Duke's Mayo Bowl embraces change with NIL marketplace
Name, Image and Likeness has changed a lot in college athletics, but the Duke's Mayo Bowl is embracing it. Nebraska athletic director Trev Alberts is too.
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In early October, the Charlotte Sports Foundation — the owner and operator of the Duke’s Mayo Bowl — announced a first-of-its-kind, bowl-specific marketplace. The goal? To help players from the participating programs in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl maximize their name, image and likeness opportunities through the bowl experience.
We know now that the two programs experiencing this marketplace for the first time are West Virginia and North Carolina. The two will face off on Wednesday, Dec. 27 at 4:30 p.m. CT., and the marketplace is already live for athletes that have opted in.
The marketplace was created in partnership with Opendorse, a company Nebraskans are more than familiar with. Founders Blake Lawrence and Adi Kunalic are former Husker football players and graduates of the University of Nebraska — Lincoln.
“CSF and the Duke’s Mayo Bowl are setting the standard for providing student-athletes NIL opportunities during big games,” Opendorse CEO Blake Lawrence said when the news first dropped. “This is a game-changer for how easy it is to support your favorite athlete during bowl season.”
Nebraska athletic director Trev Alberts is part of the NCAA subcommittee overseeing institutional involvement in NIL, which means he’s always looking at the latest ways for institutions to support student-athletes. He’s spoken a number of times about the specific need to make “aggressive” changes that would help schools support its athletes.
“Institutions and others are slowly getting more comfortable with it,” Alberts told Counter Read. “It is just such a dramatic change from the foundation of what college athletics was always about though, right? It's a paradigm shift in how you approach it.
“It gets harder and harder to be relevant if the star players of teams aren't playing in the bowl game because fans come to see the star players. If there's ways that you can creatively benefit student-athletes, I certainly support it.”
This concept isn’t necessarily new for the Charlotte Sports Foundation and Duke’s Mayo Bowl, but it’s certainly an evolution of what had previously been done. It began in 2021 — the year Duke’s Mayo Bowl first partnered with Opendorse — when South Carolina quarterback and wide receiver Dakereon Joyner was named the game’s MVP following the Gamecocks’ win over North Carolina. He was signed as the bowl game ambassador, agreeing to $5,000 in exchange for a number of social media posts that covered his experience surrounding the Duke’s Mayo Bowl.
One year later, the Charlotte Sports Foundation added to the ambassador program and celebrated the 50th anniversary of Title IX by providing NIL opportunities to female student-athletes from Maryland and NC State. The 15 selected student-athletes shared their favorite moments in sports and were highlighted by Duke’s Mayo Bowl across social channels and through video boards at the game.
With the NCAA now allowing student-athletes to profit from their NIL, the Duke’s Mayo Bowl is able to take that idea a step further.
“What we are doing is creating a marketplace for the players in the bowl game, but we want to keep doing it for all of our events,” CSF Director of Communications and Marketing Miller Yoho said. “Athletes can opt in to the marketplace, and then we work with local Charlotte businesses, fans, what not, to enter this marketplace and allow players to have experience around their NIL.”
It didn’t happen overnight, of course, but the partnership with Opendorse certainly helped. Opendorse has worked through the process to protect the student-athletes, whether that’s education on filing taxes or other nuanced aspects of NIL that many don’t consider. After all, the Duke’s Mayo Bowl isn’t interested in a student-athlete losing eligibility over something related to its marketplace.
Opendorse helped on that front by going directly to the NCAA and making sure everything was good to go. Duke’s Mayo Bowl did too, and both worked with West Virginia and North Carolina post-announcement to brief them on what was taking place.
“We wanted to be sure they felt comfortable as well,” Yoho said. “I think a lot of times people kind of feel like it’s a boogeyman and they don’t know what NIL and the marketplace actually mean.”
From Alberts’ perspective, the steps that entities like the Duke’s Mayo Bowl have taken are a true benefit to the student-athlete.
That doesn’t mean Alberts isn’t empathetic to those concerned about how NIL is shifting college athletes. He even shared some of the same sentiments when looking at the bigger picture. Alberts is just realistic that the “toothpaste is already out of the tube.”
“I don't think the negative impact on what we're so concerned about is going to happen,” Alberts said. “I think it's over-dramatized. And I just think that, by and large, in some respects, people just hate change.”
For the Duke’s Mayo Bowl, it also wants to do good with this opportunity. That means the focus is on supporting not only the student-athletes, but the city of Charlotte. While NIL has shifted a lot of focus for many, Yoho sees it as an opportunity to make an impact for a community.
“We are sitting in a city that has a sports foundation with incredible support,” Yoho said. “We have wonderful sponsors and a wonderful database of people from our chamber of commerce and beyond. How do we engage that? How do we use that to engage student-athletes?
“A perfect example was Taulia Tagovailoa last year. Could he have walked into the local pizza shop and worked with them? Could he have done a really unique NIL partnership? Sure, but we didn’t have the framework. That’s what we’re trying to do now, allowing players and local businesses the opportunity to interact and we’ll get out of the way.”
It also allowed the conversation around the bowl experience to be expanded upon for the student-athletes. Whether it’s community service or partnerships with small businesses and fans, the bowl experience is about more than the game itself.
Yoho isn’t doing this alone. Charlotte Sports Foundation executive director Danny Morrison has been fundamental in the leadership of the Duke’s Mayo Bowl as it has shifted and grown with the ever-changing landscape.
“He’s always asking what we should be thinking about,” Yoho said. “How are we creating opportunities for players to operate a small business? How do we allow them to do this in a way that’s already being operated on their campuses?
“To me, this just opens the door for a more fulfilling experience for the athletes. And they don’t have to opt in if they don’t want to. That’s the nice thing. It’s something they get to choose to do or not do.”
Yoho hopes what the Duke’s Mayo Bowl is doing becomes an opportunity for other bowl games to follow suit. If this season allows the Duke’s Mayo Bowl to be the test case, that would be great from his perspective. Yoho and the Charlotte Sports Foundation team want to learn from the experience and use it to show others how to do it too.
Alberts thinks that ‘s exactly what will happen. After all, NIL has changed the way things work and everyone — bowls included — have to work harder to remain relevant in the market.
“They're going to have to think differently,” Alberts said. “It really is no different than athletic departments considering the opportunity to share directly with the student-athlete, or money being redirected through a third party entity like a collective. It’s basically the bowls sharing in additional revenues to the students as well.
“Yes, it is different and it's changed but I think the dollars that have flowed into the athletics ecosystem, primarily through football, have been significant and I think we are all thinking about ways to share that with those that are generating it.”
That means change, and something like the marketplace that the Duke’s Mayo Bowl and Opendorse have created is a step in that direction. It can be a big positive for the student-athletes too, as long as those leading are willing to look at things a little differently.
“I think we would be naive not to be thinking about that future and what it looks like,” Alberts said.
On Dec. 27 — and the days leading up to kickoff at the Duke’s Mayo Bowl — we’ll get a glimpse at what that could look like on a larger scale.
Will others follow suit?