‘Do we want to compete?’: Montlake Futures seeks growth before Big Ten move

On any given day, Andrew Minear’s world can change drastically. 

The people he’s allowed to speak with vary from day to day. National organizations, federal laws and state politics all influence the scope of his job. He’s got to be flexible — constantly making adjustments, changing tactics and pivoting to a new approach. 

It’s all a part of working in the name, image and likeness (NIL) space.

“The rules change regularly,” said Minear, the executive director of NIL collective Montlake Futures.  

Montlake Futures has seen exponential growth since it launched in November of 2021. The company, which was created to help provide opportunities for Washington student-athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness, is unaffiliated with the university. 

NIL has single-handedly altered the college athletics landscape. After years of refusing to entertain the idea of student-athletes making money, the NCAA was forced to allow players to be compensated for their name, image and likeness following the 2021 Supreme Court case NCAA v. Alston. NIL has quickly become the defining factor in a college athletics department’s success.

Montlake Futures and other NIL collectives operate to provide these opportunities to student-athletes, because NCAA rules still prevent institutions from directly paying their student-athletes directly.

Washington’s need for a strong NIL collective increases as it prepares to move to the Big Ten. According to nil-ncaa.com, a website run by certified public accountant Patrick O’Rourke which estimates the amount of funds available to every public university’s NIL collective, the average funding Big Ten NIL collectives received in 2023 was $10.7 million. Pac-12 collectives averaged an estimated $6.5 million in comparison.

Minear, who succeeded former executive director Emmy Armintrout in August 2023, hopes Montlake Futures can benefit from the excitement surrounding Washington football following the Huskies’ run to the College Football Playoff championship game and impending conference move. 

“Do we want to compete as we step into the Big Ten?” he said. “If so, know that all of these other schools have thousands and thousands of fans rallying behind their Montlake Futures equivalent.

“We want to provide the same kind of opportunity for our student-athletes.”

Montlake Futures is currently the main NIL collective supporting Washington Athletics. The 1861 Collective, founded in January 2023 by former UW student-athletes, is no longer active. Montlake Players is technically a collective that helps UW football players hold youth football camps but deals with a fraction of the funds available to Montlake Futures, though the groups often collaborate. 

Currently, there are three ways fans can contribute to Montlake Futures. The first is corporate sponsorship, where a company requests an athlete for a specific opportunity like appearing on a billboard, participating in an advertising campaign or appearing at a company event. 

Former Husky QB Michael Penix Jr. landed corporate sponsorships with Amazon and Alaska Airlines, but for most collectives, including Montlake Futures, this is the least-common contribution they receive. 

The most-common method Montlake Futures uses to raise funds is charitable donations. The collective is a 501(c)(3) organization, meaning fans can make contributions which are federal tax deductible. It is also a registered nonprofit in the state of Washington. Money collected as charitable donations is then given to student-athletes as compensation for work or appearances at charity events. 

Early in the collective’s formation, student-athletes simply needed to appear and do the work to earn their check, but Minear said the idea now is to pay them for using their name, image and likeness to promote the local charities like Seattle Children’s, Seattle Humane, Treehouse and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America among others.  

The idea came about in part because it’s something Minear said he wishes he had at his disposal during his 17 years as the senior vice president and chief development officer of YMCA Seattle. 

It’s worth noting, however, that the Internal Revenue Service released a 12-page memo in June 2023 stating NIL collectives may be at risk of losing their tax-exempt status if their main purpose is paying players instead of supporting charitable organizations. 

In December, Montlake Futures also began offering another way for fans to contribute. The collective offers monthly and yearly memberships, with different promotional giveaways for the varying levels of contribution. Minear said Montlake Futures already has around 500 members, but said programs like Michigan, Ohio State, Alabama, Tennessee and Ole Miss have membership bases which number around 5,000. Memberships are not tax deductible. 

“The more (fans) get involved, the more successful we’re going to be on the field,” Minear said, “and the byproduct off the field is equally as important for our values.”

Montlake Futures also received a major boost on March 13, when Gov. Jay Inslee signed Senate Bill 5913 to amend the state’s ethics laws, which prohibited student-athletes from seeking advice or guidance from coaches or university staff regarding NIL. 

Minear said SB 5913 will also allow the university to more publicly acknowledge Montlake Futures and encourage fan donations. Minear said it previously felt like Montlake Futures had “a couple hands tied behind our back.” 

“Forty-nine other states have been doing this for 18 months,” Minear said.

It’s far from the only law Minear has to keep his eye on as the NIL landscape continues to change. The NCAA was recently barred from enforcing its NIL rules for recruits after a federal judge granted the states of Tennessee and Virginia a preliminary injunction on Feb. 23, stating the NCAA may be violating antitrust laws and remains without a congressional exemption. When the transfer portal opens again on April 15, there will be no NIL restrictions.

Additionally, student-athletes from Oregon’s beach volleyball and rowing teams filed a class action sex-discrimination lawsuit against the university in December, 2023, alleging Oregon’s Division Street NIL collective has violated their Title IX rights by not providing equal access to NIL resources and opportunities. Oregon stated it has “no control” over its collective in its 89-page response on March 5. 

To stay up to date with the ever-evolving NIL environment, Minear said Montlake Futures is regularly in contact with the UW’s compliance office. It’s also part of The Collective Association, a group of NIL collectives from schools from around the country which Minear described as being “almost like a trade group” which keeps Montlake Futures up to date with changes around NIL. 

Montlake Futures’ growth remains crucial for Washington Athletics. NIL continues to be one of, if not the driving motivator in football recruitment in the transfer portal and among high school prospects. Minear said the objective is for all 85 scholarship players on UW’s football team to sign NIL deals this season. 

Brandon Huffman, 247Sports national recruiting director, said NIL is the top question asked by preps recruits considering college programs. He said fans may be excited about Jedd Fisch’s NFL connections, but high school recruits are much more interested in NIL opportunities. This is especially relevant for UW, where Huffman said a majority of the NIL offerings went toward returning players or was used to lure transfer portal additions under the previous regime. 

Despite growing excitement around UW sports and the continually rising importance of NIL, Minear admitted Montlake Futures is experiencing donor fatigue like many collectives around the country. 

Often, the same donors who are asked to give money to collectives are also the university’s top contributors for major facilities projects or renovations. All of this comes on top of paying for season tickets, while schools themselves aren’t allowed to put any money toward NIL because of NCAA rules.  

Minear said he appreciates how passionate UW fans have been in their support, but added the collective has to continue growing its donor base to take some of the pressure off top contributors until a better solution can be reached. 

“The industry, right now, is asking donors to do something that probably doesn’t — is not sustainable,” he said. 

Minear hopes the collective can continue to grow even as it tries to find ways to relieve its reliance on top donors. Montlake Futures primarily works with football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball and softball, and Minear, who spent almost seven years as the senior director for regional advancement at UW before initially joining Montlake Futures in 2022, wants the collective to be successful enough to offer NIL opportunities to all of the school’s 22 varsity sports. 

“(We want) to make the community more knowledgeable about what Montlake Futures is,” Minear said, “the impact we make and the opportunity to be a part of it.”

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