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VIProfile: Hunter Baddour




By Gay Lyons

Hunter Baddour, co-founder of Spyre Sports Group, is an enthusiastic walking encyclopedia on the subject of NIL (Name Image Likeness), the new NCAA policy that suspends amateurism rules, permitting college level athletes to receive compensation for endorsements. Because the policies are new and are not nationally standardized, NIL can be confusing for athletes and the community. That’s where Spyre Sports Group, co-founded in September 2020 by Baddour and James Clawson, comes in.

James Clawson, comes in. Baddour grew up in West Knoxville and majored in business at the University of Tennessee, later earning an MBA and a masters in sports studies from UT. His first job was at Allegiant Athletic Agency, a sports management agency. During his 10 years at Allegiant, Baddour met fellow UT graduate James Clawson, his future partner at Spyre Sports.

“James and I were presented with an opportunity to start our own agency, concentrating on sports marketing and NIL,” said Baddour. “Shortly after we started the business, we added Sheridan Gannon, our Director of Media Entertainment and also a UT graduate, to the team. We love Knoxville, and we love the university. We have a unique opportunity to grow a business and at the same time support a school and a community we care very much about.”

The threesome recently announced a partnership with Opendorse, a sports technology company, in a move intended to make navigating the new terrain easier for student athletes. “The partnership will help provide a streamlined experience for athletes to compliantly manage opportunities,” said Baddour, “and we will work with donors to put together NIL deals from which both businesses and student athletes can benefit. The partnership with Opendorse gives our agency credibility. They are a national company, and they are very selective of the schools they choose to work with. Having a support system like Opendorse was the logical next step to making UT the number one NIL destination in the country.”

“Everyone has tradition, a fan base and great facilities,” he continued. “That’s no longer enough. Players are picking colleges based on benefit. That’s why it’s important for the community to rally behind NIL, which is arguably the single most important component for division one athletic programs. It will have a direct correlation in how effective schools are in landing the top high school prospects. What this boils down to is an arms race. Some call it forming a ‘collective.’ We call it building a war chest.” The Spyre Sports team began with efforts to educate athletes and the community by holding open houses at various venues for athletes and business owners. “We needed to educate business owners about what is legally allowed and how they can work with a student athlete to benefit their business and how this can benefit the athletic department,” said Baddour.

Badour explained the basics of the donor/athlete relationship: “For an athlete to accept a deal, there has to be some kind of return of service. For example, if a local car dealership wants to provide a car to an athlete, the athlete has to do something to benefit the business, such as making appearances at the dealership or making social media posts.”

Baddour gave examples of local businesses offering meals, products and classes in return for social media posts: Eddie’s Health Shoppe, Old City Sports Bar, Barley’s, Turbo Spin, Real Hot Yoga, Clean Eats and Ever Bowl. For Smash Burger, Tennessee wide receiver Velus Jones created his own burger, the Velus Smash, with a portion of sales of the burger going to Jones.

Baddour said Spyre Sports has made a “real effort to include student athletes in multiple men’s and women’s sports.” The impact can be far-reaching. DW Designs and Spyre Sports Group partnered with Tennessee football athletes for a team-wide endorsement, a T-shirt featuring DW’s original “Attack” design. The design was inspired by the team’s goal to “Attack” whether on offense or defense. A portion of the proceeds from sales of the shirt goes directly to players on the UT football team. The proceeds benefit the entire team. Every player, from walk-ons to stars, receives a share of the proceeds.

“There are many opportunities,” said Baddour. “It’s a feel good thing for everybody.”

NIL

Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) is a term that describes the means through which college athletes are allowed to receive financial compensation. NIL refers to the use of an athlete’s name, image and likeness through marketing and promotional endeavors. Starting July 1, 2021, college athletes have the opportunity to benefit from their name, image and likeness. The policy preserves the commitment to avoid pay-for-play and improper inducements tied to choosing to attend a particular school. While federal NIL laws are likely in the future, for now, the interim policy allows states, schools and conferences to set their own policies. (espn.com, ncaa.org)

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