You probably haven’t heard of OpenDorse.
But you will.
The Lincoln, NE company was one of the pioneers in a field that many didn’t even see coming just a few short years ago. Founded by Blake Lawrence and Adi Kunalic in 2012 with the goal of maximizing “the athlete endorsement industry”, Opendorse partners with nearly every major professional sports league, players association, and major college brand across the country — as well as big names like Pepsi, Chipotle, and Maverick Carter’s Klutch Sports.
They also count TCU amongst their clients.
Last September, when the Fort Worth university signed a three year contract with the Opendorse Ready — the Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) Readiness Program under the Opendorse umbrella, Jeremiah Donati said “the NIL movement provides an opportunity for TCU Athletics to position the young men and women in our program to build their personal brands for a lifetime of success. When change inevitably comes, I’m confident that we are positioned to provide the best possible education and resources available for student-athlete development. It’s my belief that Opendorse Ready is the leading NIL readiness solution in the market. We are a longtime partner of Opendorse and have witnessed firsthand the post-college success that brand-building delivers for TCU student-athletes.” This was the next step in a years long process to not only prepare their athletes for what’s coming, but to maximize their opportunities before it got there. The first Big 12 program to officially enter the NIL Readiness Program, Horned Frogs athletes across campus were trained to “understand their name, image and likeness (NIL) rights and receive hands-on assistance from experts to maximize their value while on campus.” Of the program, Opendorse says it “offers three core pillars to student-athlete success: Assessment, Education, and Performance – tailored to assist each individual athlete.”
So what does that mean?
Say you are a third year starting quarterback on the football team. Or a five star running back poised for a breakout sophomore campaign. Maybe you’re a point guard about to represent USA Basketball on the global stage or a sharp shooter that has won multiple national titles. Opendorse’s goal is to help you capitalize on your fame — be it short or long term — and turn that name recognition into money-making opportunities.
Before you get all caught up in the amateurism debate (LOL), think small scale first. Remember when Donald De La Haye, the UCF kicker, was ruled ineligible because he was making money from sponsorships on his trick shot YouTube channel, one that had amassed over five million views? He eventually gave up his scholarship, because at the end of the day, scholarship dollars can only be spent in one place and real money still talks. For most of these kids, college athletics provides the highest name recognition period of their lives. For every Trevon Moehrig that goes pro, there are a hundred Deante Gray’s that have to find another path (Gray is a positive example of a former athlete doing just that, as he is developing a successful career as a director). Opendorse allows student-athletes to not only capitalize on the time when they are most known, but help them develop a brand that will last longer than most of their athletic careers will.
And what’s really cool about the way the NIL Readiness Program is structured is that it’s not one size fits all. The volleyball star will be treated differently than the football player, the baseball All American differently than the track Olympic hopeful — but each will be evaluated in a way that sets up a plan that is best for them.
At this point, we are all familiar with the concept of a “social media influencer”. Many of you probably follow one or two across multiple platforms and can easily pick out the difference between a sponsored post or something more authentic. These people make thousands of dollars by casually dropping in a reference to the clothes they are wearing, the protein powder they “swear by”, the food that they’re eating — why shouldn’t a Zach Evans (verified with 40,000+ followers on instagram) be able to do the same?
There will be problems with this legislation — bigger schools with bigger budgets and better connections will have an inside track to these “sponsorship” opportunities, and the bagmen will just deliver their goods in a different way. But I don’t think it’s going to destroy a system that’s already pretty broken — at least no more than what schools like Alabama and Ohio State have done over the last decade. Great players, or great characters, will thrive — see Virginia pitcher Stephen Schoch, a player unlikely to have a professional future, but built himself a career by waxing poetic on Dippin Dots and Kenny Powers, turning good humor and a little exposure into a verified twitter account and a position with Barstool Sports practically overnight.
There will be holdouts and hand wringing off course — Gary Patterson has not been a fan of this wave of the future — but ultimately, it’s happening, and programs will either adapt or fall way behind. It can be an opportunity for schools who are willing to be at the front of the line, and TCU has proven it is exactly that. Jeremiah Donati is still young in his role as Athletic Director, but he has already proven that he isn’t afraid to shake some trees and get out in front of some of the big changes coming college sports’ way. This is one of the biggest of those, and he has his university well prepared to tackle it.
So now, the question becomes — who is the first Frog to get a deal and what will they be hawking?