For decades, fans of college sports could only support their favorite players through cheers and applause. But adoption of the NCAA Name Image Likeness policy in 2021 opened up a new world of opportunity for fans to support players, and for players to profit from their work as athletes. It also opened up opportunities for entrepreneurs like father-son team Steve and Ryan Thayer.
Steve, a longtime former Hinsdale resident, and Ryan, a current resident of Chicago and a graduate of Hinsdale Central High School, are cofounders of NextName. The business venture allows fans to purchase digital collectibles bearing the name image likeness, or NIL, of their favorite college athletes. The collectibles, referred to as tokens by NextName, are intended as an easy and NCAA-approved way for fans to help their favorite players.
Not long after the NCAA policy was adopted, the University of Illinois approached Steve, an active Illini alum and fan, for guidance in how to best allow their athletes to capitalize on the new NCAA rules.
After raising nearly $1 million to fund the project, NextName launched in 2021, Ryan said.
Ryan, who graduated from the University of Illinois in 2021 and now works in investment banking, said players receive 60 percent of the cost of each token, while the university takes 12 percent, leaving the rest to cover company expenses. In addition to the Thayers, NextName has three full-time employees, including designer Ben Sommers of Hinsdale. The company occupies a space within Steve’s Chicago law office, which Steve said allows him to carry on his work as an attorney while also being available to step in at NextName if he’s needed.
The Thayers said NextName is a passion project that has big potential not only for the company’s founders and staff, but for the university and its sports fans.
Players want to know how much money they can make by playing for a certain team, Ryan said, so companies like NextName could potentially help to shape college sports teams of the future.
“It will have a recruiting impact, but without a promise,” Steve said.
NextName creates a token for any player who wants to participate. They simply sign on through an online portal, and the university provides the logos and player photos. Players who sign a contract with NextName are not precluded from signing on with other non-fungible token products, and they can continue to benefit from sales that happen after graduation.
“There’s really no downside for them,” Steve said.
Tokens range in price from $5 for an NFT commemorating this year’s bowl game to $999 for a platinum team token. Most individual player tokens sell for $25, but like all trading cards and collectibles, they can increase in value over time. Each NextName customer has access to a customized digital wallet where their tokens are stored. Once purchased, the cards can be sold or traded within the portal.
The Thayers plan to soon expand collections beyond University of Illinois teams and athletes.
“We’re talking to everybody,” Steve said.
As cofounder of Chicago law firm Handler and Thayer, Steve helps other entrepreneurs to create and sustain successful ventures. He said it’s a great combination of his interests in law and business.
“All of that has prepared me to launch my own company with Ryan,” Steve said.