When the NCAA Division I Board of Directors approved a name, image, and likeness policy in June 2021, nobody really had an idea of what the future would look like in college athletics. But for the first time, student-athletes were legally allowed to profit on endorsements and accept monetary payments to attend and play at colleges and universities.

Details on how the athlete directly benefits are at the forefront of the NIL conversation. But behind the scenes are the business owners who are interested in learning more and being able to utilize the services of student-athletes in order to grow their company’s brand and image through the student-athletes’ audience.

To bridge the communication between the athletes and business owners is a company called Opendorse. Blake Lawrence and Adi Kunalic, the founders of Opendorse, have laid the groundwork and created a platform that allows business owners to reach student-athletes with a click of a button.

Tucker McHugh is a campaign manager at Opendorse whose main priority is connecting potential athletes to various companies that are interested in brand expansion and an increase in recognition. 

“Through collaboration, we provide our athlete research team with the knowledge needed to provide the brand with athlete names that are likely to help accomplish the brand’s goals. Campaign goals, timing, target market/region, and student athlete schedules all play huge roles in identifying athletes.

With the ability to view athlete’s profiles on Opendorse.com, business owners are able to see estimated costs online for specific athletes. For example, Nebraska Men’s Basketball player Sam Griesel’s, he offers the service of posting an advertisement for a company on social media for $46 or more. In addition, Griesel offers other services such as appearances, autograph sessions, and video shoutouts ranging from $67 to $153.

“We highly encourage athletes to be proactive in building their brand, ensuring their Opendorse profile is accurate, reaching out to businesses, applying for Opendorse opportunities to maximize their likelihood of being pitched an NIL deal,” McHugh said.

In an interview with Sporting Business Journal, Lawrence said Opendorse has an “unfair advantage” since the company was launched in 2012 when nobody was considering NIL. Another feather in the cap for both Lawrence and Kunalic is that they were division I athletes themselves at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Understandably so, that experience provides a unique perspective from both when working with the current division I athletes at various universities. “In every meeting, we ask ourselves: “how does this help the athlete,” said Kunalic.

One local business that has benefited greatly from NIL has been Muchachos. A business that used to be a food truck has now turned into a very successful brick and mortar store with the help of student-athletes and their reach in the community. With the evolution of Muchachos’ brand and recognition, owner Nick Maestas is in the process of opening up a second Muchachos in Omaha.

“It’s been a game changer for us,” he said. “These people are local heroes to kids, they’re role models, they’re people who these kids look up to.”

There are multiple ways that a business owner can reach a student-athlete. One way is going to Opendorse’s website and selecting the athlete that best fits the message they’re trying to relay or even social media.

“Businesses have the opportunity to pitch deals directly to student-athletes who are active on the Opendorse platform,” McHugh said. “When a deal is sent, a chat window is created. Through this chat window, businesses and athletes can compliantly and safely ask further questions, negotiate, and communicate everything needed for execution should the athlete choose to accept the deal.”

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Just sent my first deal to an athlete on <a href=”https://twitter.com/opendorse?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@opendorse</a>!! Excited to see how this works!</p>&mdash; Nick Maestas (@nmaestas) <a href=”https://twitter.com/nmaestas/status/1415031909541990405?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>July 13, 2021</a></blockquote> <script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

One of Maestas’ most popular NIL deals was with the entire Nebraska football offensive line in where he and his staff developed a ‘pipeline burrito’ weighing in at four pounds featuring pork, chicken, brisket, beans, queso, rice, crushed tortilla chips, salsa, slaw and avocado crema in a flour tortilla in 2021.

The deals are as simple as they sound.

“It was a partnership that included food, merchandise, and a percentage of sales, of the pipeline burrito only, in exchange for a social media post,” Maestas said.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>What happens when you combine the Pipeline and <a href=”https://twitter.com/Yo_Muchacho?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@Yo_Muchacho</a>? You get the Pipeline Burrito!! <a href=”https://t.co/VCJpp5FooJ”>pic.twitter.com/VCJpp5FooJ</a></p>&mdash; THE PIPELINE (@pipehogs) <a href=”https://twitter.com/pipehogs/status/1427042044187484163?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>August 15, 2021</a></blockquote> <script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

Unknowingly to Maestas, former Husker Brant Banks wore his Muchachos t-shirt to a press conference which gave publicity to the local business.

According to Maestas and Muchachos, over 600,000 people saw the t-shirt on Twitter. It was searched on Google more than 169,000 times in the following month. In addition, Muchachos saw a 104% increase in sales the next week.

“That next week we had a kid and his dad come into the restaurant and say, “We want to eat where the Huskers eat,” Maestas said.

Another NIL deal that Maestas constructed was with former Nebraska volleyball player Nicklin Hames. She posted an advertisement on social media for all of her 14,000 followers to see showing off a new item Muchachos was testing out: “Duo Cups.”

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>muchachos is the BEST!! the food is so so so good. i highly recommend getting the duo cup go stop in ! you won’t regret it ! <a href=”https://t.co/m3BInbOVqj”>pic.twitter.com/m3BInbOVqj</a></p>&mdash; nicklin hames (@HamesNicklin) <a href=”https://twitter.com/HamesNicklin/status/1418738599277875207?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>July 24, 2021</a></blockquote> <script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

“She featured our duo cups where you can fill half with coffee and half with anything else you want. We sold 55 of them the very next day. It’s a genuine relationship. It’s pretty awesome to get to know these guys off the court.”

Although fans and customers know these athletes from the work they do on the field or court for a specific institution, the universities cannot be involved in any NIL deals.

Director of Athletics Trev Alberts updated Husker Nation regarding the NIL effort through a public letter in January 2023.

“Since July 1, 2021, Husker student-athletes have participated in over 2,500 NIL activities,” Alberts said. “These new NIL opportunities give our student athletes a chance to connect with our great fans through appearances, camps, or a social media shoutout. Nebraska has emerged as a national leader in NIL activity because of our great fan support and these opportunities are helping our coaches recruit the best talent to Nebraska.”

With name, image, and likeness regulations in place, companies are able to help out multiple people. Business owners are able to support the student-athlete from a monetary standpoint as well as advertise their company and brand.

“All NIL deals should follow NCAA guidelines as well as any relevant state laws and school NIL policies, but the deals themselves can be extremely custom. Deal activities that could be pitched to athletes include social media posts, appearances, autographs, group licensing, digital or in person interviews, podcast appearances, keynote speeches, and more.” McHugh said.

Muchachos 300x226 - More Than Athletes Can Benefit from Name, Image and Likeness
Hi, I am Nick Sehnert and I am a senior Sports Media and Communication student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I work full-time at a 93.7 The Ticket FM, a local sports talk radio station, as an on-air host and producer.