With Eye on Service Opportunities, Bethel Launches Platform for Athletes to Pursue Name, Image, and Likeness Deals

Bethel is launching the Royal Exchange, a web/app platform to connect student-athletes with businesses, individuals, and nonprofits for opportunities to benefit from their name, image, and likeness. While opportunities could include social media endorsements or jobs running sports camps, athletics leaders hope students will reflect Bethel’s mission as a Christ-centered university by partnering with charities and nonprofits.

By Jason Schoonover ’09, content specialist

September 01, 2022 | 3:25 p.m.

The Royal Exchange

Bethel recently launched the Royal Exchange, becoming just the second Division III school nationwide to partner with INFCLR, a leading athlete brand-building and NIL business management app that will help students pursue opportunities around their name, image, and likeness (NIL).

Bethel University is becoming just the second NCAA Division III school nationwide—and the first in Minnesota—to launch a platform aimed at connecting student-athletes with businesses and nonprofits for opportunities and compensation tied to their name, image, and likeness (NIL). But Bethel leaders hope that Bethel’s athletes will also use this opportunity to continue the Department of Athletics’ mission to advance athletic excellence while having a kingdom impact.

On August 31, Bethel’s Department of Athletics announced the launch of the Royal Exchange through a partnership with INFCLR (pronounced “influencer”), a leading athlete brand-building and NIL business management app for over 250 collegiate and professional sports organizations. The partnership is part of an ongoing response to major changes in college athletics stemming from 2021 changes to laws and NCAA rules that now mean college athletes can benefit from their name, image, and likeness. With all the complexities around NIL, Director of Athletics Greg Peterson says it’s important for Bethel to provide student-athletes with structure. “Working with INFLCR will not only provide opportunities for our student-athletes, it handles the compliance requirements and also provides integrated marketing opportunities that can assist as Bethel University seeks to expand our reach,” he says. “I'm so excited about this step and to see how it can enhance our students’ experiences.”

Many see this as a way for student-athletes to pursue opportunities that match Bethel’s mission as a Christ-centered university. Assistant Athletic Director for Engagement Nick Cocalis says nonprofit and ministry organizations will have the opportunity to post NIL opportunities with no payment necessary on the Royal Exchange. “This will allow student-athletes at Bethel to support their favorite charities by using their name, image, and likeness to benefit these organizations at no cost,” says Cocalis, who also coaches men’s golf. “We hope this creates a culture of giving for our student-athletes and gives them a safe and easy platform to make a kingdom impact with their athletic careers at Bethel.”

Hannah Wilhite ’22

As Bethel launches the Royal Exchange, student-athletes like Hannah Wilhite ’22 are excited to see what it will mean for them. “I think myself, along with many others, were very excited to know that there would be new possibilities and opportunities for us as student-athletes,” says Wilhite, a volleyball player who received a fifth year of eligibility. “For Bethel to be the second D3 school to provide INFLCR to its athletes is a major step for athletics.”

Volleyball player Hannah Wilhite ’22 is excited by the possibility of combining her faith and her athletics platform. “God has given me this ability to play volleyball at a high level and I should take any chance I’m given to glorify Him through it,” says Wilhite, who earned a degree in nursing last year and gained a fifth year of eligibility after the pandemic. “To be able to partner with charities and nonprofits that align with Bethel‘s mission would be an amazing opportunity as a Christian athlete.” Golfer Will Karkoc ’25 agreed, saying he’s excited to see Bethel students be ambassadors for Christ using the gifts the Creator has given them. “Any way that I can serve the kingdom, I’m ready for it!” says Karkoc. “I think it is a great opportunity that Bethel students can be ambassadors for Christ and help those in our community through nonprofits and charities. I am looking forward to where this mission takes me.”

Wilhite, who is now pursuing an M.A. in Strategic Leadership, admits many Bethel athletes expected NIL news was coming, but she didn’t know what to expect. She described her initial reaction to the launch as excited and curious, noting she’s open to exploring what it will mean for herself and others. “It is so exciting that Bethel, as a D3 school, gets to provide this chance for their athletes,” she says. “I am going to look into this program and I am open to exploring the Royal Exchange and what it might bring. I am also excited to see what my fellow student-athletes can do with this program as well.”

“Any way that I can serve the kingdom, I’m ready for it! I think it is a great opportunity that Bethel students can be ambassadors for Christ and help those in our community through nonprofits and charities. I am looking forward to where this mission takes me.”

— Golfer Will Karkoc '25
While many initial NIL deals centered on endorsements for athletes in major Division I NCAA programs, opportunities are taking shape for DIII athletes at universities like Bethel. After tracking NIL changes in recent years, a Bethel athletics committee decided to seek ways to best support athletes. The partnership with INFLCR will provide a framework and platform where businesses and nonprofits can connect with students. “By partnering with an industry expert in INFLCR, we are creating a trusted space to support our student-athletes,” Cocalis says. “Our goal is to set student-athletes up for success with a kingdom-minded approach and integrity in seeking and securing opportunities.”

Student-athletes will be able to broker NIL deals through the INFLCR in two ways. First, they can use Global Exchange, an app-based platform where student-athletes will be able to view and participate in NIL opportunities available to student-athletes across the nation. Global Exchange’s partners include Meta, TikTok, Vantage Sports (which helps student-athletes monetize private coaching opportunities), Bluewire podcasts, Campus Ink (which deals with apparel opportunities), and many more. Second, student-athletes can pursue opportunities directly through the Royal Exchange, a web/app platform where they can view, participate, and pitch NIL opportunities with local businesses specific to Bethel student-athletes. “Both platforms allow student-athletes to independently negotiate and sign deals while having the proper moderation, approval, and compliance needed from Bethel,” Cocalis says.
The Royal Exchange.

Bethel student-athletes will now be able to pursue name, image, and likeness deals through the INFLCR. They’ll be able to use Global Exchange to view NIL opportunities available to student-athletes across the nation, and they’ll be able to connect directly with businesses and nonprofits through the Royal Exchange.

The Royal Exchange will be a free service where student-athletes can communicate and negotiate deals directly with commercial enterprises, or they can make free deals with nonprofits and charities. INFLCR and Bethel will not be party to the negotiations. After a business or individual registers on Royal Exchange, they can access a searchable database of Bethel student-athletes, and filter through a variety of criteria. They can message the student-athlete directly in the application or request the student-athlete's contact information (or that of their representative) to discuss NIL transactions, provided they are within legal protocols. Student-athletes can choose not to participate in the Royal Exchange.

Broadly speaking, NIL deals may include autographs, promoting brands on social media, third-party media endorsements, running camps or clinics, providing private sports lessons, personal appearances, and more. While NIL is leading to multimillion-dollar deals for DI athletes, Associate Athletic Director Gretchen Hunt anticipates smaller deals for DIII student-athletes. “Small colleges are really just at the beginning of this process, compared to D1,” says Hunt, who is also head coach of the women’s volleyball team. For example, Hunt expects local restaurants or businesses could partner with student-athletes on social media deals, or hockey players could appear at birthday parties at ice rinks. “Students that have been building their brands or are particularly creative, or driven entrepreneurs, will have more opportunities,” Hunt says. “Students can create podcasts or coaching businesses—with insurance support—more seamlessly through our INFLCR partnership, so some of them might really be motivated to build something.”

As a business and political science major, Karkoc is excited about opportunities to have a kingdom impact through Royal Exchange while also potentially pursuing business opportunities. He sees it as a possible way student-athletes could make money toward their tuition, and he sees the potential for building a network while in college. “This could be a great opportunity for individuals to get in touch with business professionals, which could lead to future opportunities in the working world or further sponsorships,” he says.

Will Karkoc ’25

Golfer Will Karkoc ’25 is excited about the many possibilities opened up by Bethel’s partnership with INFLCR to launch the Royal Exchange. “This opportunity Bethel is giving me creates a platform for me to use my NIL for kingdom impact,” he says.

Transformation through athletics.

At Bethel University, athletics are a life-changing experience for student-athletes. More than 500 Bethel students—about 25% of the student body—participate in intercollegiate athletics. Bethel athletics transform students’ lives, building character and maturity that last a lifetime. As graduates, athletes use the life lessons they learned in sports to lead and serve with commitment, dedication, and determination.

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