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Dinkytown Athletes wants to be sustainable NIL collective for Gopher players

A teaser video was released across social-media platforms to briefly share that the start-up will be entering the NIL landscape.

Dinkytown Athletes
A new name, image and likeness collective, Dinkytown Athletes, held a soft launch Monday. They plan to help Gophers’ student-athletes this fall.
Courtesy / Dinkytown Athletes
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A new name, image and likeness collective to support Gophers student-athletes flipped the switch on a soft launch Monday.

Dinkytown Athletes released a teaser video across social-media platforms to briefly share that the start-up will be entering the NIL landscape. One leader said their NCAA-compliant and financially sustainable collective will be up and running later this fall.

Dinkytown Athletes will join a growing community of third-party groups at individual schools nationwide looking to help facilitate money-making opportunities between local businesses and student-athletes. This dynamic was made possible with a Supreme Court decision a year ago, leading to NCAA rule changes in July 2021.

This Minnesota-centric collective incubated on the Discord messaging app starting in January and has grown to 230 members in the online chat. Ideas have been bandied about on how best to leverage NIL; they’ve shared best practices and hazards elsewhere, and participants have raised hands to volunteer.

Dinkytown Athletes is headed by Rob Gag and Derek Burns, who led St. Paul-based tech company Tierney for more than 20 years until a merger last year. They were taking a break from business when diehard Gopher fans tapped them to lead this effort.

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Given how the NIL frontier just passed its one-year anniversary, a lot of what Minnesota’s collective has done is information gathering — from working with turn-key NIL software companies, lawyers/agents, apparel companies, licensing, accountants and U officials.

“There’s an infinite number of hypothetical questions,” Burns said in an interview in June.

The goal of Dinkytown Athletes is to build a sustainable organization: A three-year business plan is being vetted, and they’re partnering with NIL software company Basepath.

In the ramp up, Burns consulted with Jeremiah Carter, the Gophers’ director of compliance. They have rapport as old Gophers football teammates under head coach Glen Mason roughly 20 years ago.

“When Derek first engaged us, he made it very clear that they were looking to do something that is going to best serve our student-athletes within the rules, really from Day One,” Carter said in an interview in late June. “It’s not just to serve student-athletes, but in a manner that fits within NCAA guidance and university policies.”

Burns found the U very responsive to their efforts to start an NIL collective and hopes the “teaser” video will give Gophers fans and boosters a brief window into the behind-the-scenes work they have been doing for months.

Dinkytown Athletes has not yet done outreach to corporations or individuals on possible partnerships, but they are encouraging prospective businesses to reach out. Their website, dinkytownathletes.com , provides an opportunity to subscribe but little else. More elements are anticipated closer to the full roll-out.

Burns, a Carlson School of Management graduate, also knows now is a time to educate possible partners and general fans on the new landscape. This primarily means explaining how players cannot receive deals just for being on the team without doing work or a service — otherwise known as pay for play. NIL also can’t be used as recruiting inducements for high schoolers or college transfers.

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Burns knows some people “scoff” over how some other collectives claim to not be involved in recruiting. He believes the “best recruiting tool” is supporting current student-athletes with a “robust, sustainable NIL collective.”

When players have transferred or committed to other schools, a budding question has been whether NIL deals have been involved in their decision-making process. Burns said his research has shown news of big NIL deals for higher-profile athletes around the country are not often trickling down to other lesser-known players and sports.

On NIL, Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck often brings up the abundance of Fortune 500 companies in the Twin Cities area as fertile soil for deals. He also is quick to say he nor the U can have any part in setting them up.

Burns looks at the Twin Cities market differently than Fleck, saying Fortune 500 companies are often run by leaders who have graduated from a variety of schools, not just Minnesota, meaning setting up possible NIL deals for Gopher athletes is not their first priority. It’s primarily about a return on investment, Burns said.

Burns mentions the exposure possibilities for U athletes should be broader within the 15th-largest U.S. media market. He contrasted it to the likes of Nebraska, which is in the 105th-largest market in Lincoln. Granted, the 75th-largest market, Omaha, sits 50 miles away.

“I personally believe,” Burns said, “one of, if not, the biggest potential advantage for a school like the University of Minnesota is the reach the market has.”

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