It’s been more than a year since we last chatted with Derek Burns, co-founder of Dinkytown Athletes and a former football student-athlete at Minnesota. At that time, we were only a month removed from the launch of Dinkytown Athletes, the first Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) collective in support of student-athletes at the University of Minnesota.
Suffice it to say, a lot has happened since then.
With the football offseason officially underway, we decided to reach out to Derek to give our readers an update on where things stand with Dinkytown Athletes today, how the collective has grown over the last year, and the impact it is making for the Golden Gophers.
The Daily Gopher: Dinkytown Athletes celebrated the one-year anniversary of its launch back in September. How has the collective grown in the past year and what can you tell fans about how successful Dinkytown Athletes has been in its efforts to support student-athletes?
Derek Burns: We are growing exponentially, I’m happy to report. At first there was a lot of skepticism around Dinkytown Athletes and NIL in general. There still is, to some degree, but it’s getting better day by day. I also think there was a feeling that Minnesota couldn’t and would never be able to compete with NIL support. I think people needed to see what success looked like. The end of the football season helped immensely when we were able to provide support to key returning student athletes and show them that they don’t have to transfer to get NIL support.
TDG: Since becoming the Official NIL Collective of Gopher Athletics, what opportunities has that partnership created for Dinkytown Athletes?
DB: First, I think it helped provide some legitimacy to Dinkytown Athletes and lower skepticism. Gopher Sports Properties chooses their brand partners very judiciously and therefore the designation of Official NIL Collective of Gopher Athletics carries some good weight. Second, it has helped us market directly to the Gopher season ticket fanbase. That’s our audience, that’s whose support we need to remain competitive.
TDG: Partnerships with Gray Duck Brewing, 7th Avenue Pizza, and Thousand Hills Lifetime Grazed have been among the more noticeable initiatives launched by Dinkytown Athletes. What has been the response from fans in supporting these and other initiatives?
DB: Massive. This is one of the potential competitive advantages we have in this market that I don’t think a lot of people realize. The population of this market is just way, way bigger than a lot of our direct competition. Gray Duck just announced an incentive to give a million dollars per year back to the collective if Gopher fans can help them capture market share for their vodka. They are giving back on every vodka sale in Minnesota and if they can take 30% of the market leader’s share (some brand out of Texas), that combined with the beer sales would equal a million dollars per year. It takes a group effort and it means people have to change their buying behavior, but that is one example of the potential of this market.
TDG: In December, more than 20 football student-athletes took to social media to share their participation in Dinkytown Athletes. The football team also saw a significant decrease in the number of transfers compared to the last couple years. I don’t think you have to squint to see a connection there. Obviously there are a number of factors that impact a student-athlete’s decision to remain with or transfer from a program, but how important is NIL to retaining a program’s student-athletes in today’s landscape of college athletics?
DB: NIL isn’t the only factor but it is now one of the key factors. The success supporting returning Gopher football student-athletes this year is a credit to our members and contributors. They stepped up and it made a huge difference.
TDG: We talked last time about the exclusive benefits that fans have access to when they sign up to be a member of Dinkytown Athletes. What benefits or events have you seen get the most engagement from members over the past year?
DB: We’ve had a lot of engagement both online and in person. As a member, you get access to member areas of our Discord, where we give sneak previews and sort of a behind-the-curtain look into what we’re doing. We also have dozens of video interviews with Gopher student-athletes that are only available to members, and people seem to like those.
As far as live events, we had a great turnout at our summer BBQ, our member tailgate, and we just hosted a volunteer event pairing fans and student-athletes in support of everymeal.org. Next summer, we’re looking at maybe doing a couple small events in outstate Minnesota as well, so stay tuned.
TDG: I hear it all the time, and I’m sure you hear it, too: “Minnesota will never be competitive in the NIL landscape.” I think it’s a cynical perspective, but I know others would call it realistic. They see the NIL power that “helmet school” programs seem to wield and can’t foresee a future where Minnesota is able to match that. What’s your response when you hear that?
DB: We are already competing. Just like what facilities used to be, it’s not about having the most or the best, it’s about being competitive.
TDG: What is on the horizon for Dinkytown Athletes? In what ways would you like to see this NIL collective continue to grow?
DB: Right now we’re looking to add to our team in the form of several student interns and a full-time fundraiser. We’ve outgrown our current bandwidth, which is great. We’ll be doing more brand collaborations, including coffee and maybe a credit card perks program. Lots of fun stuff to come. We look forward to supporting more and more student athletes as we hopefully continue to grow. Thank you, Gopher fans, for your support!