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How the 901 Fund is helping Memphis athletes build their brands and connect the dots

The NIL collective connects athletes with local charities.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — If you're a fan of college sports, by now you have heard the term - name, image and likeness or NIL. It's become a major part of the college sports landscape, giving athletes a chance to make money off their own brands. Navigating this new landscape can be challenging.

Since name image and likeness went into effect last summer, University of Memphis football safety Quindell Johnson has been hard at work building his own brand.

 The fifth-year senior partnered with Yoke Gaming to play video games with fans, and he just started his own merchandise line through Stride Sports. Making money on the side as a full time athlete is no easy task.

"That's the biggest thing that we're all getting accustomed to do, trying to brand ourselves, just trying to find ways that we can connect with other companies, other fundraisers and just get our names out there," Johnson said. 

Johnson lives off campus. He said most of his NIL money goes towards practical items like paying rent or buying groceries.

Another revenue stream is The 901 Fund - a NIL collective funded by donations from fans and alumni that connects Memphis men’s and women’s basketball and football athletes with charities and non-profits.

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The fund was started by Bob Byrd, founder of the Bank of Bartlett and Bartlett Mortgage, and huge Memphis Tiger fan. Byrd brought in Kent Ritchey of Ritchey Management, LLC and Clay Presley, a partner with Southworth Capital Management, to head The 901 Fund board.

 While national headlines may depict athletes collecting NIL deals that rival professional athletes, don’t expect your favorite Tiger to be picking-up a seven figure check from The 901 Fund.

"I think a lot of what you hear about when people bring up NIL is these massive deals to a specific individual. That isn't our model, that isn't our goal at the 901 fund," Presley said.

Instead, the fund pays athletes for their name and face while connecting them with worthwhile charitable causes at no cost to the charities.

Opportunities for appearances and autographs are set up through Opendorse, a NIL site easily accessible to student athletes.

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They accept a deal, satisfy the requirements, upload proof and get paid.

Still in the early stages, The 901 Fund focuses on social media posts – furthering the reach of charitable campaigns.

"Well, first and foremost, they came to us and said, ‘We want to get some athletes involved in your mission for free.’ We said ‘we'd love that,’" said Richard Shaw, Chief Development Officer for Youth Villages.

Youth Villages is a Memphis based non-profit that focuses on easing the pressure of systemic challenges for youth and their families. They employ about 1300 people in Memphis and operate in nearly two dozen other states. 

The 901 Fund coordinated athlete social media posts to encourage people to pursue a career with Youth Villages. Shaw understands the value a familiar face can do for a cause.

"We live in an influencer world, and one of the things most athletes have is influence. And so for us doing initially some social campaigns to really try to attract young, articulate, strong, passionate people to our mission. It's been very beneficial," Shaw said.

Money in his pocket is great, but Johnson says working with causes close to his heart makes the opportunity even sweeter. Memphis Football often visits with kids involved with Youth Villages.

"I love doing it. I love going out there with my teammates, having fun with the kids just seeing them smile when we go into it and it's been a great impact into their lives," Johnson said.

The 901 Fund hopes making those kind of impacts, can make these student athletes Memphians for life. Johnson, who interns with Southworth Capital Managment and works with Presley, could be on his way to a career in the Mid-South.

"They get to network and meet the leaders of these nonprofits and we think that'll be good for their personal development and hopefully entice them to stay in the city longer," Presley said.

The 901 Fund has applied for 501(c)(3) status. If granted donations to the fund would become tax deductible for donors.

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