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Activate ASU partners local businesses with student-athletes, increasing community impact in the Valley

Arizona State
Photo credit: Sun Devil Athletics

In Kenny Dillingham’s introductory press conference as head coach of the Arizona State football team, the Sun Devil alum emphasized a phrase that would describe his tenure: “Activate the Valley.”

The ideology of rebuilding Sun Devil football by increasing engagement within the community, focusing on recruiting in the greater Phoenix-area, and building a stronger connection between the local fan base and the athletic programs have shown immediate success for the football program.

However, it has also opened the door for organizations, student-athletes and local businesses to commit to the model of “Activating the Valley.”

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Former Sun Devil alum, Peter Boyle, recognized that “Activating the Valley” is a calling card for anyone interested in helping and partnering with student-athletes.

From this idea Activate ASU, a third-party organization dedicated to connecting local businesses with student-athletes for NIL purposes, was created. Boyle, the Executive Director and Founder of Activate ASU, explained that the organization differs from a collective because it is not collecting donations or raising funds to compensate athletes. Instead, it is taking an “innovative approach” to the ever-changing NIL space.

“We’re a community unity nonprofit organization,” said Boyle in an exclusive interview with The NIL Deal. “Looking around the NIL space, there’s a variety of different ways to do this, and this is a way that we thought made sense for us: connecting local businesses with student-athletes to empower them and the ASU community.”

Teamed up with an esteemed list of ASU alumni that include Jaelen Strong and Joe Healey, Boyle plans on using numerous connections in the Valley to match local businesses with like-minded student-athletes. Boyle explained that a “community and local business-first attitude” will clear up the confusion and fear that some NIL headlines bring to companies and athletes.

By acting as a middle-man to open up NIL partnership opportunities with local groups for student-athletes, he believes it will strengthen the trust between businesses and athletes, and ease the process of completing NIL deals.

“We’re trying to make the NIL space a little bit less scary. A lot of numbers get thrown around that deter businesses because they think they can’t afford it. Our goal is to connect and empower the local business to say, ‘I want to have a direct one-on-one relationship with an athlete that I support or whose values align with mine,’” said Boyle.

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“We are unique in the way we’re approaching this because it is literally grassroots. Matching each business with one athlete, one at a time, week by week. It’s different, but I think it’s the right way to do it.”

Activate ASU began in January of 2023 and has already made an immediate impact in the Tempe community. In February, Sun Devil softball player Jazmine Hill’s tweet, calling for local Arizona businesses to partner with female student-athletes, caught the attention of Boyle and Activate ASU.

From there Boyle messaged and connected with Hill and then matched her with adamant ASU supporter and owner of Burrito Express, Angel Marin. Shortly after, Activate ASU announced the successful partnership of Hill and the local burrito spot, which is just a quick five-minute walk from the Sun Devils softball stadium.

“I’m letting everyone know that I’m where I’m at today because of Activate ASU,” said Hill. “I keep telling my teammates, ‘Why don’t you just reach out to them because you never know what opportunities you may get from the people at Activate ASU.’”

Sun Devil football player Ben Coleman also recently partnered with Activate ASU and is one of many student-athletes that the organization is helping match with a local business. Coleman, an offensive lineman that transferred from Cal, was one of Dillingham’s prized transfer recruits in his first recruiting class to Tempe. Activate ASU has given him the opportunity to be a part of the community outreach his head coach has preached for.

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“Activate ASU helps because a lot of student-athletes want to get involved but they just don’t know how to. A lot of people support Sun Devil Athletics from top to bottom, but they don’t know the right people to get involved,” said Coleman.

“Having a third party has been huge because they know these businesses directly already. They’ve had those relationships already so it’s really easy to decipher. Activate ASU can then filter out to all the student-athletes these opportunities and it helps the athletes out a lot.”

Boyle and the Activate ASU team are determined to show that Coleman and Hill are just the beginning of a long line of future Sun Devil athletes to partner with local businesses through their organization. Boyle noted that Activate ASU was currently in the process of potentially “matching up to 10 student-athletes with local businesses.”

Name, image and likeness isn’t the only avenue that Activate ASU plans to make its mark in.

With the partnerships the organization builds, they plan on coordinating numerous events, discount specials, and giveaways throughout the Valley. The goal is to commit to Kenny Dillingham’s vision to “Activate the Valley.”

“Our mission is not strictly about connecting athletes but also about activating the ASU community,” said Boyle. “It’s trying to actually Activate the Valley. It’s not just a hashtag. It has to be a real thing.”

Activate ASU’s first attempt to “Activate the Valley” will come on April 15 when the organization will be hosting a tailgate-like event in correlation with Pat’s Run and the Arizona State football spring game. According to Boyle, the event will include a live podcast, autograph signings by former Sun Devil athletes, giveaways, and feature the local businesses and student-athletes that have reached partnerships through the group.

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Boyle believes that their model of approaching NIL will benefit the community, promote student-athletes of all sports, and shed a positive light on the NIL space.

Activate ASU’s goal of “connecting the local business community with the ASU community” demonstrates their determination to “Activate the Valley.”

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