When NIL became legal in the summer of 2021, there was anticipation it would be universally small deals. Players would sell autographs or appear in a small ad for a local burger shop. No one expected NIL collectives, which have started to dominate the landscape, would impact everything from recruiting to the transfer portal and touch every sport at most Power 5 schools. Tennessee’s NIL collective, Spyre Sports Group, is one of the most prominent and it’s making a major splash across the college sports landscape.
Tennessee Volunteers NIL Collective: Spyre Sports Group
Launch Date: September 2020
Sports: Football, basketball (both men’s and women’s)
Key Leadership: Hunter Baddour, James Clawson, and Sheridan Gannon
Annual Goal: $25 million
Confirmed Raised: $2 million (likely more)
Other Tennessee NIL Collectives: N/A
The Spyre Sports Group was one of the first NIL collectives to make headlines. That’s because, in March of 2022, The Athletic reported a five-star recruit in the class of 2023 was getting $8 million from a NIL collective. That report didn’t mention Tennessee. It was also lost that the deal was not guaranteeing $8 million and would be for multiple years. But most people immediately looked to the Volunteers and Nico Iamaleava, who committed to Tennessee 10 days after that report. It’s still only speculation that Spyre Sports Group is giving a multi-year deal worth up to $8 million. But it’s also a widely accepted theory. Whether it was Tennessee that made this deal or not, it signaled a massive shift in how NIL collectives were viewed. It set off an arms race and a push for regulation.
Spyre Sports Group runs events alongside charities, like Make-A-Wish, which is a charitable NIL event. They also sell athlete merchandise through their website. Donating to Spyre Sports Group gives you access to exclusive events and merchandise relating to Tennessee athletics. For fans, this creates an opportunity to be a part of the Tennessee community more so than if they just watched from the sidelines. Uniquely, the Spyre Sports Group allows you to directly donate to the incredibly popular Lady Vols women’s basketball team.
The 1951 Club is a key aspect of Spyre Sports Group’s model. It’s a tiered donation system, allowing you to choose your membership level. Those membership levels range from $5 a month to $500 a month. With them comes different levels of access to benefits.
The Spyre Sports Group at Tennessee is widely considered one of the most ambitious NIL collectives. This, being a new space, also makes them one of the most controversial. They’re not going away, though, and they will be shaping Tennessee’s 2023 recruiting class.
“We’re prepared to invest a substantial amount of resources into the 2023 recruiting class,” co-founder Hunter Baddour said. “When you add all that together, it’s well into the seven-figure category.”
Why was Spyre Sports Group formed?
The Spyre Sports Group website also says “now that the rules have changed, we have an opportunity to build on the Tennessee legacy. Together, let’s build an elite NIL experience for our athletes and fans.”
Spyre Sports Group saw the change in NIL rules as an opportunity. It gave fans an opportunity to directly support the university’s athletic programs, and get something in return. That something in return has to be NIL-related. And it does have to occur, mind you. However, Spyre Sports Group says the transactional nature is designed to bring the community together.
Practically speaking, it’s been a long two decades for Tennessee football. They’ve fallen behind Florida and Georgia, play Alabama every year, and have struggled to hold onto coaches. New head coach Josh Heupel needed to replace a lot of talent quickly to not fall off completely, too. The Vols also have competition in NIL with Gator Guard, a collective representing Florida, also making a big splash.
In that respect, the Spyre Sports Group was born out of necessity. To stay competitive, Tennessee’s fans and boosters saw that with the new rule change they could do something to help the program out, while they also got special access to student-athletes.
“We realized being involved in recruiting was going to be a priority,” Baddour said. “Then we realized how much money we were going to need to be elite… All in all, it’s six-figure packages.”
The money is massive, and Spyre Sports Group isn’t shy that they want to help recruit to Tennessee.
What are NIL collectives?
NIL collectives themselves tend to have a wide variety of scope and scale. Some are for rich donors to throw money into a pot for NIL purposes. Others are on a much smaller scale, for the average fan. In every case, they’re not directly associated with the school itself. Instead, they’re fans and alumni run and organized. No matter the scale, they’re raising money and pooling it to be distributed to players in NIL deals. These can be anything from signing autographs to making appearances and everything in between. Furthermore, NIL, and therefore NIL collectives, are not supposed to be used as a pay-for-play incentive. However, college leaders are “gearing up to issue a warning to hundreds of wealthy boosters who are using NIL ventures involve themselves in recruiting.”