Some of you may know I spent the first half of my professional career as a public relations professional in the world of college athletics. Back then we called the job being a sports information director, or SID. The industry evolved to labeling the role something like athletic media relations or athletic communications or similar, but our job was to publicize the teams, coaches and student-athletes.
The first sport I was ever placed in charge of as a student assistant at Morehead State University was the Eagle volleyball team. I hadn’t ever seen volleyball in person before going to college, but was trained to keep statistics at matches by hand … now they do it on computers. I designed the team’s media guide, wrote press releases, pitched ideas to newspaper reporters and TV journalists.
While volleyball wasn’t the only the sport I worked, it was always my favorite. It was fast, the young women playing were always super athletic, jumping high and crushing the ball into the opponent’s court. I never worked at a school that sponsored men’s volleyball, but I’m kind of glad for that. It helped me appreciate how strong and dominant women can be on the playing courts and fields.
Last fall I had the opportunity to speak to a public relations class at the University of Louisville. Dr. Karen Freberg is a professor there. She and I have shared the stage at conferences and traveled along side one another a few times. She’s kind of a social media pioneer in the academic circles, building out curricula for the new world of PR thanks to social media, influencers and the like. She has me speak to her class each year, which I always enjoy doing.
Low and behold one of Dr. Freberg’s students last fall was Aiko Jones. She is a star blocker for the Cardinals and was instrumental in the team’s run to the Final Four and National Runners-Up finish. UofL was 31-3 overall with an amazing 17-1 record in the ACC.
For those of you who don’t know sports, Aiko was one of the dominant players on one of the most dominant teams in the entire country at the college level last year.
She’s back for her senior year in 2023 and will no doubt make a run at racking up another string of honors. She was Final Four All-Tournament Team and All-Louisville Regional Team in the NCAA Tournament. First Team All-ACC, First Team All-Region.
In layman’s terms, she’s one of the best college volleyball players in the country.
Which means, she’s well versed in Name Image Likeness benefits and parlaying her athletic prowess into brand deals and collaborations. So, I asked my pal Aiko to come on the show to share some of those experiences with all of us. We’ll learn about NIL from the student-athlete perspective today on Winfluence.
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Scroll Down for a Show Transcript!
Note: Photo courtesy of University of Louisville Athletics.
Aiko Jones Highlights & Time Stamps
00:08:19 Parents were athletes, both played volleyball. Family is into sports.
00:10:35 Jamaican volleyball player finds success in US.
00:16:18 Student athletes now allowed to profit financially.
00:20:19 International student athlete restrictions on work in the U.S.
00:24:03 Brands pay Aiko for content outside US.
00:27:09 Gray area in athletic recruiting becomes individual effort.
00:33:01 College athletes get paid through benefits.
00:34:50 Full scholarships cover all expenses, but some student athletes struggle with basic needs. More work needed to ensure fairness.
00:38:52 Jamaican creative explores various artistic passions.
00:41:39 Fun times with athletes and reminiscing college.
Aiko Jones Transcript
Jason Falls [00:00:00]:
Do you want Instagrammers or TikTokers to post about your brand? Or do you actually want to engage creators who influence their audience to buy your product? If you’re in the latter of those two, you’ve come to the right place. Welcome to winfluence the influence marketing Podcast. Hello again, friends. Thanks for tuning in to winfluence the Influence Marketing podcast. Some of you may know I spent the first half of my professional career as a public relations professional in the world of college athletics. Back then, we called the job being a Sports Information Director, or Sid. The industry evolved into labeling the role something like Athletic Media Relations or Athletic Communications or similar, but the job was basically to publicize the teams, coaches and student athletes of the college or university in question. The first sport I was ever placed in charge of as a student assistant at Morehead State University, my alma mater for my undergraduate studies was the Eagle volleyball team. I had never seen volleyball in person before going to college, but was trained to keep statistics at matches by hand. Now they do it on computers. I designed the team’s media guide, wrote press releases, pitched ideas to newspaper reporters and TV journalists, and the like. While volleyball wasn’t the only sport I ever worked with, it was always kind of my favorite. It was fast. The young women playing were always super athletic, jumping high and crushing the ball into the opponent’s side of the court. I never worked at a school that sponsored men’s volleyball, but I’m kind of glad for that. It helped me appreciate how strong and dominant women can be on the playing courts and fields. Last fall, I had the opportunity to speak at a public relations class at the University of Louisville. Dr. Karen Freeberg is a professor there and a friend of mine. She and I have shared the stage at conferences and traveled alongside one another a few times. She’s kind of a social media pioneer in the academic circles, building out curricula for the new world of PR, thanks to social media influencers and the like. So she has me speak to her class each year, which I always enjoy doing. Lo and behold, one of Dr. Freeberg’s students last fall was Aiko Jones. She is a star blocker for the Cardinals and was instrumental in the team’s run to the volleyball Final Four and national runners up finish. U of l was 31 and three overall with an amazing 17 and one record in the ACC. For those of you who don’t know sports, iko was one of the dominant players on one of the most dominant teams in the entire country at the collegiate level last year. She’s back for her senior year in 2023 and will no doubt make a run at racking up another string of honors. She was final Four all Tournament team, all Louisville Regional team in the NCAA Tournament. First team All ACC, first team All Region. In layman’s terms, she’s one of the best college volleyball players in the country, which means she’s well versed in name, image, likeness, benefits and parlaying her athletic prowess into brand deals and collaborations. So I asked my pal Iko to come on the show to share some of those experiences with all of us. We’ll learn a little bit about Nil from the student athlete perspective today on Winfluence. As always, this episode of influence is presented by Cipio AI. Let us scale your user generated content needs and deliver authentic, high performing UGC to fuel your paid, owned and earned content strategies. You can learn more at Cipio AI. But as we have for a few weeks now, I want to take a moment to tell you about the latest sponsor and partner of the Marketing podcast Network. 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Or you can pay for the 10,000 and get an extra 10,000 contacts totally free. Go to activecampaign.com. Activate to sign up. Today. That’s activecampaign.com. Activate. Terms and conditions apply. Name, image, Likeness from the perspective of one of the top volleyball players in the NCAA, University of Louisville’s, iko Jones is next on Winfluence. Aiko Jones, certainly a big thrill to have you on the show. You know, I’m a big fan. My son and I came to watch you play last year. We were glued to the TV during the big tournament run, so you’re kind of a sports heroin in our house. So thank you for coming on the show.
Aiko Jones [00:05:29]:
Thanks so much for having me. I mean, you talk about loving to have me here. I’ve been listening to your podcast. I met you through my professor. I’m super stoked to be here and I think it’s going to be a good episode.
Jason Falls [00:05:39]:
I feel we’re going to have fun with this. So I have to start just by asking, now that you’ve had some time past the 2022 season to kind of reflect what was last year like from the inside, because the Cardinals did a lot of things last year that have never been done in school history. What was that like, I mean, the.
Aiko Jones [00:05:59]:
Best way I can put it is it was super fun. We pride ourselves in being a program that where everyone can be themselves and where volleyball is fun. And Danny likes to say, at the end of the day, it’s a game, so we should have fun doing it. And I think last year is one of the most fun seasons I’ve ever had. And of course there’s the blood, sweat and tears, the typical stuff, we work hard, but it was just super fun to of course we won a lot, thankfully, but it was super fun to win a lot with that group of people as a special group. And I’m ready to do it again.
Jason Falls [00:06:28]:
That’s awesome. Well, now you are going to be able to do it again because you’re executing that rare red shirt senior year. So you’re coming back for 2023. Is it fair to compare this time this year to this time last year? Any read on how maybe this year’s team might come back after last year’s magic?
Aiko Jones [00:06:46]:
I think it’s fair to want to compare because we do have a lot of returners, but even last year we had a lot of returners, but we lost some key leaders. So this year we lost I mean, Amaya Tillman is a huge one. Raquel, our sitter, she was also a big leader. So it’s fair to say that though we are, I mean, Alexa Hendrix, there’s so many, it’s fair to want to compare. But I think for us, especially inside the program, it’s important to know that there are so many things that are different. So knowing that though we want to achieve the same things and maybe more, it’s not going to look the same or feel the same, but also knowing that it is very possible because a lot of us were in that position last year. I think one thing that’s cool about this year is we actually just got back from a team trip to Brazil, which, I mean, our freshmen were there, our transfers were there, so it was a super cool way to kind of sneak in some time with the coaches while kind of getting a vacation and immersing ourselves in culture and playing against teams we’d probably never play against, ever. And now we’re back to normal summer where we’re not allowed to be with our coaches until preseason. But I think that trip to Brazil really set us up to have a really good preseason season and postseason.
Jason Falls [00:07:49]:
Yeah, those trips in my experience from my days, years ago of being in college athletics were always really good for chemistry building and kind of getting the team a couple of months ahead of time, or a couple of weeks ahead of time anyway, on kind of building that cohesiveness. So hopefully that’ll fare well for you. So we’ll get to the Nil stuff in a bit, but I want to make sure everyone knows your background too. You come from a family of athletes. You hail from Jamaica. Tell folks about your parents and the pedigree in the Jones family.
Aiko Jones [00:08:19]:
Oh, goodness. My parents are great. Fortunate enough to have them both in my life from birth and to this day, and fortunate enough, too, that they were both athletes and they both played volleyball. So I kind of just grew in this sport, and they never hesitated to tell me, you do not have to play volleyball if you don’t want to. We won’t care if you decide to play softball or soccer, football. We don’t care. And I kept telling them, I promise you, I’m playing volleyball because I want to, and not because you two have played. But my dad actually was more known for his track and field talents. He was a sprinter and a long jumper. My mom also played a sport called netball that many Americans aren’t familiar with. It’s similar to basketball, but a little more technical. And they both also played volleyball, which is how they met. And I think at one point, before they were dating or whatever, I think at one point, my dad ended up being a coach when my mom was representing the team in some Caribbean tournament, and they’ve been working together for years. And then eventually, when they were no longer coach and player, they hung out and they hit it off, and they’ve got four kids. My uncles are athletes. My aunts were athletes. My grandparents were athletes. So we just grew up. My dad said, my kids have to know how to swim, defend themselves, and catch a ball. And we swam, played tennis at karate. We did almost every sport you could think of, at least for a day. So I ended up in volleyball. My older brother is a dancer, also played volleyball. My younger brother plays volleyball. My sister was a swimmer, also played volleyball. So I mean, I don’t know. It’s in our genes somewhere.
Jason Falls [00:09:54]:
There’s no lazy days in the Jones household.
Aiko Jones [00:09:57]:
No, that’s okay.
Jason Falls [00:10:00]:
It’s all good. And that’s one of the reasons that you’re an elite athlete in your sport at this point in time in your career. So good for you and good for them. So on the Jamaica thing, I saw a piece of content that you created recently. I think you were answering a question from a Jamaican athlete on how to get noticed by college coaches in the US. Tell us a little bit about that journey to come out of a country where, I guess track and field and soccer and I don’t know, maybe to a lesser degree, bob Sledding kind of reigns supreme there. How does a volleyball player find opportunities like coming to the US. And playing for one of the top NCAA teams?
Aiko Jones [00:10:35]:
This is such a good question, and, I mean, so that question on my Instagram was asked. It was a comment made on one of my posts from the Jamaica Volleyball association, kind of just trying to start that conversation again of how our local players can find themselves with opportunities in the US. And like you said, soccer. We call it football because you actually use your feet, but we won’t have to talk about that. Football and track are really what Jamaicans are known for. I don’t know so much about the bob splitting these days, but fun fact, we actually did have an ice hockey team, which I guess Americans just call hockey because ice is normal. We just had an ice hockey team compete in some competition a year or so ago and actually did really well, which I had no idea that was happening. But I played volleyball growing up, always around the sport, and at one point in my life, I don’t remember how old I was, I kind of told my dad, I was like, I think I want to see how long and how far I can go with this. I want to play in the US. And he said to me, okay, well, the only way you’re going to play in the US. Is to go to the US. And get seen by us. Coaches because they’re not coming here to look for you. And so, again, I’m very grateful for certain parts of my story. So my dad had ran track at Nebraska back in his college days, so he still had some connections there in the athletic department and some people around town that we could stay with. So I ended up going to Nebraska camp just because we had some, we were familiar with the area, or he was. So that’s how I ended up at a Nebraska camp. It was my introduction to NCAA volleyball to see how things were different, to see if I thought I would stand a fair chance against American volleyball players who grew up with more resources, much more training, better facilities and stuff like that. So I went to that camp and initially I thought, well, there’s no way I’m playing in the US. Because there were kids three, four, five years younger than me that were just blowing my mind. I was like, she’s ten or she’s twelve. And it was insane. But the coaches there, we had emailed them previously and said, hey, I’m coming from Jamaica, I’m interested in playing in the US. I’m coming to your camp. I’d love to talk to you. And they spoke to me and they said, well, you’re athletic, you’ve got a lot of work to do, but we see potential and we want to stay in touch. And then Danny, my head coach now, was the assistant coach at Nebraska at the time, and she left and came to Louisville. She emailed me and was like, hey, you should come check this school out. And I came here, and the rest is really history. I mean, that’s the short version of a very long story. And there might have been an actual cardinal Bird involved at an Omaha zoo at one point. But that’s a story that one of my coaches is trying to get me to tell on social media. But, yeah, we had to initiate that conversation. And what was funny was I also did track in high school, and I was fairly decent at it. And there were coaches talking to me about coming to the US for track, and I was like, I am not doing track post high school. That’s not where I’m at. I need to play a team sport. I need to play volleyball. So it was crazy because I kind of lived both sides of that, where coaches were looking at me for this sport that they come to Jamaica to look for athletes for. But the sport that I really wanted to do, I had to create that space for myself. So to answer your question, the Jamaica Volleyball Association, now that volleyball has revived in Jamaica post COVID, they’re trying to get kids to kind of be inspired again, and we’re always trying to grow the sport. So they asked that question to kind of see what I would say. And I just said, you have to be aggressive. You have to reach out, send videos, contact coaches, even if you don’t think you’ll ever go to that school, because no one’s going to look at you if you don’t show yourselves to them. That was kind of my journey, and like I said, the rest is history.
Jason Falls [00:14:19]:
Well, I think it’s also a testament to that determination and carving out the path that you want to follow, not necessarily what life deals you. You can actually be proactive in making those things happen, which is yet another shining light of why you’re where you are and what you’re doing. So you came to U of L as a freshman in 2018. 2019. Is that about right?
Aiko Jones [00:14:42]:
Yes. I arrived on campus, I think, Jones, 30th June, 28 of 2018.
Jason Falls [00:14:48]:
Okay, so that’s almost exactly five years ago today when we’re recording this. Yes. So there you go. Happy anniversary of being a Cardinal. That’s good stuff. Now, the reason I asked that and wanted to pinpoint the dates is you’ve played four years. Now you’ve got a fifth year coming, and that puts you in the rare palace of expertise. For the purposes of this show. You were a student athlete before Nil passed in 2021, and then you’ve been a student athlete after it’s been implemented, and people are reaping some of the benefits of it in the last couple of years. When we come back on Winfluence, we’re going to dig into Nil. See what I did there? Dig volleyball.
Aiko Jones [00:15:27]:
Jason Falls [00:15:28]:
My daughter’s rolling her eyes as we speak. We’re going to be digging into Nil with volleyball star Iko Jones. Do not go away. Welcome back to winfluence louisville Cardinal volleyball standout. Iko Jones is with us today. Before the break, we pointed out she is one of those rare student athletes who played a couple years before Nil, the Name, Image, Likeness rule came into being, and she’s been able to leverage Nil to a degree to help her along with her career. So ICO, the natural first question that I have here is how did Nil change things for you? Maybe your teammates, other student athletes, you know, in kind of real practical terms, what was 2019 like or versus 2021 or 22? Taking COVID out of the equation.
Aiko Jones [00:16:18]:
Taking COVID out of the equation. That’s a big one. That’s a big one. So prior to the passing of Nil rules or allowances, I should say, student athletes were not allowed to partake in any activity that involved their name, image, and likeness. They weren’t allowed to make money using their name, image, and likeness, and they weren’t allowed to benefit from other people essentially making money from their name, image, and likeness. And I have a personal story. I remember maybe 2019 when I was about to go home for Christmas. I went into the compliance office and I said, I would like to host a free camp for young Jamaican adolescents. I’d love to adolescents. How do you say that word? I’d like to host a free camp to help develop the sport in Jamaica. Can I do that? And they said, if your name is going to be associated with that camp, you cannot do it. It’s essentially what they said to me. A lot of people think compliance are the bad guys, but compliance kind of just reads the long rules that nobody else wants to read and kind of protects us. So that was my personal experience with pre Nil. But, I mean, athletes that wanted to do brand deals or just make money, I mean, when you’re a student athlete, it’s very hard to have a job, and not every athlete is on scholarship, contrary to what many people might want to believe. So it’s very hard when your full time job is being a student athlete. Well, being a student athlete. So school and sports, but you still have some needs financially or maybe your family that need to be met. There’s a lot of athletes that are the first in their families to go to college or they’re on scholarship and they feel like they have to buy groceries for their parents at home or things like that, and we’re just unable to do that. So the allowances of Nil that have passed, I guess I think they passed in 2020 or 2021, somewhere around there.
Jason Falls [00:18:11]:
Yeah, I think they became live in 2021.
Aiko Jones [00:18:13]:
Yes. But they were kind of talking about it during COVID They had all the time in the world to talk about it during COVID Not so much allows even the bigger athletes to get deals with MercedesBenz and BMW and all those things, but it allows other athletes that may not have the opportunity to go pro or be on scholarship to benefit of of other talents. Maybe it’s fishing and they get a deal with a fishing company or they’re content creators and they’re really good at it. I mean, I remember you had an episode where you talked about the athletes that you would expect to be the most marketable at nil are not nearly what is reality, which is a very good listen, you guys should go listen to that free plug.
Jason Falls [00:18:53]:
Thanks. We’ll put a link.
Aiko Jones [00:18:55]:
Yeah, do that. But it’s just allowed athletes to be more than athletes, essentially, in the sense that they can do other things and benefit from that. I mean, people can have YouTube channels before, if you had a YouTube channel, boy, it was a works with your compliance department on can you wear a U of L shirt? Can you not wear a U of L shirt? What can you say? You can’t tell people to go eat at your favorite restaurant because then you’re endorsing it and that’s not allowed. But now you can do that. So there was just so many complications with what would seem pretty normal, like normal everyday interactions. I mean, I had a YouTube channel, too, pre nil and coming to college. I thought it was a good way to keep people in Jamaica kind of up to date with what I was doing and maybe make some money on the side. Then I got here and I realized I really can’t do that because I can’t film in my uniform and I can’t make money because I’m an athlete and then I’m international. International nil is vastly different, which I’m sure we’ll get into, but it just it kind of opened up that field for athletes to do more and benefit from that. Not just monetarily, but helping with exposure that a lot of people don’t get from sports because maybe they’re not the starting quarterback or they’re not the 6th rotation outside hitter or things like that.
Jason Falls [00:20:09]:
So tell us a little bit about the differences between that you face as an international nil as opposed to someone who’s from the US.
Aiko Jones [00:20:19]:
Yeah, and this is something that there’s a lot of gray area in as well. I mean, nil itself, there’s a lot of gray area because some people would say the NCAA made allowances before kind of getting into the IFT ands maybes and buts but we’re all learning through that. But as an international student athlete, I am essentially governed by my student visa. And so international student athletes on F one visa, which is what I’m on, cannot work in the United States. So it means you cannot make any taxable form of income, be it monetary or gifts in kind. You cannot make any taxable form of income while you are physically in the United States because you’re here to be a student. Now, you can work on campus. So if your paycheck says University of Louisville, that’s valid. You can have an on campus job at the library or at the cultural center or things like that. But you cannot work or get paid in any sense from sources other than the university unless you have Opt or a CPT, which are two forms you have to fill out to apply to be able to have school related internships and post graduate jobs and things like that. So for me, at first we were told that international student athletes could partake in Nal activities if we were receiving gifts in kind, if it was a one time deal, essentially not non traceable. That sounds illegal, but not a continuous deal. So it’s not like I’m signing a contract and you’re sending me twelve cases of Alanis every month, but if you want to send me a t shirt and a pair of Joggers from your brand, we were told we could do that and that’s fine. Of course you have to declare it for NCAA purposes, but we were told that wouldn’t interfere with our visa. Come to find out, wrong. Illegal. Don’t do that. No one got in trouble. But I think too, our compliance department and our international center worked hand in hand to kind of figure out what we can do. What we can’t do? What does federal law say we explicitly can’t do? Is there a loophole? Is there not a loophole? So things were changing constantly. But as things stand now, you cannot receive taxable income for any activity performed in the US. So if I’m leaving the country, I can do nil back home. I’m a Jamaican citizen, I’ll be subject to Jamaican tax laws and that’s totally fine. But if I do anything while I’m in the US, I’m violating my visa. And it’s not an NCAA issue, which a lot of people think, oh, the NCAA is so mean. It’s not an NCAA issue, it is a federal US government issue. And people think, oh well, they can just change that. But if they can’t just change that for athletes. So, I mean, it’s a visa, it’s a law, it’s just how it is. Does it suck? Kind of. But there are ways to do it. I mean, it just means that I should go home more often.
Jason Falls [00:23:19]:
There you go.
Aiko Jones [00:23:20]:
Yeah. So that’s kind of the basis of the rule. And I am not an expert. I ask questions before I do almost any deal. So I will say that I could have just said something that’s wrong, but as I am currently informed, and I would say I ask more questions than the average person, that is the main difference between local and international nil activities.
Jason Falls [00:23:39]:
So compared to your, I guess, American counterparts, your teammates or other student athletes that you hang out with and know at U of L or wherever, it sounds to me like then you’re pretty much handcuffed that you’ve got to basically take in kind gifts and that’s about it. Whereas they could potentially go out and be paid hundreds if not thousands of dollars to do appearances and things like that. Is that accurate?
Aiko Jones [00:24:03]:
It is somewhat accurate. I can do more than take in kind gifts. I just can’t be in the US. So, like, during season, during school, I can’t really do anything. But while I was home, I was able to do some content with brands that they will now push out whenever. But they paid me for my name, image and likeness. That act was performed in my home country, so I have not broken any laws. It’s scary to talk about because you think about the federal law. It is complicated and there’s a lot of boxes you have to make sure you check. I mean, our company too, if they’re paying you, is going to want to fill out a tax form. If I am doing an Nal deal with an American brand and I’m not in the country, I am not completing that act as a nonresident alien in the United States. I’m completing that act as a foreign citizen. So I essentially don’t get paid the same either. And there’s a lot of things that any brand that I’ve dealt with, I’ve had a face to face and I say, hey, look, this is my situation. I know you know me because I’m in the US. But if we do this, this is how I have to get paid. This is how we have to communicate and this is when and where we have to do these things. And they say yes or they say no, and that’s kind of how it is. But I think you’re right. It does feel handcuffed in a sense. I know international athletes that do things in the US. And it’s not like, I don’t know, the IRS or someone’s going to come, like, knocking on your door. But in Jamaica, we have a saying it’s puss and dog don’t have the same luck. Cats and dogs don’t have the same luck. So it’s like someone else could do it and be fine, and I am not taking that risk. But that’s to each his own.
Jason Falls [00:25:45]:
Well, that’s a smart way to do it. Nobody needs to. And this is what your compliance folks are for too. Nobody needs to put themselves in undue risk. And if you’re violating, whether it’s immigration laws or tax laws, you’re putting yourself at risk. So good for you. And good on you for making sure you know what’s going on there. So with respect to what you know and your experiences both personally and again, I know you’re exposed probably to conversations with your teammates and other athletes at U of L and around the country that you’ve talked to about this kind of stuff. I’m really curious how student athletes get deals. Does the school serve that purpose and bring you opportunities individually or as a team? Do you have your own talent management? Do you do it on your own? And does that differ much from the other. Athletes you know, that are engaged in Nil deals?
Aiko Jones [00:26:36]:
Great question. Gold star for this question. As I understand it, schools and programs are not allowed to aid in Nil deals or activities. So my coach cannot come to us and say, oh, hey, I talked to my buddy over at Gatorade, and he wants five of you guys to do a deal that I believe is an NCAA violation.
Jason Falls [00:27:00]:
Aiko Jones [00:27:01]:
I have not read the rules myself.
Jason Falls [00:27:05]:
We understand the disclaimer here. From your experience, that’s what we’re looking for.
Aiko Jones [00:27:09]:
Right? But I think there is a gray area because everyone is kind of working into this. So I’ve heard of cases, I mean, across the country where a Brian has been interested in working with a team and has asked a coach, hey, how do I get in touch with this team? But a coach or a school or a program, as I know it, is not allowed to aid in that process. That being said, I know it’s a big recruiting thing right now for donors and people in the university community to say, we’ve got these deals for you if you want to come here. I don’t know what that looks like on the inside. Not my experience. I don’t know anyone that’s gone through that. But I think there are a lot of technicalities as to who can be involved in that kind of promotional process. So for us, most of my teammates are not from Louisville or the surrounding area or the Kentuckyana area. And from what I know, we kind of go searching for our own deals. So if there’s a brand that you love and you want to work with I mean, I’ve sent countless emails. I’ve gotten, like, four replies, but I’ve sent countless emails, and I think that’s what a lot of athletes are doing, because one, volleyball isn’t a huge revenue sport, and in many places, I don’t think it is a revenue sport at all. So the attention that we’re getting now is much more than we were getting a year two years ago. So it’s kind of like coming to the US. To play volleyball. You kind of have to put yourself out there. I’m sure a quarterback will get many calls, but a right side hitter from Kingston, Jamaica? Maybe not. You’d be surprised. You go searching for your own deals. I think our local kids have maybe had some people come to them. I like to call them hometown heroes because they’re great people, great players, and people in town know them. So I think they’ve had a couple of brands come to them. And then I’ve had teammates who have graduated that had Nil agents because they already had a large following on social media. And you talk about liking a Sunscreen, you have the right following and gets to the right people, and then that brand is kind of knocking on your door. But I think everyone kind of gets deals differently, and for me, it’s sending a lot of emails.
Jason Falls [00:29:19]:
Yeah, well, I mean, got to hustle. And that’s good for the long term value of your career because you’re going to have to hustle the next phase too, wherever that might be, just to kind of make sure everybody understands the context. Here the big controversy, which you sort of alluded to right now. In the nil conversations that I’ve been paying attention to. I think I saw Deon Sanders, the new football coach at the University of Colorado, talking about this the other day. Is those booster pools where the alumni of a given university will raise millions of dollars to essentially just pay student athletes who may or may not be asked to do anything in return. I don’t know all the specifics of it, but essentially the big schools, the big five conference schools which Louisville is in, that in the ACC are having these booster groups come together and just do these big funds of money to basically say, hey, student athletes, we’ll do nil deals for you which will enhance their attractiveness to come to that particular school. Now, that’s versus businesses and brands, whether they’re alumni, boosters or not, businesses or brands that contract student athletes to create content, make appearances, sign autographs or whatever, I don’t know. And I’m not accusing anyone, certainly of those booster pools just handing out money, but it certainly smells of that in.
Aiko Jones [00:30:36]:
A lot of ways, right? There’s countless articles on it. I haven’t read any. I try not to scare myself too much, but I do know that there are, what do you call they call them Nil collectives, I think, or agencies, so to speak. And you have to be careful with the word agent because you can have a talent agent, but as an NCAA athlete, you cannot have a sport agent. So you have to kind of be careful with that term too. But we in Louisville, we have a newer one, is 502 Circle, where you become a member and those people who are independent of the university, it’s kind of a network of brands and professionals that help you find deals. I know earlier on, Joey Wagner had one, it was Rocketeer Sports, but I don’t think he has that one anymore. So I know that there are agencies that aren’t booster run, but might connect you with a booster because boosters have expressed their interest in working with athletes. But you’re right, there is a lot of stuff like that going on. And I think that’s where the NCAA might now be trying to kind of dig into their rules and maybe find if there are loopholes they didn’t find before and kind of fine tune things. But we’re all learning through this process as well.
Jason Falls [00:31:47]:
Yeah, I think it was about a month after the Nil passed back in 2020, jones or was activated in 2021. A very prominent alumni of the University of Kentucky, the big rival for U of L for those people out there listening who don’t know that. I happened upon this guy who I happened to know at a restaurant, and he said, yeah, we got the fund up to 15 million. And I was like, what fund? And he said, the Nil Fund. We’re just going to pay all these people when they come to campus. Now we’re just going to pay them out of this fund. And I was like, I think you’re going to get in a lot of trouble if you go down that path, because I don’t think that’s the intention. Again, I don’t know what he or the University of Kentucky was doing. I don’t know that they’ve done anything wrong. I certainly wouldn’t accuse them of doing anything wrong without knowing. But that’s sort of the conversation and the scuttlebutt that Deon Sanders was talking about is like the problem is these booster pools that just have a pile of money that they somehow figure out a way whether it’s a loophole that’s legal within the rules or whether it’s not somehow find a way to distribute that money to student athletes to give their school an advantage over others. The NCAA has got a lot of digging to do and a lot of fine tuning on those policies to get that right.
Aiko Jones [00:33:01]:
I mean, you’re so right. And I think about pre nil. You kind of talked about how I’ve been able to live both and Pre Nil. In almost every public speaking class, there was a speech about why a college athlete should get paid. And it was athletes and non athletes kind of writing these speeches. And my hot take was always, well, athletes do get paid. Free nutritionists, free physical therapy, free surgeries. In some cases they get fed, they get travel, and then athletes that are on scholarship get their school paid for. I would always help people. I am an athlete. A lot of athletes do get paid, they just don’t get the money. But people were saying, well, if you’re selling my jersey, I should be able to benefit off of that. And that’s another thing Nil has done where if they were to sell my jersey in the bookstore, I can get a percentage of that, or I can kind of lobby for a percentage of that. And that’s a big thing too. And now it’s like, well, your family can buy your jerseys and you can get some money from that. But people are always like, athletes should get paid. Like the NCAA is taking advantage of them. And there were, of course, valid arguments to both sides. But Nil, I think, has allowed athletes to get paid in the sense that people were arguing for, whereas if you’re really good, you can get money from being really good. You just have to do a little more. You just have to endorse a brand or things like that. So I do think that that whole athlete should be paid thing kind of has come to fruition, but not in the way that maybe people thought. People thought you should get paid more if you’re better. But, I mean, coming from an athlete and other athletes might beat me up for this, I don’t know. But athletes do get paid. They just don’t get money in their pockets. But that nutrition. I mean, you think about if you want to go see a chiropractor when you’re out of college. God, that stuff is expensive. And a lot of athletes get access to that for free.
Jason Falls [00:34:50]:
Yeah, the medical care, the housing, certainly the education, the food. If you’re on a full scholarship, basically you can live your whole life without needing cash flow. Certainly everybody needs a little bit of cash flow for entertainment, things like that. But, I mean, it’s very possible to be basically, depending upon the cost of tuition, you could be pulling in $50,000 a year in your tuition equivalent. But I still understand the point and worked with a lot of student athletes for a lot of years who we would go on the road and the bus would pull off. You’re probably used to flying into planes. I was on the buses, but the bus would pull off at the convenience store and we’d walk in and there’d be a couple of guys on the basketball team that couldn’t afford to buy a soda pop. Right. So there had to have been some middle ground. And I think the Nil is a good attempt at creating a middle ground, but there’s certainly a lot more polish to be applied to make sure that people aren’t skirting the rules and making it unfair.
Aiko Jones [00:35:55]:
I agree. And one more thing to add to that, if you don’t mind, is I think about your podcast episode, where it’s the underdog athletes that are making more money. And I think that Nil has unintentionally provided those athletes that needed to get paid that opportunity when those who are on scholarship, they can afford to go to the convenience store. But the smaller athletes that you probably never heard of before they did a brand deal with Adidas, are now getting that opportunity. I definitely think you’re right that there’s that middle ground and those athletes have been able to benefit from that.
Jason Falls [00:36:31]:
I’m also curious about one more thing about the college and university from your experience. I’m wondering, is there training or support being provided to student athletes around influence and brand collaborations? Has the university brought in experts or something like that to help you and your teammates and whatnot, understand personal branding, content creation, how to run the business of being you?
Aiko Jones [00:36:53]:
Lots of it. Lots of it at U of L, and a lot of it is mandatory. And it’s funny because pre Nil, we always had workshops on how to manage your brand. But more of just like, things not to post on social media, things that you can post on social media be careful of this, be careful of that. You represent the university, all of that stuff. But just last semester, we had a tax workshop on how to file your taxes and as an independent contractor doing Nil deals, and they get individuals, companies. We had Cura Story come down and talk to us. You’re familiar with Cura story?
Jason Falls [00:37:30]:
Well, if Cura Story is the young lady, Ms. King, who I had on.
Aiko Jones [00:37:37]:
The show yes, you did have her on the show. We had Cura Story come and kind of give us tips on how to make marketable videos. And even this semester, too, we had someone come and talk to our team about how to market yourself and how to use different platforms and how to know what’s trending and things like that. And a lot of that stuff is mandatory for those who are involved in Nil and those who aren’t, just because that’s the world we live in now. And so we do get a lot of support in that area. And our Nil staff is always available to answer questions. I mean, I’ve sent them contracts. They don’t get paid to read my contracts. They’re not my lawyers, but I’ve sent them contracts. And they’re able to kind of say, you should ask more about this, or this looks great, things like that. So we get tons of support at.
Jason Falls [00:38:19]:
U of L. That’s great. Well, I’m glad to hear that because I would think that student athletes who, no offense, are in their late teens, early 20s, they may not know this stuff, and they need someone to kind of guide them and point them in the right direction. So good. On U of l. I hope everybody’s doing it. I’m sure not everybody is, but I hope everybody is real quickly. One of the it’s not necessarily Nil, but it’s certainly made possible by Nil. One of the businesses that you work with in the Nil world is your own. Tell folks about Jamico Made.
Aiko Jones [00:38:52]:
Jamaica Made. I am creative. I don’t like to say that out loud. I also don’t like to call myself a content creator because I think that has kind of a cliche attached to it these days. But I’m a creative. I like to draw. I like to do puzzles. I like to make things. And prior to Nil, I wasn’t able to kind of explore that in the way I wanted. And I still haven’t really dove into that as deeply as I might want to. But I have the option now to have a brand, a sort of tangible brand where I can sell my work as gifts or as crew necks. I like to make crew necks. I normally make them as gifts for people that I know. And I do photography and videography as well, and, of course, my YouTube channel. So many branches to my creative side. What I am navigating now is how to do that while I’m physically in the United states. That is my main barrier right now. So hopefully I’ll get married soon and I’ll have a little more privileges here in the land of the free. I’ve been able to grow my brand more and post more about it and kind of see what that give back might be. But I’m creative and so I’m exploring that.
Jason Falls [00:40:11]:
That’s great. And congratulations, by the way, on your engagement.
Aiko Jones [00:40:14]:
Jason Falls [00:40:15]:
On the old interwebs as well. Do you and Carol Anne right, do you all have a date yet?
Aiko Jones [00:40:21]:
No, because marriage is expensive, but we are making calls and figuring things out and just trying to see what will work best for us. I mean, she just got into veterinary school, so right now we’re dealing with that. And I’m, of course, going into yet another year of college volleyball. So we do not have a date yet, but we’re living the life just the same.
Jason Falls [00:40:40]:
You don’t need one. Enjoy the engagement as long as you can. Well, congratulations to you on that and certainly on the success thus far. I’m super stoked for the 2023 season. Be able to come and watch you play for another year. So much fun getting to talk to you. ICO, thanks again for coming on the show. Before I let you go, tell folks where they can find you on the interwebs.
Aiko Jones [00:41:02]:
I am Aiko Jones on Instagram. I am Ikojonesja on Twitter, and I am Jamaico with three O’s on TikTok. That’s like Jamaica, but ICO at the end. And then through all those you can find my creative pages, my website, my YouTube and all that.
Jason Falls [00:41:21]:
And of course, GoCards.com, I can promise you this, the influence audience is going to be pulling for the cards. Nico Jones this year. Go get that trophy, girl.
Aiko Jones [00:41:30]:
We’re working on it. Thank you so much for having me.
Jason Falls [00:41:39]:
You could probably tell I have a lot of fun getting to know and talking to athletes. The one thing I miss about college athletics is being on the team bus after a big win, driving home, celebrating with the team. It was, I guess, my effort to feel like I belonged to something bigger than myself back in those days. Those were really good times. Really appreciate Aiko allowing me to stroll down memory lane a little bit as a bystander to her success. Go check her out, follow her on the socials and keep tabs on the Louisville Cardinals volleyball team. This year, I’ll be attending a few matches down at the Young Center. My own self. Very excited about their success. They were national runners up last year and lost to Texas. I believe in the national championship game, which is nothing to be ashamed of. Had a historic year for U of L, and I’m excited that they’re here in my town and I get to go watch them again this year because ICO is a lot of fun to watch on the court. She’s kind of a badass, so keep an eye on them. By the way, Aiko is also a regular listener, told Winfluence if you didn’t catch that, so count yourself among her crew. I think we can say that, right? We can say that. If you enjoyed this episode, please do share it with someone else who may as well. And if you’re enjoying Winfluence overall, help us grow and tell someone about the show. You probably know someone who might want to know more about Influence marketing. Send them to winfluence.com or share a link to this episode on your social network of choice. If you have a moment, drop influence a rating or review on your favorite podcast app. We’re on them all. The show is now on video as well. Just look for Jason Falls Winfluence on YouTube to see the show as well as hear it. Winfluence is a production of Falls and Partners and presented by Cipio AI. The technical production is by MPN Studios. Winfluence airs along MPN Marketing Podcast network. Thanks for listening, folks. Let’s talk again soon on Winfluence.