Meet the Pack: NC State NIL collective focuses on driving strong fan engagement

Collectives across the country have partnered with student-athletes at the universities they work with in order to build uniform and safe organizations that can maximize NIL opportunities for athletes of all sports.

North Carolina State is one of the leading universities in the nation for NIL and Pack of Wolves, the NC State-focused collective, has been an example of the successes that come from having a stable organization working alongside student-athletes.

“It’s amazing. They have everyone built in place to help us maximize our potential and they offer us deals and connections with people that will take us way outside of playing,” NC State basketball player D.J. Burns Jr. told The NIL Deal in a recent interview. “It gives us opportunities on the business side of things if we handle it right and it’s the perfect opportunity.”

Burns is one of over 115 Wolfpack student-athletes to partner with the collective. Pack of Wolves features student-athletes from almost every athletic program and offers each and every individual the opportunity to get involved and put their name, image and likeness to use.

Chris Vurnakes, the general manager of Pack of Wolves, noted that the task at hand is to “provide NIL specific opportunities for our student-athletes,” but how they go about it is broken up into three avenues.

“A big part of what we do is provide student-athletes the opportunity to get out in our community and partner with nonprofit organizations in the greater Raleigh area,” Vurnakes explained to The NIL Deal.

“Secondly, we have opportunities for student-athletes to do something we call ‘Meet the Pack’, which includes meet and greets, autograph sessions, photo sessions and other various events. Lastly, is corporate sponsorships. So bringing companies to student-athletes through Pack of Wolves, whether that’s an individual or in small groups, and allowing them to be a brand ambassador, having them headline an event, client entertainment opportunities and things of that nature.”

With opportunities available for every student-athlete, Pack of Wolves has established itself as the direct source for anything NIL-related at NC State. 

The university and Wolfpack community have also been essential in helping the collective grow and offer more opportunities for the athletes. While the student-athletes are benefiting financially, it also allows donors, fans and the community to have a more in-depth relationship with student-athletes and get a better understanding of the players competing at the highest level of collegiate athletics for their university.

“Organizations like the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, the Spirit League of North Carolina, the Boys and Girls Club, the YMCA: We connect our student-athletes with those organizations and find engagement opportunities for our student-athletes to work with those organizations in a meaningful way,” said Vurnakes.

Vurnakes notes that the ‘Meet the Pack’ events have been a huge success in the NC State community and have helped drive a stronger fan engagement with the university’s athletic program.

“We had a meet and greet event for our men’s basketball team just prior to the ACC tournament and it was a great example of what we do. We had over 200 fans show up for autographs, kids getting their jerseys and hats signed, photos and everything else we could do. It was awesome to see Wolfpack nation really show out for that event and it was fun.”

Burns couldn’t agree more.

“The meet and greets are great. The excitement on the kids’ faces, they think it’s the coolest thing ever. It’s just how I was when I met players like John Wall in high school,” said Burns. “It’s just pretty awesome to see how they react. It feels like you’re making their day.”

Burns just concluded his first season for the Wolfpack after transferring from Winthrop. Burns, the former Big South Conference Player of the Year in 2022, received little to no NIL attention before joining NC State, but has watched his platform grow and his brand become a marketable entity within the industry.

Through Pack of Wolves, Burns has been able to cash in on his name, image and likeness along with building a network of connections that will assist him beyond his college days.

“They have a lot of good things to offer and a lot of connections that will last for a lifetime. I would say that’s something that you can’t find too many places,” said Burns, who revealed that he has an upcoming NIL deal in the works.

“And if you can, it won’t be up to the caliber of NC State.”

Pack of Wolves had made a dramatic impact in the NIL space and has set an example for foundational success for all collectives across the nation. 

With funding and money dispersion acting as major issues for many who want to get involved with collectives such as Pack of Wolves, Vurnakes clearly defined the process that goes into ensuring student-athletes receive their fair share of the pot.

“We’re able to compensate student-athletes through tax deductible donations that we take through the collective. That is our foundation side: Having donors who make contributions to our collective in a tax deductible way and those tax deductible donations then fund these engagements for the student-athletes,” said Vurnakes.

RELATED: Friends of Nova’s Randy Foye, Ash Howard serve as ‘the engine’ for NIL at Villanova

After Blueprint Sports took over the collective last fall, Vurnakes was tasked with reconfiguring Pack of Wolves’ funding and remodeling the way it attracts potential student partnerships and fan engagement. He is already looking toward the future and evaluating how Pack of Wolves can continue to grow and make its mark in the NIL landscape in Raleigh and across the country.

“We will be rolling out a new membership model in a couple of weeks to allow our fans to engage with our student athletes in a very meaningful and personal way,” said Vurnakes. “But a lot of what we’re doing is going to be very similar to what we have been doing…

“We’ve got a lot going on and we take a lot of pride in the activities of our student-athletes.”

Nate Brown

General Manager

Nate Brown is the General Manager of Zags Collective, leading the charge to help amplify the opportunities for the Gonzaga student-athletes through NIL partnerships with local charities, fans and businesses. With over a decade of experience in the professional sports industry and as a former business owner in Spokane, Nate is a seasoned professional who knows what it takes to succeed. Most recently, he served as the National Sales Director for a prominent west-coast real estate company, where he was responsible for driving growth and retention. With a deep understanding of sales and marketing, Nate brings a wealth of knowledge to the table and is always seeking innovative ways to drive revenue and create partnerships.With a passion for ensuring the success of student-athletes both on and off the field, Nate is dedicated to providing the necessary resources to keep Gonzaga competitive on the national stage. He understands the importance of building and maintaining strong relationships with the community and local businesses, and works to maximize opportunities for Gonzaga’s student-athletes. As the son of two Gonzaga alumni, including a father who was a baseball pitcher and also a coach for the school, Nate has a great connection to the university and a passion for ensuring its continued success. Outside of work, Nate enjoys spending time with family, including his wife Jessica and their 16-year-old daughter Brooklynn and 12-year-old son Marcus. When not working or spending time with family, you can find Nate at any one of the amazing golf courses in Spokane, honing his swing!

Mike Smith

General Manager

Mike Smith joined Micconope 1851 in March 2023 and is excited to be the General Manager and looks forward to working with Blueprint Sports increase NIL revenue generation for Florida State University student-athletes. Smith comes to Micconope 1851 from Catawba College where he held the title as the Senior Director of Athletics, Development. Prior to working in Athletics at Catawba College, Mike served as the Associate Athletics Director for External Relations at Charleston Southern University. Smith has an impressive background in the collegiate athletics industry, having held senior level development and corporate sponsorship sales roles at The University of Southern Mississippi, Limestone University, the Sun Belt Conference, Florida Atlantic University, and with multimedia rights-holders Tele South Communications at the University of Mississippi, Learfield Sports at UNC Chapel Hill, and with International Sports Properties at Georgia Tech. Smith is a graduate of North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina, and holds a master’s degree in Business Management from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. In his new role here at Micconppe 1851, Smith will be responsible for raising major gifts for NIL deals as well as securing NIL corporate sponsorships for Florida State University student-athletes. Mike looks forward to helping ensure the FSU student-athletes have the resources and leadership opportunities to remain competitive nationally and positioned for success well beyond graduation. Mike is married to Katy Smith; the couple looks forward to relocating to Tallahassee, Florida, and becoming a part of the Micconope 1851 and Seminole family!

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