After hearing the news that Clemson is developing a new student athlete branding institute as part of their Poe Indoor Practice Facility renovation, I asked Trevor if other athletic departments are starting to think about how to adapt facilities to assist student athletes with their NIL activities. He gave a resounding “yes,” so I asked him to come on the podcast and tells us more about how he thinks facilities will be impacted by student athletes’ new NIL rights.
In this episode, we chatted about:
- How athletic departments are starting to factor NIL into facilities planning
- The types of spaces, tech, graphics and other features that can enhance NIL opportunities for student athletes
- What features seem to be most popular right now in these discussions
- How spaces might be adapted with recruiting in mind
- How even departments with smaller budgets can take NIL into consideration
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You and I’ve gotten to talk about facilities a number of times in the past, and I’ve had one of your teammates from HOK here on the podcast previously and our audience loves hearing about facilities. They know that currently I am obsessed with NIL, so of course I had to start digging into whether or not there is a connection between NIL and facilities. When I first reached out to you it was because I had heard and saw a very small news article about how Clemson was adjusting some of their plans for their indoor practice facility to include some NIL space, and so as I reached out to you and some of the other architecture firms that I know and started asking whether or not NIL is going to play a role in facilities, I got a yes from everybody and so I’m super excited to chat about how NIL is potentially going to transform future facilities.
In general, how have those (NIL) conversations kind of looked so far? How eager do you think athletic departments are to create new spaces around this new NIL legislation?
How athletic departments starting to think about facilities differently now that NIL has come into play
A lot of universities are starting to ask how they can leverage facilities to support student athletes building their personal brand. It’s important to them, their brand is also equally as important and university’s brand will be an asset to that student athlete, and their existing fan base is also going to be leveraged as a tool for recruiting and they’re the key to that student athlete building their brand.
Each one of them is just now starting to do this (building their brand), some of them may have had a brand indirectly, but we’re having conversations with folks now exploring ideas and doing our own research, and we see a few things coming out of that as a result of what transpired with NIL and we’ve been in it several months now and we’re thinking that we’re really going to be training facilities starting to be featured more than what they even have been in the past, getting more eyes on them because these elite student athletes are going to be building their personal brands on social media and they may be in some of these spaces.
So that’s gonna be a really important aspect of it, and the student athletes may offer behind the scenes look at their training experience, and that’ll show off amenities and recovery spaces. This could provide benefits when it comes to recruiting for schools with those spaces that have the innovative high performance facilities and all the bells and whistles that we’re starting to see rolling out.
So, I could see those schools continuing to invest heavily in the training spaces. They may also spend more money on the branding, graphics and technology and we’re even seeing now sponsors starting to layer in and offer with those giving back to the Olympic sports and every sport across the board that to support their brand and push their brand out even in some of their social media presses so those spaces that were previously off limits the general public may now be more accessible via social media.
I think social media is gonna be one of the things that continues to grow, and that’s going to be a huge proponent of the brands of these individuals but the spaces that they’re being housed in are even more important, and so the universities may invest in more dedicated spaces.
You mentioned Clemson, that’s one that’s definitely doing that, and that’s going to be designed to encourage content creation it’s going to provide those student athletes with guidance and training resources to help them build their brand and facilitate those relationships. Those spaces could include the Instagrammable moments, the powerful branding and all those tools at their disposal. Now they can’t directly offer those up in most cases, but to have them there and have them be more dual purpose I think is going to be a big part of it.
I can see these universities adding more staff because that’s going to be very important not only to help manage those relationships between the university spaces and the assets and the student athletes, but also as they go beyond that, thinking about how they’re working with these student athletes to help them better understand their financial situation now and moving forward. Having those advisors in place, those life coaches that are beyond just the creative teams that they have now for social media. But there’s also going to be a delicate balance between the use of those spaces for student athlete development and NIL revenue. So a lot of things for everybody to navigate in terms of the waters that they’ll be in but a lot of opportunity from what we understand.
The types of facility renovations or additions that make sense for NIL
So there were a couple of places my brain went immediately when I started thinking about this intersection of NlL and facilities and Clemson’s a good example mostly because I’ve been there and so I can picture it.
I got to go when the football facility there first opened. I created a lot of Instagram content there you had putt-putt outside and basketball, and you’re right on the lake and then I think I had pictures with the nap pods, and then the content that did the best for me while I was there was that I held my phone and turned on the video camera and I filmed going down the slide, and I came flying off the end of that slide and you can hear when I go up and then come down into the big pad they have for you to land on there, but I remember that that content did great on my social media when I was posting from there that day, and I can imagine student athletes doing more as long as schools allow it.
Obviously every school’s policies are different about the use of these institutional facilities, a lot of that has to do with using facilities for camps and clinics and needing to rent out space, but I think that most schools that I’ve talked to so far are embracing this idea that their student athletes spend a lot of time in the athletic facilities, and so it stands to reason they’re going to be creating a lot of content there and that fans are really going to connect with that and getting to see that behind the scenes kind of stuff.
So Clemson’s a good example because I’ve seen it, but I talked to UNC (North Carolina) and they were talking about this new room they have that’s got all of the Jordan sneakers in it, and what a great backdrop that if a student athlete just wants to go in there and stand in front of the wall while they’re shooting a video so I think every school out there has got a cool space that looks great as a background where they can create this content as they’re running from tutoring to practice or practice training, the training room or whatever they’re doing.
There’s already spaces like that in facilities that are going to be cool backdrops, but I imagine that’s going to be some of the focus going forward to like you said, more of those graphics and more of those kinds of Instagrammable spots in these facilities.
Yeah, exactly right. And it’s funny you mentioned the slide, I was just at a game with my family last weekend and that was my seven-year-old son’s favorite part was to shoot down the slide and the rundown that the replica of the hill (Howard’s Rock), punch the button and the crowd noise goes and you run down the hill, but one of his most memorable moments was that his uncle took a spill when he came to the bottom of the slide so those are kind of the fun things you see and kind of laugh about looking back but yeah, I can only imagine there’s gonna be players zooming down the slide and taking a video on their way down and,putting that out there in some way and to your point, you probably have seen what’s taken off in the industry in terms of training spaces and kind of the support spaces of creating the what we call an ITC right, it’s the indoor turf classroom and there’s going to be spaces like that that could be any varying number of sizes and scales to them, and that may have turf space and and they may have the rigging for the studio setup in there and the multipurpose where they’re doing digital training in there but it’s also supporting all those aspects that are important to both recruiting and day-to-day and the university.
They’re going to need it for photo shoots for student athletes that shoot them in their uniforms but also video shoots for social media magazines, stadium video boards, all those kinds of things but then comes the educational and training component of it.
They’re gonna have group and individual sessions I’m sure for NIL and personal branding, then the recruiting business may want to happen in there as well, dedicated space for photoshoots and recruits in their family, something that’s large enough to host more than one person like you may have seen years ago in the booth where you would host the postgame show. So you’re competing nationally, universities are going to have to have spaces like that to allow for the flexibility of of that brand creation but also, you can’t dedicate it to something solely to that in the the buildings we live in today because of the dollars it takes to build these things and especially if you’re not at a Power Five level.
So there’s kind of those challenges that you’re up against no matter what layer level of athletics you’re involved in, and it’s a matter of navigating that and figuring out the best solution for each individual case.
A lot of clients that are working through masterplanning right now, trying to figure out what’s next, what should they be thinking about as their campus starts to transform and this is one component of it but even bigger than that, some of them are thinking about how do you create something that’s more of a student athlete union where they park there, they play there, they rest there they learn there.
They do the brand creation, they may have classes there that create this all encompassing aspect for them because their day to day is crowded with all sorts of things and they’re moving from one place to the next and there’s a limited window for him to do that so I think it’s going to be how do we create those fluid spaces within the new development, and then how do we recreate flexible space in those renovations that is gonna allow for this to happen as well as all the day to day activities.
The demand for podcast booths and other content creation assistance
As I’ve talked to schools about this particular concept of what kind of spaces are you thinking about in relation to NIL, how has NIL kind of changed how you look at your facilities, I would say that thing that has come up the most has been podcast booths and that some of these institutions I spoke with already have an existing booth or two that they were using internally that maybe they were using in connection with other departments at the university with conference television networks and that kind of thing, and they tell me that the demand for these podcast booths is off the charts. In fact, I was recently around a sports management program and even the sports management program was talking about putting podcast booths in the sports management building for their students. But I’ve heard that as sort of a recurring theme that student athletes are really asking for that kind of space in athletic facilities. Is that something that you’ve seen as well or that you imagine being a part of a lot of folks’ plans going forward?
It’s something I can imagine being a big part of many programs, even to the extent of them really wanting to allow their student athletes the opportunity to develop in a front facing role on media platforms.
That’s not something that’s easy to do, and it’s something that they sometimes need that focus in that critical space to do that, and I can even see it being something where they host podcasts each week with different players to give them exposure.
So something the university actually promotes it’s not directly related to NIL, but it is in terms of the experience they’re getting, and that may mean that their followers go from 500 to 20,000, increasing the visibility for them and it’ll provide increased opportunity to generate revenue from their brand and everything helps, every little bit so both development as an individual, but also from the NIL perspective.
Is there anything else you’re seeing from a sort of needs or demand perspective that is more along those lines like more about the sort of technology or equipment that student athletes may need in these facilities as they adapt for all of these content creators that they now housed in the athletic department?
Yeah I think that’s something we’re starting to see folks talking about in terms of the athletics programs. How can they evolve those programmatic spaces they already have in their buildings? and we saw really a takeoff in academic support space within say a football specific building or others that are more sports specific type of buildings.
And now those spaces are being transformed into housing, those life villages housing those individual spaces where they can develop and the technology side of it, Yeah, it’s growing.
I mean, we build a building and a year from then, the technology is out of date, it’s hard to keep up naturally, but it’s something where the podcast side of it and how do you create those small spaces that can allow that to happen in a confined area. It’s almost like you’re creating broadcast booths within an existing space so we’re starting to see talks about that type of thing, and I expect more of that growth to happen and more of those types of assets to be put in place and not only from the aspect of NIL, but thinking about how we’ve gone through the pandemic over a year now and how student athletes have had to do virtual interviews, how do they prepare for that as well? And so that’s something that’s become incredibly important across the board, not just from an NIL aspect but also how they develop as professionals as they move past sports.
Who we will see make these NIL adjustment first
Which schools are in the best position to act on this quickly? Where would they be at in their process that it’s really easy to slip this in and get it done quickly? Which schools are we going to see roll out some of these NIL specific facilities first?
I think that that’s always the challenge when you’re in design is how do you add program to it? And a lot of times when we design these buildings we will try and design them with some flexibility in terms of the the interior spaces and as those designs evolve, things are going to flow and technology is going to expand and contract and so we’ve got a few that are in design now that are actually starting to think about these things and we’ve got asset spaces just like the ICC classrooms we’re talking about and performance labs and things of that nature that may be able to support this in a multi-use type of way.
And I think that’s really where you’re going to see it as multiple uses within one space. There’s only some that can create the dedicated building right that are those one offs, but it’s not going to be as many, that’s the big challenge to dedicate that much to those facilities. Now on the same front right just over the last month, we’ve seen businesses out there supporting both student athletes but also in donations to facilities and equipment upgrades and that type of thing so we may see more and more that I think we will, in the industry because businesses out there in the world are latching on to this and saying, “Hey we can be a part of this and we want to give back and we want to help student athletes develop in this way.”
So I think it’s really taken a turn. It went from a lot of people thinking how are students going to make money and that being controversial on a number of fronts to now how can students grow, and how can they become more educated about this, how can they develop, especially student athletes. I mean that’s the side that I think is going to be tremendous for student athletes in their development is that a lot of them that may not end up in the pros, we often see them go into the industry and in some other fashion and they are front facing they’re in media or doing all of these things where the NIL components are going to support that, and it’s going to help them develop on their way there so I think that’s going to be a real positive.
How facilities projects relating to NIL can become a recruiting advantage
Do you think that NIL is a space where you have some schools really go all in and come up with ideas that are a little more outside of the box that might be seen as a recruiting advantage and show that they’re really committed to NIL? How do you kind of see that evolving?
Yeah this is one of those things where we’ve always had that question in our mind as designers too right. Is the NIL aspect going to level the playing field, or is it going to create a wider gap between schools?
I think the initial reaction most people have is they would widen the gap. Well I think now, like you said, there’s been a lot of support around it and it’s really become important that varying levels at varying colleges and universities across the country.
So now that that’s the case, I think it’s going to be really good across the board, and I think there’s going to be development but when we ask is there going to be NIL specific institute’s or created building development around that that is so singular or independent of a sport.
I think there may be in terms of something that allow all student athletes to benefit from the use of that space and those development areas and those locations where they can can actually work on their brand together, there’s going to be a handful of those that are going to roll out and it’s going to be along the lines of that student union idea. But then outside of that, it’s going to be how can universities support the need within existing facilities, or within renovated space so I think it’ll vary across the board. I don’t think there’s gonna be one direct path it’s going to go down, it’s going to be unique for every institution out there.
Just kind of based on the conversations you’ve had with schools already and I’m sure some of this depends on who’s already got specific facilities slated for new buildings or for major renovations, but do you think that the NIL spaces are initially going to, are we going to see them more in sports specific spaces like football or men’s and women’s basketball or do you think we’re gonna see it more in those buildings that you’ve kind of said with the Student Union sort of idea? So just from the conversations you’ve had so far, do you think it’s going to be more in sports specific buildings or more in the buildings that we see all the student athletes in?
Based on the conversations we’ve had and where things are trending, I think you’re going to see some of the really successful football programs out there taking this on in a bigger way, and then you’re going to see some of those Olympic sports programs and others that are maybe going to have to come together on this and create shared spaces and university assets for all the sports so it’ll go both directions.
I think it’d be interesting to see how it shakes out because oftentimes the football programs get scrutinized for some of the things they do now. I think if it’s put out there in the right way, it can be seen as a real positive. So it’s just a matter of where the resources are and who can can do what for what program but it’s definitely going to happen, and it’s just a matter of how soon it can happen for certain institutions and support and backing they can get. It’s very much like the existing train soldiers that are out in the world.
A lot of those are supported and created by philanthropies for giving back, and so I think that’s still gonna be a big part of it even some of the businesses you’re seeing out there in the world right now supporting that NIL are those that either were a student athlete or went to that school and so I still think that’s all going to be in alignment though to some degree.
I don’t think you’re going to see big name businesses starting to try and jump in, but you may see spaces that have new branding, there may be a PlayStation lounge or maybe other things that are happening in these buildings that are those recruiting tools but in terms of NHL specific, I think you’re gonna see a wide variation across the board.
How departments with smaller budgets can still make NIL adjustments
That’s really interesting. I hadn’t thought about the brand aspect and sort of the opportunity to have those spaces sort of sponsored by brands but that’s actually a great idea, I love that.
This is why I talk to people like you because you come up with things that I hadn’t even thought of yet. I’m going to call myself out a little bit, I definitely get emails and tweets from people who tell me that I get a little too narrow on some of my topics and I only really think about the the Power Five (conference), and I only think about these big major football programs so I want to ask you a question specifically for all my folks out there that, whether it’s FCS schools and mid-majors or it’s Division II, Division III, what would your advice be to smaller schools or just even bigger schools that have small budgets, who want to do something from a facilities perspective to help aid their student athletes on this NIL journey. What are some more cost effective ways to do things within their facilities that might have a really great impact for their student athletes when it comes to NIL?
Yeah, my recommendation there would be engaging with the university and trying to find those university assets that may already exist that can support your student athletes as well. There’s a lot of curriculum being built around it now from professors teaching about NIL to even those opportunities for the broadcast side of it even back when all these TV deals started coming into play, that was something where we saw some institutions actually linking up with the university as a whole and creating new programs around that to really bolster that and allow it to be a part of the institutional learning system of the university, but then kind of played twofold. It supported the athletic side of things as well so I think where you can find those synergies with the athletics, and general student body side of things that’s really going to help out and it brings everybody together, I mean that’s something that is incredibly valuable to be thinking about.
Great, thank you so much for joining the podcast to chat about this. I think people really enjoy hearing about it and just getting their wheels turning and brainstorming what they can do within their own athletic departments in their own universities to provide these spaces and these sort of additional opportunities and assets for student athletes as they navigate this new NIL space.
I appreciate you giving us a little bit of your time. I will make sure that we link to HOK down in the show notes and if people want to reach out and institutions listening and they want to chat with you more about NIL and how they can adapt their spaces, what’s the best way for them to reach out to you or to someone HOK?
Thanks for the shout out and they can reach out to me directly or even on our website. There’s a link and direct access where they can contact us. And I’m happy to put my email out there as well. If you want to share that in the chat it’s Trevor.Bechtold@hok.com
Thank you so much for your time, Trevor, I appreciate it.
Thanks to my intern Will Whitmore for assistance with this episode.
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