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NIL deals hit Montana JUCO as Dawson Community College, Shoe Shack pair up

DCC Snyder and Harrington
Posted at 6:05 PM, Apr 02, 2024

GLENDIVE - With name, image and likeness opportunities (NIL) now evolving for college athletes, bigger universities typically come to mind. Junior colleges — not so much. But that’s now the case in Glendive thanks to one head coach and a local business.

“This is the Skechers Performance GO RUN Ride 11 running shoe,” explained Dempster Jackson to MTN Sports as he held up the sneaker.

 Jackson is the head cross country and track and field coach at Dawson Community College and recently helped orchestrate small NIL deals for two of his athletes. He recalled his initial approach to Shoe Shack owner Mark Nicholson last fall.

“With the college here and the high school — and you have middle school sports — I was like, you should probably sell a few more athletic shoes. Maybe we can help you with that,” Jackson said.

It didn't take long to convince Nicholson.

“It’s about the cheapest advertising you can buy and reach the demographic we’re trying to reach,” Nicholson admitted, targeting teens to young adults in their early 20s for this particular shoe.

Glendive’s own Cody Harrington and Billings Skyview graduate Mia Snyder are the DCC runners benefiting right now.

“It’s a way for people to understand that track is a big deal here, we want it to be a big deal, we want to be seen,” Snyder said.

Harrington pointed to this deal as a hopeful launching point for teammates.

“That way, it could not just benefit me, but also our team.”

NIL deals are still fairly new, but the short summary is that college athletes can now be compensated, usually by businesses. The technical description is "a legal concept referring to an individual's “right of publicity” — their ability to capitalize on anything that identifies them, including the ability to engage in third-party sponsorships and endorsements."

NIL agreements are seen ranging from multi-million-dollar deals at Power 5 programs (Bronny James — son of Lakers star LeBron — is said to have a valuation of $6.1 million at USC) to car deals at schools the size of University of Montana and Montana State.

But junior college athletes aren’t drawing as much interest – and not nearly at the same dollar value -- which makes this partnership unique.

“It gives us a nice footprint in the community if we’re supporting an athlete,” Nicholson said.

Snyder and Harrington came to mind for Jackson when he initiated his NIL approach.

“I said, I’ve got a couple athletes that are really solid citizens, excellent students, good athletes … let’s give it a shot if you’re interested. And he said, let’s do it.”

As is the case with many athletes, businesses and even coaches during these early NIL stages, Dempster admitted he had to research the eligibility of junior college athletes to make deals. Even as a sports fan, Nicholson wasn't sure how things worked either.

"I assumed the money didn’t go straight to the student," he said. "The cash goes directly to them, which I thought was great.”

For this particular agreement, Shoe Shack gives both Snyder and Harrington free running shoes, plus a little bit of money ($25-$30 to start) for each promotional shoot — there's only been one shoot for Snyder and Harrington, so far. Then the runners blast out promos on their social media pages, hopefully attracting followers toward Shoe Shack for business.

“Personally, I’ve never done a photo shoot so it was new to me," Harrington said with a smile. "It was loads of fun and I would do it again."

“I had some shoes on (during my shoot), took some pictures and then coach sent me the video he took of our shoot," Snyder explained. "So, I posted that on my Instagram story, like, here’s some clips from my little NIL photo shoot.”

Nicholson said he's already been approached by multiple friends and shoppers wondering about the buzz created by social media platforms for Snyder, Harrington and DCC.

“It’s way more people than our social media is hitting,” he said.