The first day of the NIL era for University of Illinois student-athletes came Thursday and was full of endorsement opportunities, including U of I Credit Union, various football and basketball players partnering with Yoke, an online gaming platform; Cameo; or GoPuff, a delivery service for food, drink and household items.
Two days earlier, the university held an open house for local businesses to explain how the new era allowing athletes to profit from use of their name, image and likeness could benefits all involved.
As reported by Illini Inquirer, part of the 247Sports network, close to 100 people filed inside the team room of the Smith Center on Tuesday night, most of them representing a business around the community, to gather as much information as they could before the NIL floodgates officially opened. Illini athletic director Josh Whitman, head men’s basketball coach Brad Underwood, Illinois senior associate athletic director for sports administration and student-athlete development Brian Russell and director of digital media Grace Duggan explained how all of this would work. Representatives from Opendorse, the conduit between student-athlete and businesses at dozens of schools nationwide, detailed the state laws, the requirement for student-athletes to disclose their endorsements and fielded questions.
Just five hours prior to the meeting, Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker signed the state's NIL bill into law. Within 36 hours, more than 500 student-athletes would be available for companies to hire for endorsement purposes for the first time in NCAA history.
On Thursday afternoon, Illini star point guard Andre Curbelo announced a partnership with the U of I Credit Union, and several Illini student-athletes announced various endorsements.
“What wasn’t appealing, I don’t know,” Chris Harlan, president and CEO of U of I Credit Union told Illini Inquirer. “It was one of those really perfect storms, great situations where we’re partners with Illinois athletics, and Andre kind of put it out there earlier this week that this day was coming and to reach out to him if there was any interest, so I did that.
Harlan said both parties are still determining exactly what the partnership will include, but it could range from in-person autograph signings to product endorsements. Endorsements can range from apparel — though without Illinois logos — to social media posts, to autograph signings, commercials, radio spots and more.
Harlan also expressed interest beyond Illini stars. “My expectation is that we would have a featured partnership and several other partnerships, as well, because we want to support athletes of all tiers — not just those who might become professional athletes one day but also those who make up the fabric of this community,” he said.