As the application of the NCAA’s new name, image and likeness (NIL) policies become more prevalent, some athletes at the University of Memphis will have expanded opportunities with the creation of a fund that will connect them with Memphis-based charities.
The new fund, known as the 901 Fund, will be offered to scholarship football players, along with both men and women’s basketball players. Fans, alumni and the community at large are able to donate to the fund, which will operate through a third party to pay athletes for promoting charities and appearing at events.
“The DNA of the University of Memphis as a program is within our city,” said Harold Byrd, president of Bank of Bartlett and Bartlett Mortgage. “ People say, ‘What can I do, how can I help the university out?’ This gives everyone the opportunity if they want to contribute to the university, whether it be $100 a year, $1,000 a year or whatever amount. This is the vessel that an individual can use to support the University of Memphis athletic department from the seats.”
The fund is being spearheaded by Tigers on a Mission, a group of Tiger fans interested in giving back to the Memphis community, and all money will go to student athletes through Opendorse – a group explicitly dedicated to helping universities prepare for NIL deals and help monetize an athlete’s personal brand.
When designing the fund, Bob Byrd – chairman for Bank of Bartlett, knew charities would be a vital part of the fund when he considered how ingrained in Memphis culture they are.
“The importance of charities to this community is immeasurable,” he said. “The charities that we're talking about are not just about human efforts and expressing our humanity, they are also huge economic drivers in our community as well. They have great social and cultural impact.”
Athletes’ work with these charities – which will be announced at a later date – will not replace any community work athletes are already doing, but rather expand their reach. The fund is also not exclusive, meaning athletes will be able to continue to garner other NIL deals.
The creation of the fund comes as many universities and colleges have fans and alumni creating similar money pools for athletes. These “collectives” differ from the 901 Fund, but will still maintain the university’s “competitive advantage,” according to Bob Byrd.
“When NIL was approved, the question that arose for a lot of people was how will members of the University of Memphis be able to take advantage of this to maintain or improve a competitive advantage,” he said. “Since we're not in this to make money, I wondered what the best use of these rights would be. And it occurred to me that contributing to these major charities, to co-brand and co-promote with major charities within the 901, then the ultimate benefit of that is we have a competitive advantage. It will also bring together these iconic 901 charities in the joint promotion of each others’ brands.”
With the creation of the fund, Bob Byrd hopes to strengthen the U of M not only as a consistent athletic program, but also as a galvanized and enthusiastic fan base through community work with the charities.
“The DNA of the Memphis community flows with the University of Memphis. People who never attended the University of Memphis become rock solid fans,” he said. “And everyone feels that grind of 901 and Tigers in the city versus everybody. That's a sentiment that just really runs deeply here. This is a dream that we have now planted, it’s off the drawing board and now has become reality. And it'll be fun to see how this evolves.”
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