In the World of NIL, the Sky(y) is the Limit

How a realty group hosted a tailgate and brought in Jayden Epps and Skyy Clark

After a heartbreaking loss to Indiana in week two, Illinois Football was looking to rally. And their loyal fans were right their with them. Grange Grove, the go-to destination for Illini tailgaters, was in full force as the Fighting Illini prepared to take on Virginia in their week three match-up. What better way to help your team rally than to tailgate?

And tailgate we did. Campus Ink joined 217 Mortgage, The Nate Evans Group and Country Financial - The Beaty Agency for a boisterous tailgate featuring basketball players Skyy Clark and Jayden Epps. We also stopped by a tailgate later in the day hosted by our friends the Illini Guardians which featured all seven newcomers for the Fighting Illini basketball program. Between the two tailgates over 800 Fighting Illini fans showed up for autographs, free shirts & can huggies, food & drinks and more! Here’s how it all went down:

Why Did These Businesses Partner on this Event?

So the first question you may have is why did four businesses partner together for one event? Why didn’t they each just do their own thing? Well we won’t lie, the easiest answer is that we’re all friends - professionally and personally. And as they say, business is all about relationships. For these four businesses, it was important to come together to work on this event. In addition to splitting costs, each business brought their own unique contributions to the table. Maybe one of the businesses can take care of ordering food. Another the drinks. Maybe someone has a tent to bring, while another has the coolers. Each business also has their own set of followers, clients and customers. At Campus Ink, the obvious choice for us is (always) printing. We printed custom tee shirts for the players to sign as well as can huggies for the event. 

Nate Evans, of the Nate Evans Group explains, "The arrival of the NIL has created a win-win environment for collegiate athletes, local businesses, and the community. Partnering with the collegiate athlete, local businesses are now able to leverage their brands to bring a connection to the community that previously didn't exist. We love and appreciate all of our University of Illinois athletes. When the community is able to physically connect with the athletes outside of a television, social media, or even a stadium... it will continue to show the true authentic support we have for all of our athletes. It's amazing that a local business can now help foster these relationships."

When you combine all these forces, big things happen.

How Did it Impact the Student-Athletes?

Each student athlete that attended the tailgate was compensated for their time. Since the beginning of NIL, we have been very conscience of appropriately compensating athletes for their time and the sales of their merchandise. Isn’t that kind of the whole point of NIL?

As we mentioned over 800 Illini fans showed up to the two tailgates throughout the day. This means 800 impressions that the student-athletes get to make with fans. Not to mention the exposure from social media posting and photos from the event. Don’t quote us on the math here but that is thousands of exposures from just one day. Moments like these can be huge for student-athletes. Imagine a young kid meeting an athlete. That is a HUGE moment for them. A simple autograph and a brief conversation can lead to countless jersey and apparel purchases and create a lifelong fan.

It also creates great memories for the athletes. Skyy Clark reflects on the weekend, “I had a really great time at the first signing event of the football season and met some really great people. The atmosphere was amazing and the energy was insane…. Thanks to all of the fans that came out and supported the event and thanks to everyone that help put it on, it was an experience that I will never forget!”

Fellow newcomer Jayden Epps adds, “I had a great time this weekend signing autographs and meeting all of the Illini fans. I really felt the love and there’s no other feeling like it.”

How You can Engage in NIL as a Business

Back in April we shared a blog about local businesses that had engaged in with student-athletes in the NIL space. We won’t reiterate that whole post here, but we will give some brief advice on working in this space.

The first (and sometimes most difficult) part is making the initial contact with the student-athletes. There are platforms built specifically for NIL to connect athletes with endorsement deals: INFLCR, OpenDorse and MarketPryce. We also highly recommend using the University of Illinois itself as a resource. Kam Cox is the INFLUENCE Program (NIL) Coordinator and serves as the external and internal point person for the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics' approach to NIL.

What are some creative ways that you can engage with the student-athletes? What types of events do you have throughout the year that you could have athletes at? Is there a certain sector of your business that makes sense to utilize NIL for? What product could student athletes promote?

In the world of NIL the Skyy truly is the limit. Amongst ourselves, we commonly refer to NIL as the wild, wild west. The newness of it makes it an open space with room to push boundaries and make it your own. Don’t be afraid to take the leap and try something out.


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