With the NCAA continuing its full-court press on Capitol Hill for NIL reform and more signs pointing toward athletes eventually earning employee status, seven NIL entities have formed The Collective Association.
Spyre Sports Group laid the framework last month when the Tennessee-focused marketing firm announced plans for a trade association. Those efforts have now resulted in The Collective Association, nicknamed “TCA.”
Through the first two years of NIL, more than 200 collectives have populated the college athletics’ landscape. They have become necessary to compete in college football and basketball, with wide swaths of donors coming together to pool funds. Collectives have been forced to evolve as donor fatigue continues to be a rising concern. Many have looked elsewhere to generate funds, coming up with e-commerce businesses and unique events for boosters.
Collectives have also been given a front-row seat to see NIL has evolved. The executive directors and CEOs have seen the issues NIL has created for athletes and coaches, and the seven founding members plan to make sure those topics are addressed at a national level.
The TCA plans to spend substantial time assisting its peers, whether it be talking through the NCAA’s most recent guidance or the memo released in June by the IRS aimed at non-profit collectives. The TCA plans to release a revenue-sharing model for college athletes that does not require them to become university employees in the coming weeks.
Here is the list of the seven founding collectives:
• Classic City Collective (University of Georgia)
• Spyre Sports Group (University of Tennessee)
• The Grove Collective (University of Mississippi)
• The Battle’s End (Florida State University)
• House of Victory (University of Southern California)
• Champions Circle (University of Michigan)
• Happy Valley United (Penn State University)
In the coming weeks, the seven members will vote on a set of bylaws and hope to begin holding conversations with NCAA president Charlie Baker, conference commissioners and athletic directors. Expansion is expected, too.
The Collective Association will be founded on three pillars: To serve as a voice for athletes and their best interests, provide a forum for collectives to discuss current NIL issues and share best practices, and provide a unified voice for collectives to leverage their position.
What will The Collective Association accomplish?
When Baker spoke at the University of Arizona‘s Future of College Sports summit last month, he opened his session with a commanding opening statement, sending a blunt message to his constituents. The former Massachusetts governor knows what he wants in federal legislation, and he believes the current NIL climate is terrible for athletes.
Among his list of wants in a Congressional bill: a registry of NIL deals, a certification process for agents and a uniform NIL standard. If a federal mandate is even accomplished remains to be seen, but a certification process for agents has piqued the interest of TCA. With so many college athletes now bringing on representation, collective leaders have worked with a wide breadth of agents. Some are registered in states and work for well-qualified firms. Others have launched businesses just to make a few dollars off athletes.
That is concerning to the TCA, and the organization hopes to make it a major piece of its initiative. The group of collectives also represents many of college football and basketball’s top powers. They continue to hear from athletes they do not want to take on the role of employees.
Those are sentiments they hope to pass along to stakeholders across college athletics. But will the NCAA and Baker listen?
“It’s hard to predict what the NCAA is going to do in a given situation, but I think the NCAA will meet with a collectives association,” Mit Winter, a college sports attorney at Kansas City-based Kennyhertz Perry, said. “Or at least it should. It’s clear from some of the public statements by Charlie Baker and others that they don’t have a full picture of what well-run collectives do and how they operate. If I was the NCAA, I’d want to meet with a collectives association to learn more about collectives and to see if there’s any common ground on solutions or new models.”
Details on founding members of The Collective Association
Classic City Collective (University of Georgia)
A registered LLC, the Classic City Collective does allow Georgia boosters to donate. Run by CEO Matt Hibbs, the collective has prioritized finding outside revenue sources. A former football compliance officer at Georgia, Hibbs has helped secure corporate partnerships with Truist Bank, Apotheos coffee roastery and The Players Lounge.
Spyre Sports Group (University of Tennessee)
Tennessee‘s NIL operation has become the leading collective in the country. Led by co-founders Hunter Baddour and James Clawson, The Volunteer Club has grown to 2,769 members with an expansive e-commerce business. According to Baddour, Spyre has executed 1,400 deals since July 2021. They currently have 90 athletes on active contracts. Spyre told On3 in February the Volunteer Club had procured $13.5 million in NIL deals.
The Grove Collective (University of Mississippi)
When Walker Jones took over as executive director of The Grove Collective in September, he had some heavy lifting to do. Ole Miss was playing catchup in NIL, a position no collective wants to be in. By late November, the collective topped the $10 million mark in fundraising. It remains one of the top reported totals in the NIL collective market. While Jones hammered home the importance of donors contributing to The Grove, he made sure the collective was locating revenue outside of the fan base.
The Battle’s End (Florida State University)
When Ingram Smith launched The Battle’s End in December, he made one promise to Florida State fans. And a warning to the rest of the country. “I’m not going to tell you that I’m John Ruiz and I have unlimited money,” he said. “But I will tell you that we can be as competitive as we want to be in this space.” The Battle’s End has been innovative in motivating boosters. The collective sent Travis and Trey Benson to the Super Bowl, flying on a donor’s private plane to Arizona for the game. And in March, a trio of linemen attended the John R. Lewis Legacy Gala in Atlanta.
House of Victory (University of Southern California)
Roughly three months since its launch, the USC-focused collective has quickly moved up the NIL ladder. The collective has more than 50 athlete contracts across seven sports, with the intention to hit 100 deals by the end of 2023. Alumni-led and board-operated, the collective also has a sponsorship agreement with Playfly Sports, USC’s multimedia rights holder, which makes it an institutional sponsor. It also opened the opportunity for sponsoring opportunities. Led by USC’s former Director of Player Personnel Spencer Harris, the organization has proven to be one of the most innovative in generating revenue dollars.
Champions Circle (University of Michigan)
Champions Circle has become an extension of Jared Wangler‘s Valiant Management operation. The collective formally launched in April, with a website and endorsement from Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh. With heavy alumni support, fans can join the collective with subscription packages ranging from $10 to $500 monthly. Each tier comes with an annual option, too, with different perks included.
Happy Valley United (Penn State University)
Penn State took its first steps toward a cohesive NIL strategy with a consolidated collective in June 2023. With full support from school leaders like Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics Pat Kraft and persistence from football coach James Franklin, Success With Honor and the Lions Legacy Club merged to form Happy Valley United. Through the initiative of Kraft, and NIL partnerships with Doug Fillis of Accelerate Sports Ventures and Rob Sine, co-founder and CEO of Blueprint Sports, Happy Valley United is the school’s singular NIL focus.