It has been three months since the NCAA’s name, image and likeness policy took effect across the nation, and Razorback athletes have quickly taken advantage of several partnership opportunities.
On June 30, the NCAA Board of Directors adopted an interim policy allowing all student-athletes to be compensated for use of their names, images and likenesses starting July 1. This opened the door to a range of financial opportunities for Arkansas student-athletes.
As the clock struck midnight on July 1, offers for partnerships and sponsorships began pouring in.
“That night at 12, so many opportunities came my way,” said Davonte Davis, a sophomore point guard for the men's basketball team. “It’s a great opportunity to meet new people and do business with them.”
With numerous companies approaching him, Davis wanted to make sure the partnerships he chose did not interfere with his priorities, he said.
“I didn’t want it to be a job, but wanted it to be fun,” Davis said. “You can have input on your contract. I had input on mine because I wanted to focus on basketball. Because if it wasn’t for basketball, this wouldn’t even be happening.”
Shortly after the policy took effect, Davis announced on social media his partnership with JJ’s Grill, an Arkansas-based sports bar and grill chain with 10 locations in the state.
“JJ’s was my first endorsement, and I was their first athlete,” Davis said. “They told me they wanted me to be the face of the company because of my image. I am always smiling and enjoying life.”
Just a few days after the JJ’s announcement, Davis landed a sponsorship deal with Gwatney Chevrolet in Jacksonville, Arkansas. Davis was born and raised in Jacksonville, so the partnership was a great fit, he said.
JJ’s owner Jody Thornton was eager to sign Davis and formulated an agreement between the athlete and the company that he would be the first collegiate player to represent the restaurant, Thornton said.
“It just worked out that way,” Thornton said. “Devo was one of the ones we really wanted from the beginning. They all have different things, but what he has specifically done as a part of the team, put it out there that he is with us.”
Thornton knows athletics and education are the top priorities of student-athletes, and wants participation in NIL deals to fit into their lifestyles, he said.
“It’s really important to me that this is fun for them,” Thornton said. “This is not a job, they have a job and it is their sport, that is their job.
Many Arkansas athletes have signed deals, including the entirety of Razorback Football’s offensive line.
Wright’s Barbecue began sponsoring the offensive line July 6. Wright’s Barbecue staff dubbed them the “Protectors of the Pit” in a tweet. In total, 14 players were named in the sponsorship, many of whom used the hashtag #BodyByBBQ after the announcement.
The Razorback linemen receive Wright’s gift cards, discounted food and some apparel in exchange for promoting the brand.
“The NIL (policy) passing and being able to be sponsored by them has changed everything,” senior tackle Dalton Wagner said. “We got gift cards from (owner Jordan Wright) and some merch. We shout him out on Twitter all the time.”
Arkansas quarterbacks KJ Jefferson and Lucas Coley, along with the entire Razorback women’s basketball team, have also signed with Wright’s, spawning the tag #WrightsAthletes.
Wagner said he is honored to be a “Protector of the Pit” and is open to gaining more sponsorships, but is still focused on what is most important: performing well on the field.
“The guys are really happy about that,” Wagner said. “I remember we were talking with Mr. Wright. We were talking about what we can do to make something cling to it. Something to stick out so that you don’t get washed out in the NIL stuff so that no one forgets it. ‘Protectors of the Pit’ was one and ‘Body By Barbecue’ was another one. Mr. Wright came up with those.”
As Arkansas athletes dominate in their respective sports throughout the year, further sponsorship deals are sure to roll in. As of Monday, at least 160 athletes from 16 of the 19 sports on campus have partnered with 52 different businesses.