Chicago Tribune: Father and son create platform for University of Illinois athletes to receive compensation by selling NFTs of themselves

Steve Thayer (right) and his son Ryan Thayer founded NextName to sell digital collectible images of college athletes and teams, which provide a financial support to players.
Steve Thayer (right) and his son Ryan Thayer founded NextName to sell digital collectible images of college athletes and teams, which provide a financial support to players.

By Myrna Petlicki, Pioneer Press, Dec 04, 2022

Steve Thayer and his son Ryan Thayer wanted to offer financial help to athletes from their alma mater, the University of Illinois. They found the answer when a Supreme Court ruling last year allowed college athletes to receive compensation for the use of their name, image, or likeness (NIL).

Steve, a lawyer who was a 1988 University of Illinois LAS Economics graduate, raised his family in Hinsdale but now lives in Burr Ridge. Son Ryan, a Hinsdale native who was a 2021 University of Illinois graduate of the Gies College of Business, is an investment banker.

Despite their busy work schedules, the pair decided they wanted to find a way to help players from their alma mater. The initiative started after Steve attended a meeting last November with the University of Illinois Athletic Department.

“They brought a lot of alumni together to talk about NIL and the rules around NIL,” Steve said. “They wanted to engage alumni to think about providing dollars to kids down the road.”

Steve talked it over with Ryan who mentioned that the NBA Top Shot was selling digital collectibles of NBA players, which are known as NFTs (non-fungible tokens).

“We put our heads together and thought that selling NFTs of players would be a perfect legal solution to providing fair compensation for their name and their likeness,” Steve said.

What they would be selling is a digital file that holds a picture or a video of a player. Fans who buy these NFTs are giving money to the players.

“It’s considered fair market value because you are buying something of speculative value that is a digital asset,” Steve explained.

The Thayers started their company in January, calling it NextName. They had a soft launch event in February for prospective investors. Tokens went on sale in July.

Ryan noted that, in addition to owning a collectible, you can also get real-world benefits from the NFTs. “One example is our tailgate tokens,” he said. “By buying a tailgate token, you can come down to our tailgates in Champaign before the football games and that’s your access to that event.”

In addition to compensating players, Steve indicated that selling NFTs of current players could be useful for recruiting future players. “Future recruits would see that fans support their players,” Steve explained.

Ryan described the process. “A lot of schools have an NIL director that helps the athletes understand opportunities,” he reported. “We’ve been able to work with the school and their NIL director to get in front of the athletes and set up meetings for us to pitch them the idea. Once they’re onboard about the platform, we’ve created a template X-Series NFT with one of our partners to create what the modern-day trading card would be.”

Images of the athletes who agree to be part of the program are downloaded to the template. The athletes then have to approve the image and check that the information on the collectible is correct. The images are then posted on the NextName website, nextname.io.

Team tokens are also being created with the proceeds shared by every athlete on that team who signed up for the program.

NextName creates NFTs for University of Illinois football, basketball, women’s volleyball, women’s soccer, men’s golf, and women’s golf teams, for a range of prices. Images are available in versions from $25 to $1,000, depending on how much the purchaser wants to support that player or team.

The company is working to add additional University of Illinois sports to their roster of NFTs. They are also planning to add additional schools to the NextName program.

When team tokens are sold, 70 % of the proceeds are given to the players, 12 % to the university, and the balance to cover expenses or to NextName. With player tokens, the breakdown is 60 % to the player, 12 % to the university, and the balance to cover expenses or to NextName.

Other companies are also producing NFTs. Ryan said the difference is that “most of the NFT platforms are taking a much higher percentage of the sales.” Players on those platforms may be getting only 20 or 30 % of the sales price, he estimates

“We’re not making any money right now,” Steve admitted. “We’re just trying to get the word out, and trying to get people accustomed to buying NFTs for their favorite players and supporting their favorite teams.”

Myrna Petlicki is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.

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