6th Man Strategies’ NIL vision starts with Kansas men’s basketball, but doesn’t end there

Jordan Guskey
Topeka Capital-Journal
The Kansas Jayhawk men's basketball team dances with cheerleaders at Late Night in the Phog inside Allen Fieldhouse.

LAWRENCE — All 18 members of the Kansas men’s basketball team took a collective step together into the world of name, image and likeness on Friday, with the announcement from 6th Man Strategies that they’d signed on for representation in NIL endeavors.

And if you ask former Jayhawks baseball player Ryan Baty, a partner in 6th Man Strategies with his brother Matt, another former Kansas baseball player, it’s a partnership that finds its origin in two driving forces for the two of them.

One, they want to help young people who are involved in the business world. Two, they want to give back to their alma mater. It’s why, when a couple of opportunities arose, Ryan said they wanted to embark on this journey and help provide resources to these men’s basketball athletes. They feel they’re uniquely positioned to access greater Kansas network and help the athletes monetize their NIL opportunities.

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But while the focus is on men’s basketball now, and for the immediate future, the vision Ryan and 6th Man Strategies has as a whole doesn’t end there. As the release states, there are “plans to engage the additional 500 plus” Jayhawks athletes. The vision’s scope is not a limited one.

“Listen man, that’s coming from two baseball guys, right?” Ryan told The Topeka Capital-Journal. “I mean, we were baseball players. So, it’s deeply, deeply important to us that all athletes can be provided some resources so they can optimize (NIL).”

Ryan would add: “Now there’s an opportunity for student-athletes who have a brand, who represent a brand and are marketable, to actually capitalize on that and for me it’s an issue of just supporting those student-athletes … with this new opportunity. So, I think it brings these kids confidence. I think it gives them opportunities. I think it gives them an opportunity to better their quality of life and gives them the opportunity to understand business on another level. So … I think it’s an exciting time for what we’re calling the modern-day student-athlete.”

Ryan said there isn’t a timeline in place when it comes to how and when they’ll start to expand their efforts to other athletes. As 6th Man Strategies scales up, in terms of what services and platforms the Wichita-based organization provides, that expansion will be able to take place. At the moment, the men’s basketball athletes have their full focus and Ryan feels they deserve it.

Their season’s set to start soon, practice is already underway and they’re the greatest opportunity given their status when it comes to being a driver for the Jayhawks brand.

Ryan said the deal with the men’s basketball athletes came together through communication and an effort to build trust. They were able to demonstrate to the Jayhawks athletes who they were. They could lay out the network of resources at their disposal, on top of the ideas they thought were worth exploring.

Matt said Saturday he texted veteran forward Mitch Lightfoot first, and that Lightfoot and later Lightfoot's teammates were receptive. Over the past seven weeks they've met with the players individually, mostly in person, to present what's possible for them. One by one the Jayhawks athletes signed on.

Matt, whose post-college career also saw him work at Kansas for a period of time, knows that NIL can't be used in recruiting athletes to Kansas or any other college like it. But he also believes that recruits are paying attention to what each institution has to offer when it comes to something like this. This is another way to make Kansas competitive.

“Part of what 6th Man Strategies does is, one is it’s uniquely able to tap into the KU network because we’re alumni,” Ryan said. “But secondly, we also have branding and marketing strategy on our team as well to where we can go in and really individually work with the marketing and the branding strategies of these student-athletes to build and customize what it is that they need so they can maximize (NIL).”

Kansas senior forward David McCormack (33) dunks the ball during a scrimmage at Allen Fieldhouse during Late Night in the Phog Friday evening.

6th Man Strategies has also brought in Opendorse as a member of the partnership in an effort to help streamline athletes’ NIL opportunities. It refers to Opendorse in the release as “the NIL market’s leading compliance and monetization platform.” And it later states Opendorse’s technology will allow it to send opportunities to athletes in a way that’s “allowing them to review, accept, complete, and disclose all NIL activities from pitch to payment, straight from their phones.”

Opendorse’ CEO, Blake Lawrence, referred to Kansas basketball players as among the most marketable in college sports.

“Opendorse is dedicated to supporting Kansas athletes in this rapidly evolving NIL market with a purpose-built technology to help them capitalize on this moment and remain safe through the journey,” Lawrence said in the release.

Ryan, speaking with The Topeka Capital-Journal, added: “We partnered with them and they’re the ones that are really helping direct traffic with compliance and financial compliance, but we also have on our team … (Opendorse is) handling most tax strategy, most of that stuff is through that partnership. They’re wonderful. And so, that partnership is really going to help direct that traffic with the compliance and the strategy in that regard. But also, just as general advisors and business advisors, is we want to be able to direct these student-athletes into this broader understanding of financial literacy and opportunities and marketing and what the market rate and what we can provide with them in the market.”

Kansas freshman forward KJ Adams Jr. (24) enters the court at Allen Fieldhouse during Late Night in the Phog Friday evening.

One of the ideas Ryan said they have, is the One Hundred Club. It’d include 100 different supporters who’d each provide $1,000 per month, which would lead to totals of $100,000 per month and $1.2 million per year. And the money would go to supporting NIL opportunities for the athletes that, according to 6th Man Strategies’ website, include a ball signed by the team, dinner with head coach Bill Self and the team, exclusive access pregame and postgame and more.

According to Matt, there are already about 20 people signed up.

“It’s a variety of different services and products that will come with that,” Ryan said. “But the general premise is 100 supporters supporting (NIL) opportunities with these athletes. So, that’s really kind of the overall structure. We’re going to announce it, the details of it, next week.”

The release also states that in the next week there will be a partnership announced with an official, licensed, merchandise provider. There’ll also be a subscriber service called The Blue Blood Exclusive that’ll include “exclusive NIL content” from the athletes.

Matt told The Topeka Capital-Journal that The Blue Blood Exclusive is about providing fans the opportunity to get to know athletes on a more personal level. During his time in collegiate athletics, he learned how much fans, supporters, donors and others love that type of behind-the-scenes access.

“We’re going to do podcasts,” said Matt, who is looking to launch The Blue Blood Exclusive by Nov. 1. “We’re going to do Facebook Live opportunities where fans that are members can do interviews with the student-athletes and get to know their personalities. And that’s what I’ve enjoyed the most, is these personalities. We have really, really good kids representing our favorite basketball program and we need to showcase their personalities. And so, we can do that through Blue Blood, through an exclusive opportunity.”

Matt said there have been athletes with Kansas' football, volleyball, soccer and baseball teams who have reached out. Individual conversations are happening, with regards to the process of expanding past men's basketball. It's just, considering the reality the athletic department can't assist in facilitating these conversations, it'll take time.

As Matt pointed out, it took seven weeks to get the 18 men's basketball players committed and signed.

“It’s a process,” Matt said. “It’s a lot easier to represent single athletes, no question about it. But where we believe at Kansas there’s opportunity is in team initiatives, team opportunities, team signings, team visits, team appearances, team autographed items.”

Kansas super senior guard Chris Teahan (12) practices a dunk before a scrimmage at Allen Fieldhouse during Late Night in the Phog Friday evening.

Jordan Guskey covers University of Kansas Athletics at The Topeka Capital-Journal. Contact him at jmguskey@gannett.com or on Twitter at @JordanGuskey.