Montlake Futures is chasing more than just money.
Which, in itself, is noteworthy — considering the for-profit corporation was founded by UW donors and supporters in November explicitly to develop name, image and likeness deals for Husky athletes. That could encompass autograph sales, personal merchandising, endorsement deals, sponsored social-media posts or ads, YouTube/Twitch streaming channels, training lessons/camps, speaking engagements and more.
But the greater goal, according to Montlake Futures executive director and general manager Emmy Armintrout, is to provide opportunities that extend beyond a lucrative bottom line.
“The new goal for us is really creating opportunities that create value for all the participants beyond just the monetary compensation,” Armintrout said. “So for the student-athlete, it’s the fact that the engagement is actually enjoyable and fun and authentic to them, or building a skill, making connections, whatever it is. However we can amplify that, that’s what we are working on.”
And though Montlake Futures — which is technically unaffiliated with the university — is less than four months old, Armintrout’s work extends even further. A Seattle native and Stanford graduate, Armintrout co-founded Rivall, a management and marketplace platform for adult sports that was sold in 2019. Then, while earning her MBA from UW’s Foster School of Business in 2020, she inquired about the athletic department’s embryonic name, image and likeness operation.
“Back in 2019, 2020, there were all these committees and the NCAA was proposing all these fairly complex rules around how NIL was going to look,” Armintrout recalled. “I reached out to the athletic department and just asked, ‘Hey, do you have anyone thinking about this?’ Because it was mid-pandemic, they just didn’t have the bandwidth.
“So they brought me on to do basically research and strategy work for them, which I did for a little under a year. Fast-forward, and when (UW donors) were putting Montlake Futures together, my name came up as someone who might be able to run it.”
Which, essentially, is what Armintrout is doing now — navigating NIL’s murky waters while a federal law remains frustratingly out of reach. In a landscape with nonexistent NCAA oversight, where many assume donors are buying recruits with endorsement deals, Montlake Futures vows to strike a balance between profit and integrity.
That’s obviously easier said than done. But Armintrout says it’s still worth doing.
“It’s not only important to the ethos on campus and us at Montlake Futures but also to the UW alumni base that NIL looks and feels high integrity here — which of course presents unique challenges, but I think is a pretty great thing to strive for,” she said. “So not to say that we’re the only collective (NIL company) going for that, but what makes us unique is what makes UW and the UW alumni base unique. It’s the history that we have, the culture that we have and the access to this amazing city.”
It also helps that Armintrout has access to former UW football coach Chris Petersen, who acts as Montlake Futures’ “lifetime transformation leader” — and, among other things, its walking gut check.
“Chris has been great. He’s very much involved,” Armintrout said. “He’s just kind of a guiding presence. I think a lot of what has to guide us at this point, just because this is the wild West (without federal NIL regulations or oversight), is the gut check. Does this (deal or partnership) pass the gut check?
“Chris Petersen is the embodiment of a gut check. He’s a really principled, high-integrity guy. So having him onboard and having his counsel has been super valuable. We’ll figure out more cool ways to leverage his involvement in the future, as well.”
When Montlake Futures officially launched in November, it also announced Alaska Airlines, Amazon, Costco, Nordstrom and Precept Wine as “founding partners.” And though those affiliations have yet to yield meaningful NIL deals, Armintrout said that process is “still ongoing. There’s some good stuff brewing with those companies, and that’s kind of all I can say right now.”
Of course, proof matters more than promises.
But considering the Fortune 500 companies that reside in Seattle, there’s potential for NIL as a long-term selling point.
“I do think, in regards to Washington, (the immediate impact of NIL) has been overblown,” said 247Sports national recruiting analyst Cooper Petagna, who served as Petersen’s director of player personnel at UW in 2018 and 2019. “If you’re in the SEC and you’re competing against Texas A&M and Texas, you’ve got to be really proactive there. But for Washington and the Pac-12, I do think there’s some time to get up to speed.
“These are going to be questions that are going to be part of the common practice and process now for recruits and their families as they come on campus. You don’t just want to pitch them a plan. You want to show your players having success.”
Petagna also thinks the Seattle market is primed for NIL opportunities.
“There may not be a better place in the country (for NIL),” he said. “Sure, there are a lot of big markets out there. But when you talk about Seattle and the companies there, the possibilities are endless at a place like that, in terms of being able to get your guys involved and get them in some advantageous situations. That is not only beneficial for them currently, but that’s what you’re selling to your next class.”
So, what does Montlake Futures have to sell? To this point, the list of high-profile NIL partnerships — such as Terrell Brown Jr. and Daejon Davis’ paid appearances on KJR-AM last week — is somewhat scarce. But Montlake Futures is also beginning to sponsor events, such as a UW football meet-and-greet for fans at the Conibear Shellhouse from 1 to 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, before the Apple Cup men’s basketball game. In doing so, the company is personally paying Husky football players to participate.
“If there’s some sort of opportunity that feels like it’s aligned with what we’re trying to build here, Montlake Futures will sometimes sponsor that opportunity and make it possible for it to become a compensated opportunity for a student-athlete,” Armintrout explained.
“(Another) thing I think sets us apart is the fact that we’re completely donor-funded, so we don’t take a cut (of an athlete’s NIL earnings). We’re happy for deals to happen outside of us, just as much as we’re happy to support deals that go through us.”
Even so, Armintrout understands that more work needs to be done.
The mission, according to Montlake Futures’ website, is to “create a best-in-class NIL ecosystem in Seattle.”
Or, in other words, to win in the wild West without selling your soul.
“It’s continuing to ramp up,” Armintrout said. “We’ve learned a ton. The operations of this are starting to get a little bit more streamlined and our value proposition is becoming more clear. So I think this is definitely just the beginning of what you’ll see from us. Stay tuned.”
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