Small markets and “the true meaning of NIL”

July 1, 2021, was the day college sports were turned on their head. Name, image and likeness (NIL) laws came into effect, allowing student-athletes to be compensated for their likenesses. 

Although there are still plenty of wrinkles to iron out, especially at the highest levels of college football, some schools and businesses are approaching NIL in an ethical and trustworthy way. At its best, NIL can be a win-win scenario for businesses and student-athletes alike. In a smaller market such as Troy, Alabama, that’s exactly what you see. 

“I don’t think that at the University of Alabama, if a company gives an NIL deal to Bryce Young, that they have a relationship with him,” said Jason Jones, owner of Jones Medical Supply. “Here, it’s a completely different world because of small town relationships.”

Jones Medical Supply provides medical equipment “to the home” of customers, but Trojans fans will surely recognize the name from its presence at sporting events and on social media. As of late January, Jones Medical Supply had inked 19 deals with Troy student-athletes.

In a college football landscape that’s increasingly dominated by seven figure NIL deals, Jones is focused on relationships, character and the intent behind NIL laws.

“We’re sticking to what we believe is the true meaning of NIL, and that’s to give these guys spending money,” said Jones. “Every deal I’ve had is with an athlete that’s thought highly of by his position coach, head coach or someone in the community that’s said ‘this is a guy you can get behind.’”

“We want this to be a way to reward these guys for being good people off the field and off the court,” added Jones.

Besides just providing funds for student-athletes, NIL deals in Troy provide an opportunity for businesses to actually build a relationship with athletes and support them in ways beyond the financial realm. Jones refers to six student-athletes at Troy in particular that he has a strong relationship with.

“If I see any of those guys, we’re gonna talk,” said Jones. “Those guys were as gracious and as generous as I could’ve ever imagined.”

“I’d talk to them after every game, go down to the field and see them. We’ve gotten to know them more than just a jersey number and player on my favorite team,” said Jones. 

There’s the connection that businesses and athletes have, but another important tool for student-athletes is the resources they have available. Troy University provides not only an NIL marketplace, but a platform to educate student-athletes about financial literacy and how to market themselves.

Troy University’s IDEA Bank lets student-athletes meet with them to discuss anything relating to NIL, finances, social media, marketing and more. 

“We look at their personal branding strategies and how they can monetize their name, image and likeness,” said Lynne George, Director of Economic Development at Troy. “We look at ‘what does that look like,’ ‘how do you find businesses to partner with you,’ ‘how do you enter that market.’”

The introduction of NIL also brought a power shift to college sports, giving the student-athletes a bit more say-so in what happens. It allows them to be fairly compensated for what they do.

“[NIL] empowers student-athletes,” said George. “99% of student-athletes aren’t going to be handed a deal, but there is opportunity for all student athletes if they take the initiative.” 

“This isn’t just a four year opportunity or way to make some extra cash while in school. This is a long term opportunity to build your own business,” said George. 

While NIL at larger schools can be convoluted and confusing, there are some markets that are figuring out the best ways to use it to benefit both businesses and athletes alike. Troy is one of them.