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FedEx has announced a massive $25 million name, image and likeness investment in Memphis athletics that will fund $5 million in NIL contracts over each of the next five years in key sports while promoting the company. The deal is believed to be the biggest corporate NIL partnership of its type in college athletics. 

The corporation is working with consultant group Altius Sports Partners to administer the deal. The initial investment will support football, men's and women's basketball, and other women's sports. The first NIL initiative will take place at the Memphis Spring Football Game on Saturday. 

"We are truly appreciative of the vision and support of FedEx's leadership in this area," Memphis athletic director Laird Veatch said in a statement. "NIL opportunities have become a crucial facet of the student-athlete dynamic, and we believe major corporate support of NIL will need to be a key part of the future landscape of college athletics. We are confident this groundbreaking commitment by one of the world's most well-known and successful companies will inspire others in Tiger Nation to realize the power of investing in student-athletes and join the mission with further support."

FedEx is the largest employer in the state of Tennessee and an institution in the city of Memphis. Founder Fred Smith has been a longtime benefactor of the program, including a $50 million donation to renovate Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium. Memphis basketball plays at the FedEx Forum, the same arena as the Memphis Grizzlies. 

"We evaluated the evolving NIL landscape, exploring how we can best deliver positive impact to student-athletes and connect them to meaningful opportunities for both themselves and the community and made the decision to reallocate marketing funds to an NIL platform," FedEx EVP & CMO Brian Phillips said. "This gives us an opportunity to invest in bright, young athletes in our great hometown of Memphis, strengthening our connection to the next generation of leaders." 

Builds momentum for Memphis

Memphis was left behind the last round of realignment as four fellow AAC schools ultimately received invites to power conferences: Houston, UCF, Cincinnati and SMU. Since the setback, the athletic department has been open about its desire to improve its station in college sports. The deal with FedEx is just the latest investment. 

The football program turned a corner under coach Ryan Silverfield, returning to 10 wins for the first time since Mike Norvell left. The basketball team missed the tournament for the first time in three years, but has recruited exceptionally well under former star player Penny Hardaway. Adding a massive investment into player acquisition could be an unbeatable game-changer for Memphis as a Group of Five program right as the College Football Playoff expands to guarantee a slot. 

Memphis has not been shy, the goal is to land in a power conference long term. The Tigers stick out as a legacy program that has consistently won at a high level. They hope this investment can bring the program back to national relevance. 

A precedent for others?

College athletes have built partnerships with business before, but few to this level. FedEx is a top-50 corporation in the United States, towering above most other corporate contributors funding college athletics. Nike is intertwined with Oregon's athletic department and Under Armour with Maryland, but neither has so openly used the power of its marketing arm to fund NIL opportunities for athletes. 

Most NIL operations have been dominated by small donors and volume contributions to collectives. FedEx's big swing shows a different way. Granted, college football is a hyper-local, hyper-regional sport. Few major athletic departments even have Fortune 500 companies in their backyard to pull from. But for those who have major corporate relationships in their backyard, the FedEx-Memphis deal could be instructive.