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Inside the East Lansing NIL Club's plans for NIL revenue sharing

On3 imageby:Andy Wittry06/27/22


EAST LANSING — After finishing football practice in the morning, Michigan State rising sixth-year senior right guard Matt Carrick will go directly to his job at the university’s South Campus Animal Farms, where he’ll work for four hours. He drives heavy machinery. The tractors are one step down from a combine, he said, but even for the 6-foot-5 Carrick, it can feel like he’s driving an even larger vehicle.

“It’s kinda like driving a spaceship,” he said, laughing.

There are three or four gear shifts, plus a screen to the side of the driver’s seat that controls everything.

“It’s pretty grueling,” Carrick said of his personal two-a-days between playing football and working at the farm. He said he does it “just so I’m able to pay my gas bill.” He estimates that he spends close to $500 per month on gas, given the current prices at the pump.

Carrick said he thinks he’ll stop working at the farm in a few weeks so he can lock in for the football season. The offensive line, which is known as the “juice squad” because Carrick said the unit needs to bring the juice, wants to be the engine for the offense.

Michigan State finished last season ranked No. 9 in the AP poll after going 11-2, capped off with a win in the Peach Bowl in the second season of head coach Mel Tucker’s tenure.

Despite preparing to lose one source of income, Carrick will soon add another. The East Lansing NIL Club, the first of several self-described player-led, membership-based fan communities, will officially launch at 11 a.m. ET on July 13.

Michigan State’s football team is putting into practice NIL revenue sharing, a concept for which the state of Georgia opened the door with a law that allows universities — if they choose, although none have — to require athletes to place in escrow up to 75 percent of their NIL income with other athletes from the school.

Every player who opts into the East Lansing NIL Club will receive the same compensation.

“It’s all equal,” Carrick said.

‘It just really opens up opportunities for other guys, even walk-ons’

YOKE, whose company website describes it as the “premier web3 company providing technology for athletes to build community and receive equitable compensation” for NIL, is the third-party provider behind the East Lansing NIL Club.

That’s why it’d be a misnomer to label the East Lansing NIL Club as a truly player-run group that cuts out the middleman.

“The stuff that we’re sending out, they make,” Carrick said. “We push it out.”

It started with YOKE employees sending direct messages to a few Michigan State players, Carrick said. Then YOKE contacted the team’s leadership council.

“We were kind of held responsible to get everyone on board,” Carrick said.

Carrick said there are still a few holdouts but roughly 105 Michigan State players have opted into the East Lansing NIL Club. Carrick, who said, “I’m like the oldest guy on the team,” said he almost feels like a freshman again because he has had to get to know so many new players. The process of players uniting for the purposes of NIL has allowed him to learn more about his teammates.

Former Michigan State defensive back Josh Butler is in charge of communicating with the current Spartans players on YOKE’s behalf.

Carrick said his understanding is the players will divide 75 percent of their earnings into equal shares. YOKE will earn the other 25 percent.

YOKE co-founder and CEO Mick Assaf, a former running back at Notre Dame, said YOKE’s platform fee has decreased from 25% to 18% as the company’s scale has grown. “We’d love to get into the single digits eventually but a lot more people have to be using our technology for that to be the case, but I think that’s really possible,” Assaf said.

“I think they’ve done a really good job of having an idea that has a business model that is team-oriented,” Carrick said. “A lot of times, it’s harder for certain position groups to make money. For example, for NIL, the starting quarterback’s going to make more money than a starting offensive lineman. It’s just the way it is. There’s nothing wrong with that.

“It just really opens up opportunities for other guys. Even walk-ons are on it, too. It allows them to be able to have some type of money flow coming in so that they’re able to stay on the team longer and hopefully make it by getting a scholarship.”

The football players at Auburn, Arkansas and Kansas State have since launched similar clubs.

YOKE ‘realized that NFTs is not really what college football fans want’ with NIL

The initial plan, Carrick said, was for YOKE to help the players mint and sell NFTs.

“They soon realized that NFTs is not really what college football fans want,” he said. “[The access pass is] kind of like an NFT. You get a badge, then you’re able to have certain meet and greets with players. You’re able to connect off the field, stuff that is really what Michigan State fans want to do instead of just having digital art that at the end of the day is going to be worthless.

“There’s a lot of stuff with NFTs but it’s really hit or miss. They kind of turned it towards attacking a college football marketplace and what fans really do want. What fans really want is to have some type of connection with the player on the field. At the end of the day, that makes it more enjoyable for the fan to actually watch that game and then support that player.”

Carrick said the plan is for 4,000 access passes to be sold. Fans can sign up for early access for a chance to win a jersey signed by former Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III. Arkansas’ Fayetteville NIL Club announced Monday it will offer 2,000 access passes.

The goal is to have the access passes retain actual value to the pass-holders. “Once you have so many people sign up for it for a price, there’s no value,” Carrick said.

It’s a non-exclusive agreement, so players can still engage in other NIL activities and Carrick said players can choose to opt out if they want. After Carrick finishes his last season of college football, he will no longer be part of the East Lansing NIL Club. However, he’ll be one of the first members of the club in his sixth and final season.

“There’s a lot of businesses out there that won’t touch anything [related to] NIL,” Carrick said. “Like everyone calls it the ‘Wild West.’ I don’t really think it’s the ‘Wild West.’ I just think everyone’s too scared to touch it because they don’t know what the right business model is for it to actually get something back from it.”

Matt Carrick: ‘Though people think that we get everything, a lot of times it’s hard’

It’s only June but Carrick said he has golfed more this summer than ever before. He typically plays at Michigan State’s Forest Akers Golf Courses or Groesbeck Golf Course in East Lansing.

After he takes care of rent, food and filling his gas tank, Carrick said the income from the East Lansing NIL Club will allow Michigan State football players to, quite simply, “go do stuff.”

“It allows us to do stuff outside of football together,” he said.

Carrick said the chance to earn $1,000 a month could make a real impact for him as a college student.

“Even though people think that we get everything, a lot of times it’s hard,” he said. “Our scholarship checks only cover so much and a lot of time that stuff goes to rent or food. It’s really nice to have opportunities open up so we’re able to go do stuff that we want to do.”

The East Lansing NIL Club doesn’t have to fund Carrick’s highlighted amount of $1,000 per month by itself — that’s where the non-exclusivity clause is important — but it potentially could.

For 105 players to hypothetically earn $1,000 per month for 12 months a year, fans would have to invest a combined $1.26 million. Divide that by 4,000 access passes and that would require 4,000 members to pay $315 annually, or an average of $26.25 per month.

The East Lansing NIL Club’s website says the purchase price for an access pass is TBA.

So, the key questions include what will an access pass cost? What access does that grant a pass-holder? And who’s willing to pay for that access?

Who’s the East Lansing NIL Club’s target demographic?

Carrick sat in a brown leather chair in the middle of Strange Matter Coffee, which is about a five-minute drive from Spartan Stadium. Only one patron, a young boy who walked in with his mother, sported any Michigan State gear. The vibe of most of the clientele appeared to be more spunky than super Spartans supporters.

The summer solstice wasn’t too long ago, which means Michigan State’s campus looks far different than it will during football season. You could walk for a block or two down Grand River Avenue without passing anyone. If you ever wanted a private tour of campus, this is your chance.

The grade school children chanting “Honk” at passing cars from outside the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum seem to have the passion, but not the discretionary income, to be enthusiastic Spartans fans who would pay for access passes.

When a father and son were asked if they would consider paying for an access pass to the East Lansing NIL Club, the father said, “Probably not, we’re from the U.P.,” in reference to the state’s Upper Peninsula.

What about the couple that appeared to be in their 30s and who were sporting matching, brand-new Michigan State baseball hats featuring the white Spartans logo?

Surely they’re Michigan State fans, right?

In very thick accents and careful English, they politely explained that they were also from out of town. However, they live a little further away than the U.P. They’re from Germany.

No access passes for them.

This raises an important point. While the benefits of an access pass include access to members-only message boards and content created by players, which can be accessed remotely, the in-person events will likely represent the most value to fans.

However, there certainly are out-of-town fans with the money and motivation to help fund the East Lansing NIL Club.

A local bartender lit up when he talked about attending a home football game in a luxury suite that a friend’s father purchased. You know, the kind with the seemingly endless supply of Bud Light and the 50-yard-line views.

The friend’s father lives across the country and he has done well in business, so well that he has donated to the university an amount with a handful of zeros in it. That generosity then made him eligible to purchase the suite, which was available for another large number featuring another handful of zeros.

The bartender’s friend’s father also has a condo in town. That type of fan might be interested in joining the East Lansing NIL Club, despite living multiple states away.

“I think moving forward there has to be some type of backing from fans and boosters or even companies to be able to figure out how to get players at different colleges,” Carrick said, speaking about the impact of NIL on college football in general.

While the answer will vary from person to person, each fan will have to ask what is the maximum travel distance to East Lansing that would make an access pass worth the to-be-announced price.

‘Those people would want access to the [players], especially the stars’

Bob and Angie Barnett live in Chattanooga, Tenn., but they play along. If they did live locally, what would they want from an access pass?

“Let me just brainstorm off the top of my head of what things you’d want in return,” Bob Barnett said. “I would see that those people would want access to the [players], especially the stars who have the potential to go on to the NFL. They would want to be able to get things like autographs and even have conversations and pictures.”

But, Barnett said, fans would also want early access to tickets to bowl games, first dibs on season tickets in certain sections or even discounts. That’s obviously a no-go, at least for a club like this. In a similar vein, Aaron Parker, a Michigan State student from Southfield, Mich., wondered if the players could receive part of the ticket revenue from the student section.

Not only do athletes often need more resources and education about NIL, but so do many casual fans.

Maybe someday, when or if college athletes become employees, unionize or form some type of collective bargaining entity, then they could receive a share of the ticket revenue or access to the other resources currently controlled by their universities. But not yet.

“It’s going to be interesting from a school’s perspective,” Barnett said, “because they want to get their money and this is for the players. It’s totally separate from them.”

Parker said he’d consider paying a monthly subscription that costs $15 or $20.

Alyssa Johnson, a recent Michigan State graduate who’s also from Southfield, said she’d consider paying up to $200 annually if that gave her access to exclusive in-person events, such as tailgates. She lit up when she talked about attending a Barstool Sports-sponsored tailgate at last season’s Michigan-Michigan State game.

“I would totally pay to do something like that,” Johnson said. “Just be up close and personal. A little, personal tailgate. They’ve got some merchandise. So yeah, I’d pay for that.”

The East Lansing NIL Club already has plans like that in the works.

“One of the things for it when you sign up,” Carrick said, “is that after one of our games — when we come out of the tunnel afterwards, usually there’s a lot of fans there who want to get autographs — they’re going to have a meet-and-greet deal set up, where fans that signed up for it can come over, sit down, talk to us, sign autographs.”

Of course, wins and losses figure to play a role in the club’s future, too. Carrick was asked what will happen if Michigan State goes 11-1 next season? What if the Spartans finish just 6-6? Could a lot of wins or too many losses affect the East Lansing NIL Club?

“I think that’ll impact the club as far as what fans want to be a part of it,” he said. “Every year, the only way a program is going to remain good is if they have a winning culture. So yeah, that’ll definitely affect it.”

Angie Barnett theorized that fans might be more willing to support players than the university.

Her husband Bob countered by speculating that a lot of fans would say that the players already receive enough. You know, with their scholarships and all, they would say. Then he countered his own hypothetical statement. Well, he said, what about the other fans who would say the school is already bringing in so much revenue, why shouldn’t some go to the players as well?

“What a great idea, though, for the players to do that,” said Angie Barnett. “To go in together. Because the school’s earning so much money, it’s nice to see the students getting their due.”

This story has been updated to reflect YOKE’s current platform fee.