The NIL Deal spoke with Brent Cunningham, President of Bayou Traditions, to learn more about how the collective came about and how it will operate.
“The opportunities really are endless,” Cunningham said. “You’ve seen some other collectives around the country, different partnerships and different sponsorships with universities, and I don’t know if any of them come close to what we have with LSU.”
Bayou Traditions is described as a build-out of LSU’s previous university-affiliated collective, Geaux Enterprises, which had been operating behind the scenes since the NIL space took off in summer 2021.
That collective was supported by a small group of donors, referred to in-house as founders, but for the most part received little public recognition though university channels. In that regard, the dynamic between school and collective at LSU mirrored that of most others in college athletics.
Recently, though, the status quo began to shift. Clarified NCAA guidance released last fall appeared to clear the way for schools to give more public, vocal support to their affiliated NIL collectives, so long as they remain third parties in accordance with other rules.
“As successful as [Geaux Enterprises] was with just a small group, it was very obvious that if they were to make this a bit broader, the amount of success that LSU could have in the NIL arena would be extraordinary,” Cunningham said.
LSU thus enters a new NIL collective era with a fresh face in Bayou Traditions, and cash already on hand. Cunningham declined to put a number on the fiscal resources at the disposal of Bayou Traditions, but said the collective “is in a very good position” compared to its SEC and Power 5 conference peers.
One of the goals with Bayou Traditions is to provide public-facing opportunities “for every LSU fan to participate in,” Cunningham said. The collective makes it possible for fans to make one-time donations, as well as monthly and yearly payments that range anywhere from $100 to $50,000 or more.
Since launching, LSU athletics have begun to release short videos across social media channels with head coaches from different sports sharing their favorite school traditions.
Tradition. It’s more than performing the Tiger Eye before every meet.— LSU Swimming & Diving (@LSUSwimDive) January 31, 2023
Learn how you can support @bayoutraditions and the future of LSU student-athletes below!https://t.co/sSfEhewVCN pic.twitter.com/9kwOtHn0SZ
Notably, the head coaches also endorse and encourage fans to participate in the Bayou Traditions collective — a drastic shift from the way Geaux Enterprises operated.
In keeping with the public-facing philosophy, Bayou Traditions will now become the title sponsor of LSU GOLD, LSU’s in-house streaming service for content related to university athletics. Cunningham calls it a “huge advantage.”
For now, Bayou Traditions is playing it close to the vest with regard to the specific kinds of NIL deals that will be available to student-athletes. But the collective will be able to utilize the university’s graphic and media assets, and coordinate student-athlete appearances on the LSU GOLD platform, giving players more opportunities to build their brand.
“Obviously, LSU is restricted from designating a particular athlete to receive compensation, but we’ll do our collaboration with every program and every coach, getting to know the needs of their programs, and the personalities of their athletes,” Cunningham said. “By working collaboratively with them, we’ll be able to figure out what’s best for them.”
Whichever form the deals take, Cunningham thinks it’s a win for LSU.
“[The partnership] provides LSU, and us, the greatest amount of collaboration that you can have under the NCAA’s guidelines,” Cunningham said.
In an era where said guidelines appear in flux, Cunningham himself seems to be a good fit. An LSU graduate himself, Cunningham has made a career in college athletics with a focus on compliance.
He earned his Master’s Degree in Sports Management at Marshall University, then spent the next nine years working for TCU’s athletic department, most recently serving as the Assistant Athletics Director of Compliance. Cunningham also served as Vice President of Operations for Think NIL — TCU’s university-affiliated NIL collective, between March and December of last year.
As LSU looked to build out Geaux Enterprises, university decision-makers appreciated Cunningham’s experience within college athletics, and his knowledge of the institution from his undergraduate days. The relationship began as just an opportunity to throw some ideas back and forth, Cunningham says, but evolved into an offer to run day-to-day operations.
Now, Cunningham and Bayou Traditions will seek to stay competitive and maximize NIL opportunities for student-athletes in an ever-changing landscape.
“The NIL space is one where if you’re not growing and evolving, you’re going to be left behind,” Cunningham said.