The High Tide Traditions Collective: It's being designed to dominate the marketBy Tim Gayle
As universities throughout the country tried to evaluate the changing face of college sports, particularly in regard to name, image and likeness, some moved quickly to assert themselves in the “new” market. Others, such as the University of Alabama, moved cautiously while implementing a model they believed could withstand the coming changes in the world of collegiate sports.
Larry Morris and Paul Register established High Tide Traditions and reached out to Phillip Stutts, a best-selling author and the founder and CEO of Win BIG Media (a corporate marketing agency) and Go BIG Media (a political marketing ad firm), to help develop the Crimson Tide’s NIL collective.
“Alabama wasn’t the first on the market and there was a reason,” Stutts said. “They said we have to do this the right way. Larry Morris, who started the collective, and Paul Register came up with an incredible plan and I was fortunate enough to be brought in to market what they created.
“They bought into the ideas that we have for the marketing and they are super committed to making sure we have the best collective out there. It’s just been a great fit for all of us.”
Stutts may be the foremost authority on the subject. Three years ago, he appeared on the Paul Finebaum Show to warn about an issue (name, image and likeness) that few people had ever heard of.
As college administrators, media representatives and college football fans scrambled in recent months to get a better grasp of NIL, Stutts has been candid about its immediate impact on the college football world.
“The players are in charge right now,” he said. “Then, you add the transfer portal into that mechanism and right now, it’s unbridled free agency for the players.”
High Tide Traditions and the Crimson Tide athletic department, he said recently, would need some time (he used a two-year timeline on the Paul Finebaum Show) before their model would be at peak performance. But that’s not to say, he adds quickly, that Alabama isn’t ready to compete in the NIL world.
“I don’t know if we’re far behind,” he said. “We finished No. 2 in recruiting last year in football and in basketball Coach (Nate) Oats has done a great job. I think Alabama athletics is healthy. But it’s the wild west right now. The way I would liken it is we’re literally in a marathon right now. When you run a marathon there are two types of people -- there are those that run out of the starting line and sprint as fast as they can, so there’s a picture of them in front. But within about two miles, they run out of breath, they run out of energy and they fall off and start walking. Then there’s another marathon runner that trains for months and years and when the gun goes off, they stay the same pace throughout the race and win the marathon, or place very highly. The NIL is very similar.
“You’ve obviously seen a lot of universities that have sprinted out of the gates and that has helped them take a lead. But either the NCAA or the federal government is going crack down on this and have some type of restriction on this at some point. And the model that is in place right now is just not sustainable. What we’re going to do at High Tide Traditions is put a model together that no matter what changes come from the NCAA, the SEC or the federal government, that we are prepared and it will be successful on day one, just like it’s being successful right now.
“We know this is a marathon. There are other universities that don’t understand this is a marathon and they think it is a sprint. And that’s the real difference in what we’re trying to do right now.”
The model Alabama is building, as head coach Nick Saban pointed out recently, allows for every player to make money, while those with the highest marketability, obviously, earn more.
“I told our players we’re going to have a collective, but everybody’s going to get the same amount of opportunity from that collective,” Saban said. “Now you can go earn however much you want. And I tell recruits the same thing, because our job is not to buy you to come to school here.”
Stutts said the analytical research used by High Tide Traditions is designed for every player on a roster at Alabama, regardless of sport, to have an opportunity to earn money.
“We’re working with the largest data collection, analytics and AI (artificial intelligence) company in America and we have a database of 230 million American consumers, 550 million connected devices, we’re tracking 10 billion online purchasing decisions every day and a trillion searches,” Stutts said. “So when a business comes to us and says we want to work with one of the players, then we say great, with our data, we can tell them what type of players will work best with their clients and then use those players to create ads and messages in real name, image and likeness ads, not fake ones, that focus on the customers.
“In order for this thing to be successful, the businesses have to succeed in utilizing players. If they do, then the businesses will hire more players and the businesses will use the players for longer periods of time. Now, a player says, I’m not transferring because I just got a two-year deal or a three-year deal. That’s what we’ve got to create. That is the only model that is going to work with NIL long-term.
“When I sat down with Coach Saban, his guidance was follow the rules and give our players an opportunity to legitimately make money. And that’s what we’re building.”
Stutts is adamant the High Tide Traditions model can earn money even for those underclassmen or players that are lower on the depth charter who suffer from relative anonymity.
“We can line up all players and figure out the best businesses they should be working with because almost everyone of these players has a social media talent,” he said. “Who is following these players and how can we utilize the businesses? Let’s say it’s a third-string center at Alabama and you’re like, ‘How is that guy going to make money?’ Because the collective isn’t for Bryce Young, the collective is for all the other players who may not bank a lot of money.
“If that player is from Gadsden, Alabama, we will be, in time, going after businesses in Gadsden, Alabama because that player has followers from Gadsden. He may not be on the playing field but the data that we have tells us he would have an impact on a (Gadsden) business and would help that business make money if we utilized him in the marketing of that business.”
While Stutts is confident about the NIL collective established by Alabama, it’s less certain how the college sports world will be affected by an ever-changing arena seemingly without rules. Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin recently told Ross Dellinger in a Sports Illustrated article that Alabama quarterback Bryce Young should jump into the transfer portal on an annual basis as a bargaining tool to renegotiate his NIL deal.
“That’s where the players are right now, without any kind of standard,” Stutts observed. “That’s why Coach Saban is so frustrated right now, because there are no guidelines. What we’re trying to figure out is how the players can have an equal opportunity when they come to the university -- all schools, not just Alabama -- but once they have that opportunity, the players have every right to go out and make more, but there should be an agreement that the players can make a baseline of dollars. That’s where Coach Saban is. That’s not where things are right now and at High Tide Traditions, we’ve played within the rules from day one. Other universities are flouting the rules. And they may get away with it. And if they do, OK, but that’s not the way we’re going to do it at Alabama.”
A recent article in The Athletic pointed at the recruitment of five-star quarterback Nico Iamaleava, who reportedly moved Tennessee to the top of his recruiting wish list after sources say he was promised a multi-year NIL deal worth $8 million once he signs with the Volunteers.
“If the University of Tennessee wants to bring in and pay a quarterback $8 million that may not play and if they go 4-7 next year, do you think the donors are going to give any more money to the 4-7 team or a coach that’s on their way out?” Stutts asked. “What we’re building here, it doesn’t matter if it’s coach Saban, coach Oats or another coach, that’s what we have to build. It’s the only way it’s going to work.
“I’m certainly happy if no other university plays by those rules because in about 18 months we will be the most dominant collective on the market.”
Stutts has worked with several Fortune 200 businesses as well as three successful presidential campaigns. His web site calls his marketing agency “foolproof.” It’s no wonder, as he describes the work of High Tide Traditions, he has a self-assured confidence that the University of Alabama is handling the NIL situations in the correct manner.
“The model we’re building is extremely flexible,” he said. “The donor-driven collectives that most of the universities out there are establishing has massive problems and no one’s talking about it. The donors are all of sudden going to become the GMs of college football, basketball and other sports. They’re going to say, ‘Why isn’t my player playing right now?’ And they’re going to call the coach, they’re going to call the AD and they’re creating more chaos than you can imagine.
“What happens when you pay a player a million dollars and he doesn’t start? Or maybe he does start and he’s not the best player out there, but because he’s making so much money they feel like they have to play him? What is that going to do internally in the locker room? That’s going to create a horrible culture within those teams. And what happens when that player is paid a million dollars and they don’t start? They’re going to immediately transfer.”
The most important aspect of High Tide Traditions, it’s important to point out, is its structure. Where other schools such as Florida, Penn State, Michigan, Virginia Tech and Texas have multiple collectives in place, Alabama has just one.
“That’s a problem,” Stutts said. “What happens when a player signs up with one of the collectives and it’s an utter failure? Then the player is going to be upset because their best friend signed up with a successful collective and they didn’t. Then you’re going to have player revolts. That’s a problem with the donor-led model. You’ve already seen this with the University of Miami.
“Business people have started these to make money. They’re all fighting with each other. They’re not making big money. The deals they’re doing are $5,000, $10,000 deals with businesses. I talked to a big-name sports agent in New York and he said the last thing we want to do is get in the collective business. We want players that are going to make $40 million, not $40,000. That’s the purpose of a collective, to make $40,000.”
Another important component is the business-driven model of High Tide Traditions. Stutts was asked whether he pays any attention to the collectives at other schools (he doesn’t), which prompted him to comment on the “broken model” of 501c3 collectives that will receive increased scrutiny from the Internal Revenue Service or the subscription models that Auburn and other schools are using, where donors provide money for services from a player, such as autographs, weekly Zoom calls, etc.
“Auburn has issues because their collective is trying to do subscriptions and I’m 99.99 percent positive that will be an utter failure, not just for Auburn but for other universities that are trying it,” he said. “I come from the political world and when a politician decides to raise money, we do these kind of incentive things as well and they’re almost impossible to make work. Maybe they do it for a month or two, but ultimately it’s totally unsustainable.”
Alabama’s business-driven model, he adds, will continue to improve with each passing day.
“It works right now,” Stutts said, “but what we’re doing is building on top of it and optimizing every single month, how to make it the most high-performance data and analytics-driven collective out there to benefit the players more than any other collective on the market.
“We’re making it better every single month and for the next 18 months that’s the way it’s going to roll.”