MS in Commerce Blog

Kellie Booth (M.S. in Commerce ’23) of CavFutures Is Making a Name for Herself in NIL

Booth says that working in NIL has allowed her to work in sports in a creative capacity, help empower student-athletes, and have a tangible impact on her community.

Kellie Booth

Kellie Booth knew that she wanted to work in sports, but she never expected to be working in Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL).

Raised in Charlottesville and an avid UVA sports fan growing up, Booth earned her undergraduate degree from Cornell University, where she studied Sociology and Inequality Studies, focusing on the impact of media representation, especially regarding female athletes. At Cornell, she played varsity polo and captained the team for her last two years. She was also with the Cornell Athletic Communications department for three years, producing video content, and even had the opportunity to work in the ESPN broadcasting booth.

With that wide range of experiences related to sports and student athletics, it seems fitting that she would find herself as the Director of Marketing, Media, and Athlete Engagement at CavFutures, the official NIL collective of Virginia Athletics. So why was she surprised to find herself launching her career in the NIL industry?

“Quite honestly, that was due to a lack of education on my part. I was aware of the concept but ignorant to the impact that NIL can have on student-athletes, athletics programs, and our community,” Booth says.

How she arrived at CavFutures is the result of multiple factors, but connections were initially forged through an important experience that came directly from her master’s in management coursework in McIntire’s M.S. in Commerce Program.

Profitable Partnerships

Upon graduating from Cornell, Booth had an idea of where she wanted her career to go but felt that there were some skills she first needed to hone.

“With my background in sociology and video production, I was motivated to build a career where I could make a difference in sports through telling the stories of athletes in creative and impactful ways. However, I realized that while I loved the creative side of being behind the camera, I also wanted to have a voice in the strategic overview of marketing and media campaigns,” she says. “While a business-focused program was initially daunting, it also felt like the challenge I needed to grow and make progress towards my goals. The M.S. in Commerce Program was then a perfect fit, and quickly proved itself as a program that would refine the skills and interests that I came with into a more complete package.”

It was during the spring semester of 2023, when Booth was collaborating with a group on a project for Professor Paul Seaborn’s Consulting elective class, that her work with an external client on a real-world consulting project would make a lasting impression on her future.

Booth and her group partnered with local business Chill Cville (then named Rivanna Cryotherapy), a locally owned operation that provides services to improve health, wellness, and recovery.

“I was excited to explore marketing strategies for [Chill Cville] owners Dawn [Woodring] and Fran [Vicente] that could include UVA student-athletes as advocates,” she says. “While they had partnered with athletes on occasion in the past, we were able to come up with a proposal that allowed UVA student-athletes to work with Chill Cville over months at a time. This way they could build a relationship, experience the full benefits of the recovery options, and the marketing impact would be increased.”

The project and what she learned from being a part of it had a direct impact on Booth. “I loved the strategies [Professor Seaborn] taught us, both for approaching challenges and working efficiently with a team,” she says.

After walking the Lawn, she was on the job hunt. She had a connection to Lo Davis, Executive Director of CavFutures, who was helping with her search by checking with his extensive network.

“Ultimately, he asked if I would consider joining his team,” she says. “A short four months later I was working with CavFutures and was able to write the contracts for the partnership myself and see the idea come to fruition. It has been amazing to see the partnership come to life, and to see the real-life applications of the skills and strategies I learned in the M.S. in Commerce Program.”

Becoming an NIL Pro

Booth quickly discovered that working in NIL satisfied everything she was looking for in her nascent career. “It allowed me to work in sports in a creative capacity, help empower student-athletes, and also have a tangible impact on my community,” she explains. “It also has been a motivating space, as my passion for improving opportunities for female student-athletes is something that is needed in the NIL as it continues to develop. That need motivates me to keep growing opportunities despite the challenges.”

One outsized challenge she and her company regularly face is the misinformation that continues to shape the ever-changing and often messy landscape that currently defines NIL.

“It can be frustrating to know that our efforts are life changing for student-athletes struggling with their own or their families’ financial burdens and have the common assumption be that NIL leads to over-indulged student-athletes. Misinformation or lack of education on NIL also affects our work, as it makes it harder to pursue brand partnerships with companies that aren’t aware of the opportunity to work with our student-athletes,” she says.

Booth notes that although the media has characterized NIL as a money grab, meaningful income accounts for only a small percentage of student-athletes: “For the rest [of student-athletes], NIL can instead serve as the avenue in which they engage with the community, learn financial literacy skills, and develop themselves for the future. NIL at UVA is less about what you get, and more about who you become.”

She points out how misinformation affects student-athletes, with bad actors attempting to take advantage and who may be falsely promising NIL compensation during the recruiting process when there is none to be had. Envisioning CavFutures’ role with UVA student-athletes as both an advocate and an educator, she says her company serves as a resource ensuring protection for the finer points of outside contracts, making sure they don’t get trapped by demands of exclusivity. “We also don’t take a fee or percentage from their compensation in brand partnerships,” she adds.

Thus far, Booth has already enjoyed many aspects of her position, including sponsorship activities with companies like McDonald’s. “I was able to work with a team to produce commercials for the three sponsored student-athletes. That was a really cool opportunity to be given so quickly in a new role, and I was really proud of how the marketing campaign turned out,” she says.

But she insists that the most fulfilling moments have come through CavFutures Foundation, the organization’s nonprofit arm. She’s been part of initiatives that have brought UVA’s Men’s Basketball team to interact and spend time with kids at Big Brothers Big Sisters, and in August of 2023, UVA’s Women’s Basketball and UVA’s Baseball teams attended the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Virginia’s Back to School Bash, which gave youngsters free school supplies, shoes, and haircuts. “It has been a really rewarding experience watching the impact that our student-athletes can have, especially on the young kids in Charlottesville,” says Booth.

Overall, she enjoys the people, including the student-athletes and the local nonprofits that CavFutures partners with.

“I also have incredible interns who are current students at UVA, and our sponsorship with UVA Athletics allows us to operate on the same page with the Athletics department and do what’s right by our student-athletes, programs, and community,” she says.

In the near future, Booth is motivated to continue pushing for female student-athletes and finding more ways for them to meaningfully engage with organizations that benefit all involved. It’s part of her long-term goal to make a greater difference in the lives of UVA’s athletes: “As I continue to build my skills and capacity at CavFutures, I hope that I can channel that into impactful opportunities and increase representation in both gender and sport in the NIL landscape.”

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