The 15 Club is taking steps to build out its framework.
The Kentucky-focused NIL collective run by Athlete Advantage, an NIL agency, hit the market back in December 2021. After some shuffling and pressure for Kentucky athletics to back a collective, The 15 Club fully re-launched this past November.
Now it has announced a partnership with OpenLocker, a proprietary NFT platform. The company uses blockchain technology to create authentic athletes’ digital collectibles. It has also entered the NIL space in recent months by launching several fan communities, such as Gatorverse at Florida, Bone Yard Huskyz Club at UConn and Rowdy Redz at Radford.
As part of the agreement, OpenLocker will create digital and physical collectibles which will unlock access to exclusive privileges, rewards and experiences for Kentucky fans. Ahead of The 15 Club’s fan fest this weekend, the first limited edition series of autographed collectibles will include Devin Leary, Ray Davis and Tanner Bowles.
The 15 Club members and Kentucky fans will have the ability to claim a free, digital access pass featuring the trio of players at the event by purchasing a collectible or scanning a QR code.
Along with the string of digital collectibles, The 15 Club will be launching the “Blue Card” with OpenLocker. The card will give members access to a range of benefits such as special events, local merchant discounts and memorabilia giveaways.
“We are looking forward to working with OpenLocker to offer University of Kentucky fans cutting edge products and experiences,” Athlete Advantage COO Justin Goethals said in a release. “The unique collectibles and fan engagement initiatives that OpenLocker brings will take The 15 Club to the next level setting the bar even higher in the current NIL space.”
Digital collectibles are not new to the Kentucky market. Mercury, a digital experience platform, launched BlueChips.io last winter. Since its initial launch, more than 50 athletes from Kentucky’s football, basketball and women’s volleyball teams signed deals with the brand.
Creating specialized team experiences, fans who subscribe to BlueChips receive access to athlete-led conversations, team news and discussion platforms.
Now more Kentucky-driven collectibles will be up for sale.
“Our team is excited to be able to assist and grow the overall NIL effort for Big Blue Nation,” OpenLocker founder and president Brian Klatsky said. “Partnering with Athlete Advantage creates new opportunities for passionate fans to directly support and engage with their favorite student-athletes. This joint venture enables BBN to be an innovative leader in the nascent NIL world.”
The 15 Club playing catch up
Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops has been sounding the alarm for months about where Kentucky stands in the NIL collective world.
Talking on his weekly call-in show back in November, the Wildcats’ head coach described what the Transfer Portal season would look like, calling it “mass chaos.” The Transfer Portal window closed last week. In total, Kentucky lost 13 players to the portal, while adding only seven.
The Wildcats were the last school to add a collective in the SEC, while many other schools now have multiple. The organizations have popped up across the Division I landscape. And the word collective, which has no ulterior meaning, has become synonymous with name, image and likeness. The race is to stockpile the most cash to distribute to current players so recruits know what they can make once they enroll at the college.
Kentucky athletics quickly threw its weight behind the collective following the November re-launch of The 15 Club. But that is only the start of an uphill climb for an SEC school looking to stay competitive and relevant in the ever-changing NIL landscape.