Making Lifelong Connections Through NIL

Story written by Kenzie Knuckles, Women’s Volleyball player at the University of Nebraska

When we think about NIL as college athletes, it’s usually about the payout, what deals there are, and how you can sell yourself as a brand. We don’t spend as much time talking about the impact NIL has made on having closer relationships with fans and supporters. NIL brings more opportunity than just posting to your Instagram story and getting a free shirt, it allows for running camps, doing meet-and-greets, and even sending personalized videos. Building relationships with fans is a big part of being a Nebraska athlete – and college athlete in general – and it’s imperative to give back to the community that supports you.

Sam Haiby, a Nebraska Women’s Basketball player, was presented with the opportunity to connect with her fans, and she took full advantage of it.


Barb Leonard and her family moved back to Nebraska in 2019. Her daughter, MJ, who is in fifth grade, has been a big basketball fan since then. She decided that she wanted to have her birthday at a Husker Basketball game, so Barb bought MJ’s team tickets to go to the game on January 30 against Purdue. She thought about how to make her daughter’s birthday extra special and decided to try to get a personalized video from Sam Haiby, her favorite player. Barb went through Opendorse to pitch her idea.

After they chatted back and forth on the app to finalize the details, Sam sent the video through Opendorse a couple days before MJ’s birthday. Barb had a feeling it would be a memorable moment, so she had her husband record MJ’s reaction and shared it on Twitter the morning of the game. The feel-good story caught the attention of many people in the Nebraska community, including Sam.

After seeing it online, Sam messaged Barb again through Opendorse and asked them to stay after the game so she could meet MJ and the rest of her team.

“The whole idea of a quick video shoutout turned into a day these fifth graders will never forget,” Barb said. “We have Sam to thank for making it so special.”

As athletes, it can be easy to overlook the little things like signs that are made for you or the little cheers that fans do for you. But those are the same things that make the sport and the community you are playing for so special. It’s a privilege being able to inspire little girls that are in the same place you once were. 

“To us, it seems like something little, but to her it meant everything,” Sam said. “After seeing how much girls like MJ look up to us, if there is anything I can do in return for them, I’m all for it.”

Sam’s and Barb’s experience shows that NIL can be a two-way street, and fans can use Opendorse to reach out and connect with their favorite athletes to make memories that will last a lifetime.

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