Starting July 1 of this year, for the first time ever, college student-athletes were permitted to begin profiting from their name, image and likeness. This allows them to sign autographs, sell game-worn jerseys or promote products on their social media channels for cash, just like professional athletes. Previously, doing so was forbidden by the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s amateurism rules.
The Conway, Arkansas Convention and Visitors Bureau wasted no time in taking advantage of this new source of influencers, announcing just days later that it would be signing approximately 30 University of Central Arkansas Student Athletes to individual “name, image and likeness” deals with them serving as brand ambassadors for the CVB in a first of its kind program.
Selected student-athletes will equitably represent all men’s and women’s sports with their promotion focusing on Conway’s visitor amenities, quality of place and the student athlete’s personal story of thriving in Conway.
Men’s basketball player Jaxson Baker is one of the program’s first signees. Baker is the current president of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), a member of the school’s honor roll and a starter on the team. The Phoenix area native also has 84,000 followers on TikTok.
Tyler Rose, a junior sprinter from Fresno, Texas, who holds multiple school records, will be another.
Student-athletes will be paid between $500 and $2,000 depending on the quantity and quality of work produced. The CVB expects the student ambassadors to create posts in their social media feeds promoting the area and work with the CVB and its partners to do the same. Student-athletes will provide testimonials to be featured on CVB or partner feeds which may include video, name, image, likeness, or attributed quotes. Content will focus on visiting Conway restaurants, amenities and sporting events, but may also include quality of life and place messages and personal stories about why they chose the area for attending college and why they plan to stay following graduation.
“With college athletes, you have a group of people who came here from around the country – and world – to pursue not only their educations, but their passion; it’s a great story that people can apply to themselves,” Jamie Gates, Executive Vice President for the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce and the Conway Development Corporation, said of why the town feels student-athletes make good ambassadors. “Even more specific to the CVB, the vast majority of these student-athletes arrived in Conway as young adults and had to orient themselves. They went through the ‘discovery process.’ They found favorite restaurants. They found affordable places to recreate and some of them will find reasons to stay after college.”
All student-athlete ambassadors selected for the campaign are either juniors or seniors in good academic standing and standouts in their chosen sports. Individual stories and social media presence and activity are also considerations.
In addition to monetary payment for their promotional efforts, the Conway CVB will provide for and pay participating student-athletes to attend between six and 10 hours of in-person business training and mentorship provided by Conductor, a local incubator for entrepreneurs, innovators and makers affiliated with the University of Central Arkansas.
Why is the CVB taking this extra step?
“Not only will our content be better, but these student athletes will leave with something that’s resume quality rather than just transactional,” Gates explained. “That’s what reputable businesses do. That’s the standard we want these young professionals to have for themselves now and when they enter the workforce.”
Training will include reputation management, business and communications.
“Our first responsibility is to do a good job promoting all our city has to offer, but we also have a responsibility to put back into our college students and expose them to a high-value business experience,” Rachel Shaw, Executive Director of the Conway Convention and Visitors Bureau, said.
Through introductions made to Conway CVB partners, student-athletes will additionally be exposed to other local brands and businesses for future “NIL” or employment opportunities they can arrange themselves.
The CVB is working with the university’s athletic department on the deal, which is not required, but makes sense in the small, close-knit community.
“We work together on a lot of projects and while we will maintain a degree of separation from the athletic department on these deals, we know that we’re going to do business in a way that they can proudly promote,” Gates said. “The training component is also something that is bigger than our cohort of ambassadors. The training that we’re helping launch with The Conductor is going to be available to every UCA athlete.”
Applicable beyond Conway, Gates finds an obvious reason why other destinations and CVBs should strongly considering using local student-athletes to promote their areas.
“They’re thriving young people,” he said. “It’s a good look.”