Opendorse worker helping student-athlete
Former Nebraska men's basketball player Akol Arop (left) meets with Opendorse employee Braly Keller to discuss NIL deals. Photo courtesy of Opendorse.

Thursday, July 1, 2021, marked a historic day for college athletics, when the NCAA announced that athletes could benefit from use of their name, image and likeness. These are the three characteristics of a person that make them unique and fall under the “right to publicity” in the United States. 

The NIL rule allows athletes to partner with brands where the brand benefits from using the athlete as a type of endorsement to their customers and the athlete profits from the partnership. Six months later, businesses are still adapting and learning the process of NIL deals.

Opendorse is a start-up company in Lincoln, and was founded in 2013 by two former Husker football players, Blake Lawrence and Adi Kunalic. Opendorse and the University of Nebraska established the first Nebraska partnership to help student-athletes expand their brand.

Braly Keller has been the NIL specialist at Opendorse for nearly three years. He said the current landscape of businesses and athletes involved with NIL is like a middle-school dance.

Keller Headshot - NIL deals increase, Lincoln businesses adapt
Braly Keller is the NIL Specialist at Opendorse and calls himself an “encyclopedia” when it comes to all things NIL. Photo courtesy of Opendorse.

“There’s athletes on one side and brands and companies on the other,” Keller said. “It’s like the boys and girls don’t know who wants to initiate on either side.” 

Businesses have different options to consider when getting involved with NIL.

One option is a self-serve route where businesses can pitch a deal to athletes. Depending on if the athlete accepts or rejects the pitch, the business can then move forward in the process on their own. Keller said this process is similar to that of Air Bnb.

“There’s a marketplace, but instead of apartments, it’s athletes. So a brand can select the athlete, pitch them an offer, and go forward from there,” Keller said.

Another option is a full-service route where a business reaches out to an organization like Opendorse, which then sets up a meeting with the business and a team member to discuss the campaign building process. Keller said this option increases the chances of success with potential deals and also makes sure all of the details of the deal and promotional activities are solidified. 

Lincoln ice cream shop 402 Creamery, internet service provider ALLO and restaurant Muchachos are just three examples of local businesses that have had NIL deals with Husker athletes, most notably from the volleyball and football teams. Tyler Mannix, the co-owner of 402 Creamery, said that his business has done NIL deals in a few different ways. 

“The NIL deals we have done have been primarily athletes reaching out to us,” Mannix said. “However, when we worked with the Husker volleyball team, we pitched the idea, and they accepted it.”

The latest deal with the volleyball team included Nicklin Hames, Kayla Caffey, Lexi Rodriguez, Annika Evans and Ally Batenhorst creating a new ice cream flavor called “bump, set, scoop.” The team members decided to donate 50 percent of the proceeds to The Hope Venture, a nonprofit organization that uses education and health projects to help people in India, Kenya, and Uganda.

Mannix said the locally owned ice cream shop has done a number of smaller deals that include giving away free ice cream to athletes for social media posts and stories on Instagram. 402 is currently working with 15 sports teams from the University for a spring deal that would allow teams to create seasonal flavors.

Smith 402 Creamery scaled - NIL deals increase, Lincoln businesses adapt
Rhyse Smith, 23, enjoys a scoop of ice cream at 402 Creamery. (Tom Searl, Nebraska News Service)

As far as the financial benefits and drawbacks of his business, Mannix said it is too early to tell, but it has enjoyed the process nonetheless.

“We’ve enjoyed the opportunity to work with athletes and help them grow their name and brand which has been the most enjoyable part,” he said.

ALLO has done a total of 10 NIL deals with Nebraska athletes. Some of those deals have included Garret Nelson (football), Madi Kubik (volleyball), Micole Cayton (women’s basketball), among others. The majority of these NIL deals have included the athletes making social media posts in exchange for small amounts of money.

Marketing Director Tanna Hanna at ALLO said when it comes to the process of working with athletes, ALLO has gone a few different routes.

“We’ve reached out to specific athletes that we’ve wanted to partner with, our Opendorse rep has made numerous suggestions, and we’ve opened the door for athletes to approach us,” Hanna said.

ALLO has not been able to see the financial effects of these deals, but Hanna said there has been a lot of great exposure for the brand across Nebraska plus a relationship with the athlete.

“So they know we value them as a student, an athlete and an ALLO customer,” she said.

Muchachos was eager to partner with Husker athletes to get the restaurant’s name and brand more recognition, as it was one of the first local businesses to partner with athletes. Nebraska football player Cade Mueller and volleyball player Nicklin Hames were the first two athletes to partner with Muchachos in July. They were given a certain amount of money to post about Muchachos. 

Muchachos then partnered with the entire Nebraska offensive line and created the “Pipeline” burrito. Keller said after the first month of the announced Muchachos NIL deal, there were 170,000 searches for the restaurant on Google alone, which helped generate more customers.

My name is Tom Searl and I am a Senior from Omaha, NE. I am currently a double-major in Sports Media/Communication and Broadcasting. I am hopeful to work in the world of sports following graduation in May. In the past, I have had many valuable work experiences that have given me many useful skills. Some of those include the following: Husker VIsion student worker, Omaha Stormchasers Gameday Intern, and a Property Assistant for Husker Sports Properties.