A new online portal at the University of Colorado Boulder is helping student-athletes solidify their personal brands, and profit from them.
Prior to July 2021, student athletes were banned from making money off their own personal brands due to a decades-long National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rule. But that changed last summer when the NCAA updated their name, image and likeness (NIL) rules to allow athletes to profit off their own images.
“The CU Buffs NIL Exchange is gonna be really important for our student-athletes for them to be able to monetize their name, image and likeness, and to help them grow their brand, and also to help companies grow their brand,” said Rick George, CU’s athletic director, during a Q&A interview on Ralphie’s Rundown.
“We think the platform and the exchange is the right way for us to go,” said George. “It will allow our student-athletes to connect with multiple businesses on NIL opportunities, and I’m looking forward to see how that plays out in the next several months.”
The new Buffs NIL Exchange program allows for an easy and convenient way for student-athletes and businesses to connect online and form partnerships. The launch of CU’s portal, which was the second of its kind for the PAC-12 when it launched on Feb. 1, 2022, is a big step for their Buffs With a Brand program that helps student-athletes learn and navigate the world of NIL. The portal was built in partnership with INFLCR, a leading software in the growing industry of NIL.
The Deming Center for Entrepreneurship, part of Leeds School of Business, has been helping student-athletes navigate the NIL education program since it launched. The team helps athletes with their personal branding and building their business skills.
“The NIL education piece is not new to us,” said Lauren Unrein, Director of Student-Athlete Leadership and Career Development at CU. “That’s something we’ve been working on in partnership with the Deming team to figure out how we can best educate our student athletes to utilize their student athlete experience.”
Businesses, individuals, charities and anyone interested in collaborating with Colorado student athletes can connect through the portal for free. After registering on the Colorado INFLCR website, access will then be given to associate with athletes through the database where they’re able to reach out to any Buffs if interested.
Some examples of services or partnerships include selling autographs, guest appearances, hosting and running clinics and providing private lessons.
Although the interactions of student athletes and businesses are connected through CU Athletics and the INFLCR platform, the university won’t be involved with the actual partnership and transactional aspect.
“Something for us that was really important in part of the interpretation of the legislation was that the university should not be part of introducing or making those connections,” Unrein said. “This exchange still allows us to encourage people and our student athletes to sign up, but we’re not the ones facilitating those deals.”
INFLCR currently has over 3,500 teams and nearly 70,000 athletes using the portal to market their brands. The app allows athletes to promote themselves, their content and network with others, including businesses.
“The world of college athletics is rapidly changing and it’s grown a lot in very different ways,” said Unrein. “Ways that we might not have anticipated or expected, but we want to try and take those and figure out how we can make this the best opportunity for our CU student-athletes.”
Since the NIL change, many student athletes have taken advantage of the opportunity to pursue brand deals and community partnerships. Colorado quarterback Brendan Lewis recently partnered with one of Boulder’s most successful and popular restaurants, The Sink.
“Best burger in town,” said Lewis in a tweet while announcing his partnership with the restaurant.
Along with a new and improved way for athletes and students to get in touch easily, CU has also put together a new team of staff members that will focus on helping student athletes engage and manage NIL opportunities.
“We are now more comfortable with increasing our institutional resources and involvement with student athletes and NIL,” said Abbey Shea, CU’s associate director of compliance for the athletic department. “We’re hoping that makes this NIL space easier and more efficient.”
With experts in compliance, leadership and development, marketing and more, the Buffs are setting themselves up for success.
“There’s a lot of enthusiasm,” Shea said. “I do think that this has increased the ability of people, fans, donors, alumni, to get involved in the NIL space.”
Contact Guest Writer Sarah Grim at firstname.lastname@example.org.