It will be 12 months in September since the launch of Dinkytown Athletes, the name, image, and likeness (NIL) collective supporting student-athletes at the University of Minnesota. What’s the progress report?
Derek Burns, president of DA and a co-founder with Robert Gag, told Sports Headliners he is pleased a “sustainable model” is now in place to benefit men and women athletes at Minnesota. He said between 70 and 90 athletes have been part of over 400 transactions or deals benefiting them. Athletes earn compensation from making ads, commercials, endorsements and appearances for businesses, and for their participation at youth clinics, charity events and the promotion of DA to create more awareness of the entity which is not part of the U.
A major driver of opportunities has been the DA relationship as a vendor with Gopher Sports Properties, the Learfield company that holds radio rights for U games and is engaged in other activities like venue signage, corporate hospitality, and event sponsorships and promotions. Burns, a former Gopher football player and Twin Cities businessman, describes the relationship with GSP as “huge” and a highlight among successes in the first 11 months of DA.
In addition to businesses, DA generates revenues from individuals. “Memberships” range from $10 to $500 per month and provide benefits that include access to athletes and events, exclusive information via video and interviews, and merchandise and memorabilia. Large one-time contributions, of course, are also welcomed along with pledges for ongoing support.
For what Burns calls “competitive intelligence reasons” DA doesn’t make public how many contributors it has, or much much money it takes in and pays out. NIL, including in the highly competitive recruitment of football and men’s basketball players across the country, is a subject of scrutiny by every program and collective. Recruiters will use information about rival collectives to their advantage.
Sometimes part of their wooing process is illegal by NCAA policy. NIL isn’t supposed to be an inducement for athletes to influence their college choice. But there’s a lack of enforcement that even the public is aware of. Yet Burns believes pay-to-play is often a failed strategy because it attracts athletes for money only and not the various reasons involved with making a solid choice for a college decision (academic offerings, rapport with coaches, program success etc.).
Disgruntlement over NIL money can soon lead to athletes transferring to another program as they chase dollars. “We’re squarely focused on the current student-athletes,” Burns said.
In the past year multiple individuals and collectives have made headlines about NIL monies raised and gaudy compensation helping programs and athletes (a few reportedly around seven-figures). “That can provide a misconception about how everyone is doing (around the country),” said Burns, who acknowledged that reports sometimes aren’t verifiable and possibly inaccurate.
While Burns didn’t offer figures as to how much money DA has to potentially benefit Gophers football and basketball players, he said that “maybe in the middle is a good way to put it” in comparison with its 13 Big Ten rivals. Burns said no matter how high or low the numbers are “it will be manipulated and used in recruiting.”
The U athletic department is known as probably one of the strictest in the nation when it comes to enforcing and monitoring NCAA policy for student-athletes. The U is supportive of NIL and devotes staff and resources to ensure that it is administered by the rules. “We have a great relationship with (the) compliance (office),” Burns said.
DA is anticipating new revenue sources soon. One initiative will be to increase the number of memberships. A growth target will be an audience who Burns refers to as the casual fan.
“We’ve made a really good penetration in what I would call the really passionate part of the fan base,” Burns said. “The diehards. They’re on board, a lot of them are members.”
Burns pointed out that the football program sells about 24,000 season tickets and there is a lot of potential within that group. If 10,000 become Dinkytown Athletes members at even $10 a month, that’s over $1 million per year for DA.
Coming soon are announcements about a partnership with an adult beverage company, and a merchandise program involving legendary former Gopher athletes. A portion of sales from beer, hard seltzer and spirits will be donated to DA. So, too, will sales from t-shirts and retro jerseys.
NIL is a new phenomenon and the idea of athletes being rewarded for their success through collectives or directly through businesses is something some fans don’t support. Minnesota football coach P.J. Fleck acknowledged there are past U supporters who are opposed to the new model and liked things “the way it used to be” but he said NIL has changed the landscape of college football.
“Whether you believe in it or not, that’s the wave of college football, and if you want to see players stick around and stay, that’s going to be a huge emphasis. We need people to be involved with Dinkytown Athletes and the other avenues,” Fleck said. “So it’s critical now. It’s critical in having players come here. It’s critical in keeping players because players get to make choices and decisions all the time. …”
Changing beliefs is often difficult and sometimes impossible, but there are big money people who so far have said no to helping DA and Gopher athletes and coaches. If a few step up in the next 12 months, it will be another success story for Dinkytown Athletes. https://dinkytownathletes.com/