Collectives across the country have partnered with student-athletes at the universities they work with in order to build uniform and safe organizations that can maximize NIL opportunities for athletes of all sports.
North Carolina State is one of the leading universities in the nation for NIL and Pack of Wolves, the NC State-focused collective, has been an example of the successes that come from having a stable organization working alongside student-athletes.
“It’s amazing. They have everyone built in place to help us maximize our potential and they offer us deals and connections with people that will take us way outside of playing,” NC State basketball player D.J. Burns Jr. told The NIL Deal in a recent interview. “It gives us opportunities on the business side of things if we handle it right and it’s the perfect opportunity.”
Burns is one of over 115 Wolfpack student-athletes to partner with the collective. Pack of Wolves features student-athletes from almost every athletic program and offers each and every individual the opportunity to get involved and put their name, image and likeness to use.
Chris Vurnakes, the general manager of Pack of Wolves, noted that the task at hand is to “provide NIL specific opportunities for our student-athletes,” but how they go about it is broken up into three avenues.
“A big part of what we do is provide student-athletes the opportunity to get out in our community and partner with nonprofit organizations in the greater Raleigh area,” Vurnakes explained to The NIL Deal.
“Secondly, we have opportunities for student-athletes to do something we call ‘Meet the Pack’, which includes meet and greets, autograph sessions, photo sessions and other various events. Lastly, is corporate sponsorships. So bringing companies to student-athletes through Pack of Wolves, whether that’s an individual or in small groups, and allowing them to be a brand ambassador, having them headline an event, client entertainment opportunities and things of that nature.”
With opportunities available for every student-athlete, Pack of Wolves has established itself as the direct source for anything NIL-related at NC State.
The university and Wolfpack community have also been essential in helping the collective grow and offer more opportunities for the athletes. While the student-athletes are benefiting financially, it also allows donors, fans and the community to have a more in-depth relationship with student-athletes and get a better understanding of the players competing at the highest level of collegiate athletics for their university.
“Organizations like the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, the Spirit League of North Carolina, the Boys and Girls Club, the YMCA: We connect our student-athletes with those organizations and find engagement opportunities for our student-athletes to work with those organizations in a meaningful way,” said Vurnakes.
Vurnakes notes that the ‘Meet the Pack’ events have been a huge success in the NC State community and have helped drive a stronger fan engagement with the university’s athletic program.
“We had a meet and greet event for our men’s basketball team just prior to the ACC tournament and it was a great example of what we do. We had over 200 fans show up for autographs, kids getting their jerseys and hats signed, photos and everything else we could do. It was awesome to see Wolfpack nation really show out for that event and it was fun.”
Burns couldn’t agree more.
“The meet and greets are great. The excitement on the kids’ faces, they think it’s the coolest thing ever. It’s just how I was when I met players like John Wall in high school,” said Burns. “It’s just pretty awesome to see how they react. It feels like you’re making their day.”
Burns just concluded his first season for the Wolfpack after transferring from Winthrop. Burns, the former Big South Conference Player of the Year in 2022, received little to no NIL attention before joining NC State, but has watched his platform grow and his brand become a marketable entity within the industry.
Through Pack of Wolves, Burns has been able to cash in on his name, image and likeness along with building a network of connections that will assist him beyond his college days.
“They have a lot of good things to offer and a lot of connections that will last for a lifetime. I would say that’s something that you can’t find too many places,” said Burns, who revealed that he has an upcoming NIL deal in the works.
“And if you can, it won’t be up to the caliber of NC State.”
Pack of Wolves had made a dramatic impact in the NIL space and has set an example for foundational success for all collectives across the nation.
With funding and money dispersion acting as major issues for many who want to get involved with collectives such as Pack of Wolves, Vurnakes clearly defined the process that goes into ensuring student-athletes receive their fair share of the pot.
“We’re able to compensate student-athletes through tax deductible donations that we take through the collective. That is our foundation side: Having donors who make contributions to our collective in a tax deductible way and those tax deductible donations then fund these engagements for the student-athletes,” said Vurnakes.
After Blueprint Sports took over the collective last fall, Vurnakes was tasked with reconfiguring Pack of Wolves’ funding and remodeling the way it attracts potential student partnerships and fan engagement. He is already looking toward the future and evaluating how Pack of Wolves can continue to grow and make its mark in the NIL landscape in Raleigh and across the country.
“We will be rolling out a new membership model in a couple of weeks to allow our fans to engage with our student athletes in a very meaningful and personal way,” said Vurnakes. “But a lot of what we’re doing is going to be very similar to what we have been doing…
“We’ve got a lot going on and we take a lot of pride in the activities of our student-athletes.”