Imagine a day when Gophers athletes are receiving millions of dollars in name, image and likeness (NIL) payments from Minnesota's big businesses, putting them on par with peers across major college sports.

The Gophers are hoping for their own version of what the University of Memphis landed in April with a $25 million NIL contribution from FedEx.

Why not dream big on getting an NIL supercharge from among the state's 15 Fortune 500 companies?

"FedEx is a game-changer," Gophers athletics director Mark Coyle said. "There's no doubt."

Brett Schreiner is the new point person trying to help Coyle and the Gophers attract a big-business NIL investment like the one Tigers athletics scored from the Memphis-based shipping giant.

Schreiner was fundraising on the university's academic side before taking on his new role as senior manager, business development-NIL. He works for Learfield, the official rights holder for the Gophers and hundreds of other collegiate programs. The Gophers were the 13th program within Learfield's national footprint to hire someone for an NIL-specific job.

"We're trying to kind of be on the cutting edge with this role," Schreiner said. "We're trying to work with a lot of companies to make NIL more important to them."

Schreiner, who played Division III football at Wisconsin-Eau Claire and worked in athletics at his alma mater and Wisconsin-Stout, is trying to change the way big companies think of NIL in Minnesota.

The most familiar NIL path involves donations to a collective, such as Dinkytown Athletes, which helps athletes get paid through endorsements. A challenge facing collectives is trying to explain to larger businesses how they can benefit from this process.

Why should Minnesota's Fortune 500 companies, such as 3M, Target, Best Buy, Land O'Lakes and General Mills, invest in NIL deals with Gophers athletes? Many of these corporations already donate to the U in other areas.

In 2017, 3M announced a 14-year, $11.2 million Gophers athletics naming rights sponsorship with the Mariucci hockey arena. NIL is completely different, but the Gophers have talked to 3M about giving.

"3M and the University of Minnesota have had a strong relationship for nearly 100 years and our involvement in Gopher Athletics is one piece of a larger partnership," 3M spokesman Mike Laninga said. "The Gopher athletic department was very helpful in explaining how the NIL process works and how to properly engage if we chose to do so."

Schreiner works closely with Jeremiah Carter, Gophers senior associate AD for NIL/policy and risk management. Schreiner explained a crucial step to convincing corporations to invest in NIL is getting them to see the value of influencer marketing. Using social media and video messaging, athletes can use their personal brand and social media following to bring exposure to companies big and small.

"I don't think this path has gotten as much press," Schreiner said. "This basically gives student-athletes a chance to be influencer marketers for companies. That can mean a lot of different things. This can also teach athletes about developing their entrepreneurship and what they want their brand to be."

Sure, the Timberwolves' Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns or the Vikings' Justin Jefferson are popping up on billboards and ads all over town. Could Gophers athletes be in the running for similar opportunities?

A recent example was Gophers women's basketball leading scorer Mara Braun's image being used on a billboard in town to promote Affinity Plus, a Minneapolis credit union. Braun has nearly 28,000 followers on Instagram.

"How can we pair a company with student-athletes and the Gophers' brand to touch the hearts of fans across the state and the nation?" Schreiner said. "We can humanize the companies with athletes from the University of Minnesota and not just from the local pro sports teams."

U.S. companies went from investing an estimated $1.7 billionin influencer marketing in 2016 to $16.4 billion in 2022, according to data from Other data from the site projects that investments in influencer marketing by businesses nationally could increase to $24 billion this year.

In late February, state legislation stripped the NCAA's ability to regulate NIL in recruiting, opening doors for collectives to negotiate directly with prospects before they signed. That changed NIL in a big way.

An agreement Thursday between the NCAA and Power Five conferences opened the door for direct payments to athletes — another massive-change moment for college sports. This points toward Minnesota and other schools taking control of the NIL process, which would make Schreiner's goal of connecting large companies to NIL funding even more critical for the Gophers.

"It's part of the growth and evolution we will need as an athletics department to best position us for the future," Carter said. "A position like Brett's is going to be relevant and needed no matter where NIL goes."