the way it happened.”

Agencies, brands, and fans are all selective with who they work with. Since the market saw 100x growth overnight on July 1, it’s become an even more selective process – and athletes need to be willing to put in the work if they want to secure NIL opportunities.

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