In 2008, Hunter Baddour attended the University of Tennessee, where he graduated with a business degree. Immediately after, he entered the graduate school program and got his MBA and master’s in sports studies.
After finishing his program in 2011, Hunter got a job with a traditional sports agency, Allegiant Athletics. He was the Marketing Agent and Director of Golf Operation, securing and negotiating marketing endorsement deals for Allegiant’s golf and football clients.
In September 2020, Hunter and his business partner, James Clawson, left Allegiant to form Spyre Sports Group.
Since then, Spyre Sports Group has become a leading marketing agency in the college NIL marketing space, and Hunter has been featured in multiple articles as a figure that shaped NIL in 2022.
When asked what this meant to him personally and professionally, Hunter shared, “I think for a company as a whole, it brings some validity and the recognition that we do things the right way. We’ve built a great team here internally and are really proud of the work that we’ve done for the University of Tennessee, specifically the student-athletes. More than anything, it lends credibility to our entire operation. It’s much less about the personal recognition and more of a tribute to our team.”
Spyre Sports Group is closely aligned with the University of Tennessee, where Hunter and his business partner, James Clawson, attended school.
What Sports Marketing Solutions Does Spyre Sports Group Offer Student-Athletes?
The Spyre team works diligently to find as many high-quality NIL opportunities as possible for current student-athletes at the University of Tennessee. These deals can look like traditional influencer marketing opportunities like becoming a brand ambassador or Spyre internally creating marketing opportunities for athletes.
Hunter says, “For instance, we have our Event Series. We put out several events throughout the year that student-athletes can participate in and be compensated for their participation. It might be a tailgate before a football game where baseball players or basketball players can come, or it could be a youth football camp where players come and spend two hours teaching kids drills.”
The Spyre Sports Group has worked with over 200 student-athletes across 11 sports at the University of Tennessee. One of the biggest drivers behind this variety is being inclusive of all sports and programs.
He explains, “We believe that there are NIL opportunities for all student-athletes. For some of the programs that maybe don’t have as much notoriety, that’s where the local community here in Knoxville has stepped up with a lot of in-kind deals. We believe everyone should be able to enjoy NIL, so we’re focused on being inclusive to all sports and all programs – men’s and women’s.”
The Volunteer Club & Volunteer Legacy
The Volunteer Club is a for-profit entity with a member subscription model that allows fans and donors to contribute anything from $5 to $500 monthly to support student-athletes.
In contrast, Volunteer Legacy is a non-profit organization that accepts donations and, in turn, uses the money to help student-athletes partner with local Tennessee charities. Student-athletes are compensated for partnerships where they give back to the community and initiatives that are important to them.
Facing the Many Complex Challenges of the NIL Space
As a relatively new space, the NIL industry is still in its formative stages, so regulations are being formed and changed frequently.
Many brands are also nervous about investing in NIL marketing because of the constant changes, confusing rules and regulations, and uncertainty about receiving a good ROI.
Hunter shares, “There’s no playbook for this [NIL]. There’s nothing to point to as best practices. I think one of the challenges is communication. I think that’s key. Everybody is aligned. However, the relationship with the collective and the school to make sure that, first and foremost, the student-athletes are being taken care of in a way that’s a hundred percent compliant.”
The Most Influential Figures in the NIL Space
When asked about some of the most influential figures in the NIL space, Hunter shares that Michael Zoerb and Blake Lawrence of Opendorse are two standouts.
“They’ve been one of our partners from the beginning. They’ve helped many schools navigate the newness of NIL and do a great job in this space. Then, a couple of guys over at On3, Grant Frerking and Shannon Terry. They’ve tried to establish some new initiatives for student-athletes to help them, whether it be valuations of a player’s worth to ways to build their brands. From an administrative standpoint, I’m really pleased with the leadership as a whole at the University of Tennessee.”
One of Hunter’s biggest shoutouts around the University of Tennessee is how the school has embraced NIL for the good of their school and, most importantly, the good of their student-athletes.
The Biggest Challenges Facing the Sports Industry
The newness of the NIL landscape is one of the biggest challenges facing the sports industry.
Hunter shares, “It’s a brand new market that’s creating itself really right before our eyes, and while it’s exciting to be a part of it, you have to be nimble and ready to adapt because this market is changing. However that looks in the future, we’ll be ready for it on our end. We will adapt and continue to be ready to support Tennessee at the highest level.”
Spyre’s Most Successful Marketing Initiatives
Hunter explains that The Volunteer Club is one of Spyre’s most successful marketing initiatives because it’s a massive opportunity for fans to be involved in NIL. Currently, the total number of members of The Volunteer Club is over 2,700 after only being around for a little over a year.
Hunter shares, “We have a program within that called The Captain’s Progam which is very much a grassroots campaign. We are confident that we can achieve our goal of 5,000 total members by the end of 2023. This model will create real sustainable dollars, which I think is very important. I’m really proud of the work and the individuals that have stepped up, specifically the captains.”
The Future of the NIL Space
The NIL Space is rapidly evolving, so no one knows precisely where it will go.
Hunter notes, “I don’t know what the future holds, and that’s why we are taking things month to month and trying to read as much as we can and learn and try to predict, but right now, we are taking it one day at a time.”
Some of the biggest milestones Hunter hopes to achieve are growing The Volunteer Club and finding more volunteer partners for Volunteer Legacy so the organization can continue giving back in meaningful ways.
Hunter concludes, “Just continue to be forward-thinking on our end. We have competitors, meaning other schools, other collectives, and always try to stay one or two steps ahead to give Tennessee the competitive advantage.”