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How One Minnesota County Plans To Engineer Its Own Rural Rebound Through NIL Deals


How One Minnesota County Plans To Engineer Its Own Rural Rebound Through NIL Deals

Otter Tail County, a rural area in Minnesota, faces a daunting challenge – the potential loss of up to 5% of its working-age population by 2030, according to a state report. To combat this threat, the county has launched a strategy that leverages “NIL” deals with college athletes to promote rural life and attract talent, Open Campus reports.

NIL (Name, Image, and Likeness) deals allow college athletes to profit from their personal brands. Otter Tail capitalizes on this opportunity by paying athletes between $500 and $5,000 from the University of Minnesota to share social media posts about their experiences visiting the county.

According to Open Campus (OC), the county has engaged four football players and two volleyball players through these NIL arrangements. During their visits, the athletes participate in activities like boating, corn mazes, and tours of local employers.

Otter Tail’s rural rebound coordinator, Erik Osberg, views these trips as “legit recruiting visits.” He aims to roll out the red carpet for the athletes and treat them as star talent, reshaping perceptions about rural living.

“There is one train of thought where the big university is the enemy and is stealing all our kids,” Osberg told Open Campus. “We’re saying, No, let’s find these college students and invite them to come and experience rural life so they can form their own opinion.”

The strategy aligns with research by Ben Winchester, a rural sociologist at the University of Minnesota Extension. He found that the biggest growth in rural populations comes from adults aged 30 to 49, who bring education, work experience, and young families.

“You just have a different priority on your life once you hit your thirties,” Winchester told OC. “I’m not trying to sell this to 18-year-olds. Of course, you’re going to lose some of your kids. They need to see what else is out there in the world. My point is simple: Let them go, and let them know that if they want to come home, that is fine, too.”

Otter Tail’s approach extends beyond NIL deals. The county has a multi-year marketing agreement with the University of Minnesota athletics department, ensuring its Otter mascot appears alongside the university’s Goldy the Gopher at sports events.

Additionally, the county hosts pitch competitions and takes business students on tours of local employers and recreational activities.

“If you look at the state of Minnesota, only one institution produces 50,000 students a year. So if we’re trying to recruit a workforce, connecting with the largest producer of future employees is probably a good idea,” Osberg told OC.

While attracting talent is crucial, Otter Tail recognizes the need for infrastructure improvements. According to Open Campus, the county ranks 69th out of 87 counties in broadband connectivity and faces challenges with affordable housing and childcare options.

To address the housing shortage, the county plans to build six new homes, even if it means selling them at a loss of $50,000 to $100,000 each.

Osberg emphasized the importance of shifting narratives about rural living, likening it to a football coach’s recruitment pitch: “Imagine if you were a football coach, and you told a recruit that the field is terrible, the facilities suck, and your players are awful. Do you think that athlete would still want to come?

Cecilia Carloni, Interview Manager at Influence Weekly and writer for NetInfluencer. Coming from beautiful Argentina, Ceci has spent years chatting with big names in the influencer world, making friends and learning insider info along the way. When she’s not deep in interviews or writing, she's enjoying life with her two daughters. Ceci’s stories give a peek behind the curtain of influencer life, sharing the real and interesting tales from her many conversations with movers and shakers in the space.

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