Inside VCU student-athletes’ name, image, likeness deals

From left: Sophomore forwards Mikeal Brown-Jones and Jamir Watkins are just two VCU athletes that have taken advantage of the new NCAA policy that allows NCAA athletes to profit off of their name, image and likeness. Photo by Megan Lee

Noah Fleischman, Contributing Writer

When the NCAA approved the name, image, likeness policy over the summer, VCU freshman forward Jalen DeLoach said he immediately knew the first person he wanted to work with — Migos rapper, Quavo.

DeLoach said the partnership was a mutual feeling, as he was the first student-athlete contacted to promote Legends, a clothing brand the rapper has partial ownership in. 

DeLoach’s relationship with the rapper dates back almost four years since he joined Team Huncho, Quavo’s Amateur Athletic Union team. 

“I want to start giving back to where I’m from,” DeLoach said of his goal with NIL deals. “I want to do as many deals and sponsorships as I can, so I can give back to my hometown.”

The NCAA’s NIL policy went into effect on July 1 nationwide, allowing all student-athletes to work with companies to use their name, image or likeness to promote and sell products. 

In his deal with Legends, DeLoach currently receives free products to promote on social media, but he said that could change toward the end of the year, when the two sides will talk about the possibility of a monetary contract. 

“I thought it was a money maker, that’s all I thought about,” DeLoach said of the NIL legislation. “I thought, ‘I could make money off my name.’”

There are multiple VCU student-athletes that are utilizing the NIL policy, mostly through product deals like DeLoach’s. 

Men’s basketball players have been able to rake in the most deals so far, two months into the new college athletics landscape, ranging from fitness subscription boxes to wristbands. 

Other student-athletes have been able to secure deals, most notably with media company Barstool Sports. Baseball’s redshirt-sophomore outfielder Cooper Benzin and junior right-handed pitcher Evan Chenier; and track senior Sebastian Evans have all been announced as brand ambassadors with Barstool Athletics. 

Sophomore forward Mikeal Brown-Jones inked a deal with Jacked in the Box, a monthly subscription box for gym gear and supplements, at the end of July and became the company’s first college athlete. 

The Philadelphia native said securing his first deal before classes and the season began was big for him, as he was able to learn how the process goes with signing a brand deal.

“It was kind of like a weight off my shoulders because I now got both feet in the door,” Brown-Jones said. “Now, I know exactly what to do and how to do it.”

Student-athletes are also allowed to sell their autographs, which wasn’t the case prior to the legislation being passed. Ohio State freshman quarterback Quinn Ewers took advantage of this part of the NIL, signing a $1.4 million autograph deal with GT Sports Marketing on Aug. 31.

“I want to start giving back to where I’m from. I want to do as many deals and sponsorships as I can, so I can give back to my hometown.” — Jalen DeLoach

At VCU, the student-athletes are allowed to find their own brands to work with and put a contract together with the company, but they can’t sign it without having it approved by the Athletic department, according to Brown-Jones.

Brown-Jones said the process isn’t time consuming and the longest part was getting the contract approved — which took about a day.

According to VCU Athletics, student-athletes aren’t allowed to partner with or promote “casinos or gambling, including sports betting; alcohol products; tobacco and electronic smoking products and devices; cannabis, cannabinoids, cannabidiol, or other derivatives; drug paraphernalia; adult entertainment; weapons, including firearms and ammunition; substances banned by the NCAA; or products or services that are illegal.” Student-athletes also can’t work with competitors of existing VCU sponsors. 

VCU Athletics has partnered with SAIL — Student-Athlete Image & Likeness — to help prepare the student-athletes for NIL-related deals. The Atlantic 10 and VCU also partnered with software company INFLCR as well to help increase student-athlete’s access to resources.

“We’re just trying to have them learn as much as they possibly can about their own brand and what their value is, and how to make sure they’re in the best business relationships as well,” said VCU Athletic Director Ed McLaughlin. 

McLaughlin added that the department will still be able to use student-athletes on billboards and promotional materials.

Brown-Jones, who was connected to Jacked in the Box by a friend, said the NIL deals will allow him to build his resume, making connections and showing the business side of the 6-foot-8-inch forward. 

“You never know what can happen,” Brown-Jones said. “The more relationships you have, the more networks you have … the more opportunities will be presented for you.”

McLaughlin said that the NIL policy will help student-athletes learn how to be a professional athlete or businessperson after graduation.

“I think anything that we do in college, we’re trying to get them ready to be done with us when they graduate,” McLaughlin said. “I really look at NIL as just another way. … They’re going to be able to create value for what they do.”

Though Brown-Jones’ deal is a product deal, he said the company has allowed him to give input on what he thinks should change or improve within the subscription boxes. He added that he speaks to them almost every day, either through the phone, text or on social media.

Student-athletes aren’t the only ones benefiting from the new NIL deals — the companies are too. Junior guard Jarren McAllister partnered with Lifestyle Bands, a wristband company based in Nevada.

Matthew Connors, the owner of Lifestyle Bands, said the company has seen an increase in growth since signing student-athletes to deals. 

“We’ve seen a pretty drastic increase in revenue since we started that with athletes with the promotional codes,” Connors said. “Brand awareness, revenue, and social media as we’ve been kind of going through the roof since then.”

Lifestyle Bands has two different kinds of NIL deals it’s used thus far: a product deal and a paid partnership. Connors said most of the student-athletes his company works with are on product deals, but they’re given a promotional code and any sale made with the code, the athlete gets 20% commission.

Not all the VCU student-athletes have used the NIL legislation to make money. Sophomore guard Jamir Watkins used it to host a free basketball camp for kids in Trenton, New Jersey — his hometown. 

“I really just wanted to do it to give back,” Watkins said. “Where I come from, it’s not really easy. People aren’t motivated by the right things, so I tried to do a free camp to show the kids that there’s different options — there’s another path you can go instead of the wrong path.”

Since the NIL landscape is young, DeLoach believes when the team takes the court at the Stuart C. Siegel Center in November, more partnerships and sponsorship deals will come. 

“Once we start playing games and they see me play, it’s going to be a whole different story,” DeLoach said. “Right now, we’re just practicing, but once we start playing in the Siegel Center, it’s definitely going to turn up a notch.”

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