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Nebraska Launches First-of-its-Kind Brand-Building Program for Student-Athletes

March 10, 2020

On Monday, Husker football head coach Scott Frost teased an announcement that would make Nebraska a leader in the name-image-likeness arena for student-athletes.

On Tuesday, Nebraska announced a new partnership with Lincoln-based social media startup Opendorse to launch the Ready Now Program, what Nebraska is calling a first-of-its-kind initiative designed to help student-athletes build their own individual brands. According to a release from the university, the program will provide every student-athlete competing for UNL (650-plus) an opportunity to assess, build, and manage their social media brands.

“Nebraska has always been a leader in college athletics,” Nebraska Athletic Director Bill Moos said in the release. “With that spirit in mind we are excited to partner with Opendorse. This agreement will provide all of our student-athletes the education and assessment tools they need to navigate the complexities of social media and maximize their brand in the digital world.

“As a father of a current Division I football player, I have a good understanding of how important social media is in the daily lives of our student-athletes. The ability to educate and assist our young men and women in this particular area is mutually beneficial for Nebraska and our student-athletes.”

Each student-athlete in the program will be offered a current valuation of their brand, as well as tips and benchmarks for how to build on that value.

Opendorse, an athlete marketing platform, was founded by former Husker football players Blake Lawrence and Adi Kunalic, and has grown into a tool for a professional client base that reaches five figures. Opendorse has partnered with the NHL, NFLPA, PGA Tour and others while brands like Pepsi, Procter & Gamble and EA Sports also use the platform.

“We’ve been preparing for this moment for over seven years,” Lawrence said in a release. “Coach Frost and the Nebraska athletic administration understand the time is here to empower student-athletes to prepare their individual brands for future success.

“The Ready Now Program is here to help Nebraska student-athletes maximize the value of their brand with tools and services that have been proven at the highest levels of sports. As change inevitably comes, Opendorse is prepared to comply at scale––adapting our technology to ensure compliance just as we have for partners at dozens of players associations, leagues, and governing bodies.”

Nebraska’s state legislature is currently discussing a bill submitted by state senator Megan Hunt that would allow student-athletes to profit off their public status on the side. The Husker quarterback could, say, be endorsed by a watch brand. Non-athletes at colleges are freely able to utilize their NIL rights, but student-athletes lose eligibility if they try to do the same. Hunt’s bill aims to level the playing field. It made it through an initial round of voting with near-unanimous support.

Should that bill become law, and student-athletes gain the ability to actually monetize their public reach in addition to growing it, Nebraska would push further ahead of its peers in terms of what it offers to prospective students. Even as is, the Huskers can use this new program as a recruiting tool everywhere. 

“We believe social media is at the core of this next frontier for player development,”  Frost said in the release. “There’s an opportunity for our players that transcends compensation today – we as coaches and leaders can provide our student-athletes the tools to maximize their future value while they’re competing for the University of Nebraska. 

“Regardless of what change comes in NIL legislation, we want every Nebraska athlete to be prepared with the blueprint for success beyond the field. With Ready Now and the unrivaled passion of the Husker fanbase, I believe a current student-athlete’s brand can be considerably more valuable at Nebraska.”

Nebraska seemingly has all hands on deck, with statements of approval from volleyball head coach John Cook and men’s basketball head coach Fred Hoiberg.

“I applaud our athletic administration for implementing this program for all student-athletes, not just those in football or men’s basketball,” Cook said. “Nebraska is one of only a few schools where a young woman has a great opportunity to build her brand locally, regionally and nationally while competing in college athletics.”

“One of the reasons the NBA is so popular today is the work that players have done in building and marketing their personal brands,” Hoiberg added. “This is a great resource that the University of Nebraska is providing for its student-athletes. The earlier we can help our young men and women understand the value of their personal brand, the better positioned they will be for whatever professional path they choose.”

Nebraska football has already begun rolling out a social media campaign embracing the individual brands of players on the team, including junior cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt, junior quarterback Adrian Martinez, senior cornerback Dicaprio Bootle, and senior offensive lineman Brenden Jaimes.

https://twitter.com/MartinezTheQB/status/1233471742951247884

https://twitter.com/DicaprioBootle/status/1234976527365730305

https://twitter.com/BrendenJaimes/status/1236010789976371203

This figures to be just the beginning. 

“Nebraska has always been a leader and an innovator in a lot of things,” Frost said Monday during a press conference to kick off spring ball. “I think that NIL decisions will benefit us greatly. There are very few places in the whole country where players' name, image, likeness, and personality can benefit them more than Nebraska just because of the fan base, the excitement around here.”

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