Eggers – Bjornstad: Dam Nation intends to get it damn right
Published: Nov. 15, 2023
By Kerry Eggers | www.KerryEggers.com
On November 10, Dam Nation celebrated its first anniversary as the official NIL collective of Oregon State athletics.
Co-founders and executive directors Kyle Bjornstad and Dick Oldfield have spent countless hours in an attempt to help provide NIL opportunities for Oregon State athletes.
Both are former OSU athletes. Bjornstad, 38, played basketball for Jay John and Craig Robinson and later served 13 years in the school’s athletic department, including a stint as AD Scott Barnes’ chief of staff. Bjornstad is the second-best athlete in his family — so far. Wife Mandi Rodriguez was an All-America gymnast at OSU in the late 2000s and will be inducted into the Oregon State Athletics Hall of Fame on November 10. Oldfield, 62, ran track in the early 1980s and was an Olympic Trials 1,500-meters finalist in 1984. He is a retired high-end Nike executive with 36 years in the sports footwear industry.
Both are donating their time to the cause. On top of operating costs, neither is taking a dime from Dam Nation’s coffers.
I got with Bjornstad this week for a question-and-answer session about the process and the future with Dam Nation.
KE: The first Oregon State collective was “Giant Killers,” directed by former OSU athlete Scott Sanders. Has Dam Nation absorbed Giant Killers? Are they done?
KB: They’re not done. Scott is still working, if certain things come his way. We talk quite often. Since Dam Nation’s arrival, he has pulled back I would say about 98 percent.
KE: Scott told me a mission was to provide an annual all-campus parking pass — worth $500 — to all 105 Oregon State football players this year.
KB: They did the parking pass thing. That was Scott’s goal — to do something special for the whole team.
KE: A year into Dam Nation, how do you feel it has gone for you?
KB: I feel like it’s gone really well. The way I wanted to grow this thing was the Oregon State way — to do it organically, to get as many people involved as possible, both from an athlete to the donor perspective. It doesn’t happen overnight. The year has gone fast. I’m pleased with what we have been able to accomplish.
KE: You told me this past summer the path to which you thought NIL should evolve, that it should not be a donor-funded initiative. It should be funded by businesses and marketing dollars. Is that happening with Dam Nation?
KB: It is happening. That first year or two, we know we are going to rely on donor support as we get it going. But support from the business end is catching traction. One thing I’ve learned: A lot of the businesses are earmarking their marketing dollars almost a year in advance. We have had great conversations with (representatives) from many groups. Great things are in the works. Most of them won’t happen until 2024, which is fine.
KE: How many OSU athletes are you working with?
KB: Every student-athlete you see on our website (damnationcollective.com) — there are 66 listed right now — those are athletes for whom we have initiated an opportunity, and they have already completed their responsibilities. There are easily double that number of athletes we have worked with who have opportunities that have been accepted but not yet completed. That is based on the needs of a business we’re pairing them with. (The business reps) wanted to wait until November or December to line up with their campaign. In total, we’re actively working with between 125 or 130 kids in 12 sports.
My goal is that by December 1, every student-athlete at Oregon State will have an opportunity for an NIL deal. Of course, the kids have the right to turn down an opportunity and not participate. But every single one of them on all of our rosters will have an opportunity from Dam Nation to participate with NIL.
KE: I notice the website for the “Wood Shop” — Oregon State’s NIL marketplace — is still operating, but looks dated.
KB: We aren’t involved with that — we can’t be. That’s Oregon State-driven in a partnership with Opendorse. They started the Wood Shop as an outlet early on, when there was no collective. I’m not sure how active that is anymore, with our collective going full bore.
KE: How are you working with the athletes? Are you setting up events? Are you connecting them with donors?
KB: It’s not so much connecting them with donors. I work with the athletes directly on opportunities. As contributions come in, I’ll pair athletes with non-profits or businesses with promotional duties such as in-person appearances, autograph signings, radio and TV commercials.
KE: You’re involved with Oregon State’s “Dam Hunger Drive,” which kicked off last week.
KB: I’m excited about a partnership with Tillamook Creamery and Safeway on the project to raise awareness for food items for those in need. Just today, our student-athletes help unload and sort donated products — either those that they raised themselves or were donated by Tillamook or Safeway — at a local warehouse. Then at the Stanford game (on November 11), we will encourage fans to bring donated items to the Stanford game. Our student-athletes will be on Parker Plaza outside Reser accepting items, signing autographs and taking pictures with and talking with fans. There is a compensation piece in this project for the kids, but it’s not huge. This is more of a community involvement endeavor.
There’s so much conversation about kids getting paid all this money. That’s part of NIL. The other part is getting them out and doing things that are beneficial to everybody. The kids want to get out and get involved in different community activities. We can help facilitate some of that.
KE: How has the uncertainty of the “Pac-2” and Oregon State’s athletics future affected Dam Nation?
KB: As the Pac-12 was breaking up, I could see it going one of two ways. One, people could get reluctant to jump in, not knowing what was coming. The thinking with the other way would be, “We have a really good product and we’re humming along, so people need to get involved and do their part.” That’s what has happened. It lit a spark in Beaver Nation to help the cause and spread the word. There are a lot of uncertainties, but people are answering the call. They love the Beavs. The fans are responding well.
KE: On your website, you offer boosters the chance to become “Diamond” and “Platinum” club supporters by contributing $500 or $250 per month, respectively. How do you feel about the response?
KB: I’m pleased. We have 26 donors in the Diamond category and another seven in Platinum. We have some significant contributions on that level, and that will continue to grow. This is a building process. Looking back a year and thinking how NIL was viewed when we started — I’m proud of that number. People are starting to see Dam Nation as really doing it right. I’m flattered by the number of people willing to step up at the level they have.
KE: Your “Mission to $1 Million” challenge campaign launched the second week of September. An anonymous donor is matching dollar for dollar up to $1 million coming in from Beaver Nation. I see that you are about halfway there.
KB: This initiative came about after a conversation I had with a Beaver supporter, who understood the importance of NIL in college athletics. We are already at $490,000 in contributions in two months. To me, that’s impressive. Major donations are cherished, but so are donations of any amount. No matter how the dollar arrives at the collective, it will be accepted. I honestly believe we will reach our ($1 million) goal in the next four to six weeks — hopefully by the end of football’s regular season.
KE: How will you use that $2 million?
KB: Every dollar that comes in is going directly to student-athletes. It will be spread out across all sports and teams. When people contribute, they can earmark their dollars to a sport, and we will always deliver. If they’re not earmarked, they go to the general fund, and we spread that out. We want to be a broad-based collective, not one that supports just one or two sports. I strongly advise against money directly earmarked for an athlete, but we are happy to take donations specific to a sport.
KE: Is there money coming to Dam Nation outside of the Mission to $1 Million?
KB: Every dollar coming in currently is going to “Mission.” I’m having very good conversations with folks who can move the needle on that quickly, but I would much rather hit the goal with contributions from 2,000 Beaver fans than with five. I want to get people involved, whether it’s Diamond club or someone giving $10 a month, or a one-time donation of $20. I believe it is important to get the masses involved, to help get our name out there. With that, you’re going to climb that ladder slowly rather than with just a big gift or two. Will I accept a major gift? Absolutely. But this is about Beaver Nation joining to support our athletics.
KE: How much of a difference can $2 million make?
KB: A huge difference. The biggest part of that is football, of course. We need the support going into next year as we continue to grow. But I look at it as a means to help the other sports as well.
KE: Let me play devil’s advocate for a minute. Shedeur Sanders’ NIL valuation is $4.8 million. Travis Hunter, Caleb Williams and Arch Manning are all over $2 million. Bo Nix is at $1.7 million. It seems impossible to compete against those kind of numbers.
KB: Those numbers are crazy. I don’t know if they are really getting those numbers. I’ve gotten that question a lot. I go back to the foundation of how we’re built. It’s about providing meaningful opportunities for student-athletes. We’re not here to make them rich. Our coaches recruit the right type of kids to Corvallis. We need to point to our success. What we have done is working, and we are only going to get better as we get the resources to do better. In football this season, our program led the nation in terms of losing the fewest number of kids in the transfer portal. It’s about culture.
With our collective, it’s about spreading opportunities through the locker room and not being top-heavy. That’s a perfect alignment with what works at Oregon State, and has always worked. Take care of the student-athletes while they are here. We’re not interested in paying high school kids to come here, but it does help us in recruiting when prospects know that Dam Nation will take care of them. Those (athletes getting) big paydays — those kids weren’t going to end up in Corvallis, anyway. It’s about retention and doing right by the kids. That speaks for itself.
KE: You recently had silent auction items on your website. There was a football and two mini-helmets signed by quarterback DJ Uiagalelei. The three items sold for $1,265 through Givebutter.com. Does he get the proceeds?
KB: Givebutter is a crowd-funding platform we are using specifically for the Mission to $1 Million campaign.
All of the dollars raised on that platform go directly toward the Mission project. Some time ago, we had DJ at a small autograph signing, and I had him sign those items. He got paid for his time, but doesn’t get the money raised for the items.
KE: I looked up the website for Cougar Collective, the collective for Washington State. Former WSU and NFL players Robbie Tobeck and Jed Collins are co-chairmen. The great Jack “The Throwing Samoan” Thompson is on the board of directors. Are your collectives affiliated?
KB: Not officially affiliated, but I have had tons of conversations with them — mostly just comparing notes. Conversations about the Pac-12 and picking their brain. There are a lot of mutual components to our collectives, just as there are to the two athletic departments and universities.
KE: Out of your own pocket, you paid a substantial fee to Learfield Communications for official collective rights at Oregon State. Was that a one-time or annual fee?
KB: It runs for a couple of years. I can renew if I think that’s what we want to do. That relationship has been excellent, has done everything I hoped it would. Being able to leverage our relationship to get our branding and message out because we’re a sponsor.
KE: What do you get from the relationship?
KB: It unlocks the ability to use the Oregon State athletes in our promotions. On our billboards on Highways 34 or 99 or the one close to Autzen Stadium in Eugene, they show our athletes in their uniforms. You can’t do that without a licensed agreement. We use (the athletes) in radio commercials — three or four a game in football, basketball and baseball — and in signage in and around Reser Stadium. Inside, the ribbon boards have our logo, website and tag line. They are displayed 30 to 40 times in every game at Reser and in Gill Coliseum. We have also been able to do email blasts to season ticketholders, and we have a standing ad on their website. When people see Dam Nation, I want them to see the connection to Oregon State as the official collective of its athletes. This lets us do that.
KE: Beaver outfielder Gavin Turley has an NIL contract with Bose Corporation. Was that arranged by Dam Nation?
KB: We are working with Gavin on some things, but we were not involved with that one. I think it’s fantastic. Some businesses reach out to our athletes directly. The kids have that ability to make their own deals if a brand reaches out to them. DJ has a deal with Beats Corporation. He got everybody on the team a pair of Beats headphones. For DJ to do that — that’s a really cool deal. There will be more.
KE: I made a few suggestions in my August column about perks you might offer to Dam Nation contributors, such as sit-downs with former Beaver greats, a business lesson from Bucks owner Wes Edens or the McMenamins, or even a photo shoot with Sara Underwood. Do you have any of those type of things going?
KB: I read your piece and have thought about it and some other ideas that we are taking to heart. We are going to do some things in the spring and summer with former Beaver greats and current kids. A lunch, a dinner, a roundtable — maybe raffle them off. Great opportunities. We’re going to do that.
KE: Dick Oldfield has become kind of your silent partner. I’m glad Dick was able to overcome the coaching he got in Little League to become a successful executive and good man. What are his duties with Dam Nation?
KB: Dick is focused on athlete relations. He is the point of contact for them, with day-to-day questions and alerting them to opportunities that come up. I couldn’t do this without him.
KE: Do you have any employees working with you?
KB: We don’t. We are super busy. I have to say, this has taken over my life. We will get to the point where we will need help, either from employee or internship opportunities. One of the reasons for not having that yet: I want to have visibility on everything going on, on the decisions being made, on what is being communicated to the athletes. I’m happy to take on additional work to make sure everything is being done the way it’s supposed to be.
KE: What are the biggest obstacles you face?
KB: The biggest is the education component. How do you spread the widest net possible? We have done a pretty good job. We have almost 1,500 followers on social media. I want to see that number grow. How do you spread that message and educate on how we’re doing it?
There is still a lot of negativity around NIL — a lot of times for good reason. But we are doing it right. We are doing it the Beaver way. To Beaver Nation: We need your help. It’s hard work, but it’s absolutely worth it. The (destruction of the) Pac-12 was an obstacle for us. That’s going to be there until there is a resolution. But you know what? I think we are going to be totally fine. We are too relevant. We are too good. The facilities are great. The coaches are great. Until there is clarity, some people are going to be hesitant to jump in. But I’m going to continue to beat the drum.