Club Blue NIL collective hits $1 million goal for Kentucky basketball

Nakos updated headshotby:Pete Nakos05/15/24

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Kentucky basketball has crossed a major NIL milestone.

Kentucky Sports Radio’s Matt Jones announced Wednesday morning the Wildcat-driven NIL collective Club Blue hit $1 million in NIL donations through recurring annual commitments from the general fanbase.

The fundraising efforts give new coach Mark Pope a strong NIL foundation to work with. The former Kentucky player and national champion, Pope has delivered on the recruiting trail since landing in Lexington last month. He’s picked up transfer commitments from Kerr KriisaKoby BreaBrandon GarrisonAndrew CarrOtega OwehLamont Butler Jr. and Amari Williams. Club Blue was officially launched in March and has spent significant time supporting basketball.

Donor-led NIL collectives and third-party NIL entities have become crucial in retaining and attracting talent. Kentucky has long faced an uphill battle in the area, and the Wildcats were one of the last SEC schools to form a collective. But the recent support from the fanbase gives Pope the resources he needs to recruit at a high level in the high school and transfer portal ranks.

Mark Pope will have NIL funds to rebuild Kentucky

The $1 million raised through the fanbase is on top of the $4 million donation from two donors following Pope’s hire. Typical top 30 school’s budgets range from $1 to $4 million. The $4 million donation plus recent crowdsourcing gives Pope a strong foundation to work with.

NIL has increasingly become a large talking point during contract negotiations at top college football and basketball openings. Revenue sharing and employment models could be on the horizon as House v. NCAA settlement talks heat up, but they’ve yet to arrive. Dating back to the summer of 2021, the programs that can offer top dollar are attracting the top talent.

“The brand is real,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said on KSR after the Pope hire. “And it is really, really important and we’ve got to effectively use it and we use it. We combined some things in recruiting with the tenacity in recruiting, the staff in recruiting, the brand that we have and then the NIL space and we’ve got some people that have already stepped up over the last 24 hours. We’ve had several donors who have stepped up to put over $4 million in our NIL portfolio for coach to work with to get started. … I can confirm that’s true.”

Having NIL dollars is crucial. The most valuable positions in the basketball transfer portal – where most NIL dollars are used these days – are power forwards and centers. For high-end talent at those positions, $1 million deals are commonplace.

Even top guards are making roughly half a million a year. Speaking with sources over the last week, On3’s learned of a conference player of the year transfer earning $500,000. Another guard is set to make $450,000. Helping a college basketball program get back to relevancy is imperative for bluebloods.

And earlier this week, Utah State transfer Great Osobor committed to Washington. He will reportedly make $2 million in 2024 off NIL deals.