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SLU embraces looming wave of college athlete sponsorship deals with NIL site

The new Billiken mascot introduced in September 2016.
Courtesy of Bill Barrett
St. Louis University
St. Louis University's updated Billiken mascot runs through a crowd in September 2016.

St. Louis University is making it easier for its student-athletes to strike name, image and likeness deals with local businesses, donors and alumni.

The university on Tuesday launched the Billiken Exchange, a website that connects student athletes with prospective business partners and handles payments between them. SLU is partnering with an athlete brand-building business called INFLCR on the project.

"This is an important step as we continue to support our student-athletes in Name, Image and Likeness opportunities," said Chris May, SLU’s athletic director, in a written statement on Tuesday. “We fully support our student-athletes in their quest to take advantage of NIL and we encourage those wishing to support them by joining the Billiken Exchange."

Even though the exchange site is managed, in part, by SLU, revenue from the deals will go directly to athletes, not the university or INFLCR.

Missouri is among more than two dozen states that now allow college athletes to cash in on NIL sponsorship deals that are poised to change.

Such sponsorships were banned by the NCAA until the Supreme Court ruled in July that the collegiate athletics body could no longer limit students from using their own name, image or likeness to make money. Missouri lawmakers passed legislation last year to make them possible for athletes at SLU and other universities in the state.

Patrick Rishe, director of the sports business program at Washington University, said there are benefits for universities embracing the NIL deals that experts say is changing the landscape of college sports.

“You see the benefits to the student-athletes and to the school to create and take advantage of existing partnerships and existing relationships to foster, hopefully for the Billikens, more opportunities for their student-athletes,” he said.

In addition, Rishe explained that there could be a recruiting or marketing edge over peer schools that may not have as robust a network of alumni or corporate partners.

“For years and years, there was a lack of comfort among many who felt that some student athletes — especially ones in highly visible sports like football or men’s college basketball — were being exploited by the system,” he said, adding that SLU creating the Billiken Exchange site ensures matchmaking with potential sponsors in a safer space while informing students on how to broker deals responsibly.

Big-name student athletes have cashed in on NIL deals, including Alabama quarterback Bryce Young's with Cash App and former Saint Peter’s Peacocks basketball guard Doug Edert’s partnership with Buffalo Wild Wings. Adidas has committed to signing NIL deals with student-athletes at all of its sponsored schools.

Analysts project that college athletes across the United States will receive hundreds of millions of dollars in NIL deals this year through fan interaction, brand deals, direct sponsors and donors.

Brian Munoz is a staff photojournalist and multimedia reporter for St. Louis Public Radio. You can reach him by email at bmunoz@stlpr.org and follow his work on Instagram and Twitter at @brianmmunoz.

Brian Munoz is a photojournalist and multimedia reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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