Meet the man helping Lobo athletes capitalize on the new era of college sports - Albuquerque Journal

Meet the man helping Lobo athletes capitalize on the new era of college sports

Kurt Roth, a UNM graduate, has become the director of the startup 505 Sports Venture Foundation, an Albuquerque-based collective that revolves around raising money to pay Lobo athletes with legally binding contracts in exchange for using their names, images or likenesses. (Jon Austria/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2023 Albuquerque Journal

In August, it will have been a half century since Kurt Roth stepped off an airplane in Albuquerque — an 18-year-old New York kid embarking on a college journey he’s yet to truly complete.

Now an accomplished Brooklyn real estate attorney, Roth graduated from the University of New Mexico in 1977. And while his subsequent career in law moved him back to the East Coast, the impact his time at UNM — and the Lobo basketball bug he was bitten with in those “Stormin’ Norman” Ellenberger days of the 1970s — has never left.

“I was a basketball guy from the East Coast,” Roth recalled in a recent podcast conversation with the Journal that is available to hear in its entirety on “The Lobos won the WAC championship the first year I was here. They were led by a player out of Brooklyn, Bernard Hardin, and the atmosphere in the Pit was incredible.

“I’d come from Madison Square Garden, where the Knicks were the dominant team in the NBA, and I fit right in here. It was great. I became smitten. And basically, I was a Lobo forever.”

Since the 1990s, Roth has been coming back to Albuquerque regularly and has been a booster for the Lobo men’s basketball team, been on the board of the UNM Foundation and remains active and visible around the university.

Fifty years after earning that UNM undergraduate degree, he has seen the multi-billion-dollar college athletics landscape change, making winning championships for a school outside the power conference structure more and more difficult while the passion and expectations of fans like himself at UNM haven not diminished.

Now, in an era when a unanimous 2021 U.S. Supreme Court ruling opened the door for state legislatures across the country, including in New Mexico, to start drafting and passing legislation that allows for college athletes to receive compensation for use of their name, image and likeness (often referred to as its acronym NIL) so long as it’s not from the university itself, Roth saw an opportunity.

Though still an active attorney, he has spent more time in Albuquerque the past year than in New York as he has become the director of the startup 505 Sports Venture Foundation — an Albuquerque-based collective in the process of applying for 501(c)(3) status — that revolves around raising money to pay Lobo athletes with legally binding contracts in exchange for using their names, images or likenesses.

“My tuition for four years (at UNM) was less than $3,000, which was the best deal I’ve ever gotten in my life — and I’ve sat at … tables, and done over $2 billion worth of (real estate) transactions, and (UNM’s degree) was the best deal,” Roth said. “So this was my way of giving back.”

How does NIL work?

That varies, but often the foundation will put Lobo athletes together with nonprofits around the state to promote events or initiatives for those entities as their end of the bargain for one-time payment from the foundation or as the athletes’ contractual obligation for continued payments.

Roth, who does not take a salary for his work while launching the foundation, said that already, at the end of the current fiscal year on June 30, the 505SVF will have paid 32 Lobo athletes $525,000.

Amounts have ranged from $200 to some athletes for appearances at various functions to what is believed to be more than six-figure payments over the course of the school year or a sports season to a select few Lobo men’s basketball players, though Roth would not confirm any specific payment totals.

“I’m going to be as transparent as I can,” Roth said of specific payment amounts to athletes, which would be required to be disclosed if the transaction was between a university employee and the university, but for now resides in a gray area in New Mexico law about whether such contracts would be required to be made public because 505SVF is a partner with the university.

“I have certain privacy issues between the contractee and us. That’s up to the student athlete if they wanted to divulge (what they earn).”

The long term goal is to raise $3.5 million a year, of which he says about $3.2 million would be available to pay every Lobo athlete — not only the ones in high-profile sports — at least some amount of money.

Kurt Roth, center, is a UNM alumnus and director of the 505 Sports Venture Foundation, which helps Lobo athletes earn money using their Name, Image and Likeness. (Journal file)

Eventually, he acknowledges, the foundation will have overhead and whoever is running it — the 68-year-old Roth says it won’t be himself forever — will have to do so as a job.

Combined with the NCAA’s recent rule change to allow all athletes to be immediately eligible to play at a new college after their first transfer (players used to have to sit out a season unless they were a graduate transfer), critics of the current NIL landscape have used the cliché of “Wild, Wild West” to describe current college recruiting. As of Saturday, more than 1,500 players were listed in the Division I transfer portal for men’s basketball alone.

Concerns about “poaching” players from lower or mid-level programs by schools with more money have arisen. So have concerns about the players being exploited if the NIL deals they enter into aren’t in writing or aren’t drafted with their best interests in mind.

That, Roth would point out, is why making sure those behind a school’s NIL collective are trustworthy, get official standing with the state as a 501(c)(3) and have open, transparent working relationships with the university.

Many college coaches bemoan the NIL landscape as something that needs to be reigned in and controlled somehow by the NCAA. Notably, such arguments about how coaching salaries in college athletics have leveraged universities into vulnerable financial positions have rarely had such outcry. But those same coaches, or at least most of them, also understand the current rules would leave them at a disadvantage if they ignore what NIL can do for a program.

Last week, Lobo football coach Danny Gonzales made it clear that the NIL component is now not only a part of the game, it’s essential to being able to field a competitive team. And it’s more than pay-to-play. NIL, coaches are beginning to realize, is also very much about pay-to-stay. Recruiting and retaining top athletes is also a key benefit of having a large NIL base.

Lobo men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino took over a program that won four Division I games the prior season. The team won 13 games in his first season and 22 this past season including its first postseason play (the NIT) of any kind since 2014.

It’s no big secret that a large part of that had to do with not only keeping All-Mountain West guards Jaelen House and Jamal Mashburn Jr. on the roster, but also the addition last offseason of two talented 6-foot-8 transfer big men — Morris Udeze and Josiah Allick — to bolster the team’s frontcourt.

While the payouts are not public, multiple sources have told the Journal both newcomers to this past season’s team received NIL payments well above what the average New Mexican earns in a year.

Roth says examples like that bring out almost a confident chuckle when the question is posed to him: Can the Lobos still compete?

“I love that question. The answer is, ‘of course. We have to compete — not ‘can we?’ We must,'” he said.

Roth recalls an encounter he had with Lobos fans at a football game last fall in which one said, “We can’t compete with Texas. And I had a vein pop out of my neck and I looked at him; I said, ‘Of course we compete with Texas.’ … Yes, we can compete with Texas. But they’re not in our league. We must compete with (fellow Mountain West schools) San Diego State, Boise (State), Fresno (State) and UNLV, or we shouldn’t do this.”

The Lobo men’s basketball team has in the past two weeks announced commitments for next season of 6-foot-9 Iona transfer big man Nelly Junior Joseph, who picked UNM over Mountain West champion San Diego State, among others, and with NIL being a part of his decision; 6-9 Dayton transfer Mustapha Amzil, whose final schools he picked UNM over included Miami, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Memphis; and 6-5 guard Jemarl Baker, Jr., who played the past two seasons at Mountain West school Fresno State.

Like many other universities across the country, UNM is now openly encouraging its fans to contribute to NIL collectives, and there is a corporate sponsorship agreement between UNM’s third-party media rights partner Playfly Sports and 505 Sports Venture Foundation, which allows for the collective to use UNM logos in social media and other posts they create with Lobo athletes.

Deputy Athletic Director David Williams says the department will still need to raise money through the Lobo Club, the longtime fundraising arm for Lobo sports, but he also hopes fans see the benefit of NIL contributions in the current collegiate landscape.

“At the end of the day, it all comes down to donor intent,” Williams said. “We would hope the NIL contributions would be above and beyond any amount they may already be giving to the Lobo Club, but ultimately it is their decision. It’s like with anything, if they want to donate to a specific facility on campus or department, or the business school, this is really just another option the donor has to give, but it’s a very important one right now.”

Fans can contribute through the foundation’s website,, and Roth has existing and several potential larger scale deals with longtime boosters and businesses.

Roth said he also has hopes for the success of a new $20-per-month donation initiative. And he points out that if 4,000 fans joined, it would collect roughly $1 million per year.

But he also is still looking for big donors.

“There is a donation page (on, and I’m looking for someone to click on through PayPal and give us a million dollars. So far, that hasn’t happened,” said Roth. He then likened the unique relationship with Lobo athletics in the state to the Green Bay Packers, the only publicly owned major professional sports franchise in the United States.

“I have said from the get-go that New Mexico is unique in its loyalty to UNM sports. But I don’t have Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates or T. Boone Pickens knocking on my door. So what we need, I’ve talked about this in terms of the Green Bay Packers being a publicly traded, community-owned team and a very small town. New Mexico needs community support.”

Roth added, “Good times are coming and we’re gonna make it happen. So not only do you get a proprietary interest … but you get a sense that you helped bring this thing back.

“The difference you make in supporting this program is off the charts. And I think it benefits everyone who’s here when UNM athletics is successful.”

Home » Sports » Meet the man helping Lobo athletes capitalize on the new era of college sports

Insert Question Legislature form in Legis only stories

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email

taboola desktop

ABQjournal can get you answers in all pages


Questions about the Legislature?
Albuquerque Journal can get you answers
Email addresses are used solely for verification and to speed the verification process for repeat questioners.
'Aladdin' cast takes on iconic roles with ease at ...
ABQnews Seeker
Sometimes, you only need one wish. ... Sometimes, you only need one wish. As the national tour of Disney's 'Aladdin,' took the stage at Popejoy Hall on Wednesday for its seven-performance ...
Blake's still serving up the food that makes it ...
ABQnews Seeker
The late Blake Chanslor launched his ... The late Blake Chanslor launched his eponymous restaurant way back in 1952.
Filmed in ABQ, 'Flamin' Hot' tells the story of ...
ABQnews Seeker
"Flamin' Hot" begins streaming Friday, June ... "Flamin' Hot" begins streaming Friday, June 9, on Hulu and Disney+.
Local actress lands part in New Mexico-filmed Cheetos movie
ABQnews Seeker
On June 9, "Flamin' Hot," starring ... On June 9, "Flamin' Hot," starring New Mexico native Lora Martinez-Cunningham, is set to stream on both Hulu and Disney+.
Country duo LOCASH making stop at Isleta with Kane ...
ABQnews Seeker
LOCASH recently released the single, "Three ... LOCASH recently released the single, "Three Favorite Colors" which has already become a hit at its concerts.
Pitino is high on UNM newcomers as Lobos start ...
ABQnews Seeker
A wide variety of updates on ... A wide variety of updates on Lobo hoops as UNM players start summer workouts, including Pitino's thoughts on rivalry scheduling and much more.
APS Superintendent Scott Elder to step down at the ...
ABQnews Seeker
The Albuquerque Public Schools board is ... The Albuquerque Public Schools board is parting ways with Superintendent Scott Elder. He was officially given the full position just over two years ago. ...
Local golf: Lobo Herron has memorable run -- and ...
ABQnews Seeker
For Carson Herron, golf's longest day ... For Carson Herron, golf's longest day started when the alarms went off around 5:45 a.m ...
Lobo football adds transfer receiver from Mississippi State
ABQnews Seeker
Mississippi State transfer wide receiver Kaydin ... Mississippi State transfer wide receiver Kaydin Pope, listed at 6-feet, 175 pounds, announced his intention to transfer to New Mexico on Wednesday via social ...