The NCAA’s name, image, and likeness policy has allowed college student-athletes to profit from their popularity. That’s why big brands rush to attach their presence to those who have massive online followings.
Some might wonder if amateurism’s essence was lost when the NCAA placed an interim NIL policy in June 2021. That’s the subject of another debate. However, if these individuals put a premium on being a student more than an athlete first, imagine how taxing their schedules are.
Aside from going to class and completing school requirements, they must wake up early for training. Some training may happen after class, giving them limited time to finish their homework, find time to eat, or get enough sleep.
Hence, they deserve something in return for the responsibilities they must finish in a day. Ideally, NIL eliminates horror stories of college athletes going into games hungry or fixing games for money. But as NIL started to roll out, the primary beneficiaries were predictable.
College football and basketball dominate the list of those who get the most NIL deals. On3 reports that nine of the top ten athletes with the most lucrative endorsements come from those sports. LSU gymnast Olivia Dunne is the exception.
Bronny James is at the top with an estimated NIL net worth of $5.9 million, even before he played a single minute for the USC Trojans. That’s what your father’s star power can do for you, the same thing that made Shedeur Sanders number two on the list with a $4.8 million valuation.
But in scouring ON3’s NIL 100 list, there are no volleyball players in it. Angel Reese, Flau’jae Johnson, Caitlin Clark, Paige Bueckers, and Hailey Van Lith represent women’s basketball. Even athletics has its entry in the Texas Longhorns’ Sam Hurley.
In volleyball terms, their players have been stuff blocked out of the more rewarding deals. For sure, NCAA volleyball players have their NIL deals in place. A 2021 report by Openverse shows an increase in average NIL compensation per division.
However, it's still nowhere near what football and basketball players pull in. If there's a playbook for it, getting the crème of the crop is directly proportional to bringing more attention to the sport itself.
For sure, there’s no shortage of great NCAA volleyball players. It’s a big reason the United States volleyball teams have remained competitive for decades, as shown by their world rankings. But the sport lags way behind in building personalities. Hence, here’s how volleyball can address the gap.
How about creating villains?
As Eric Bischoff’s book title said, controversy creates cash. Frankly, volleyball doesn’t have too much of it. It has been a straightforward sport wherein Team A wins, and Team B loses with nothing in between or after.
Of course, taking in the villain persona is challenging, especially if it’s faked. But sometimes, being honest about things and saying it without a filter can make you a polarizing public enemy (or a hero). It could be a player complaining about how the other team has been mocking them from the other side of the net. Or it could be a coach who chews players for a lack of effort.
Beyond the scores and the stats, what can make volleyball more interesting? Having people who speak their mind won’t hurt. Remember Angel Reese? Yes, she’s a great basketball player. But she became a household name after her comments on inviting Iowa to the White House and her gesture towards Caitlin Clark during the 2023 National Championship Game.
However, being edgy only works if you can back it up. So, what say you, Wisconsin, Stanford, or Nebraska? Who would be the instigator? Bulletin board materials can garner more attention and possibly better NIL deals that come with it.
Why should people care beyond the sport?
They’ll care about volleyball when the games are on. But what happens during the days when there are no games? Spending an hour or two in building their brand can make a difference. Posting photos of their daily whereabouts would work, but video content yields better numbers.
How about engaging with fans by posting videos sharing thoughts that a certain demographic can relate to? It could be about makeup, food, athletic equipment, or books, to name a few. Those posts help followers peel through the layers of the volleyball player’s persona, learning more about the person behind the athlete.
It doesn’t have to be a professional-grade video. Instead, volleyball players could start by merely recording what they’re doing using their mobile phones. Drawing from Field of Dreams, the deals will come if you build the platform.
Affiliate NIL deals?
Sometimes, more prominent brands need proof of concept. Therefore, volleyball players can start with affiliate deals. They promote a brand on social media, post a link where they can purchase, and earn money from the sale or the page visit.
It can yield a good amount of money if the attention escalates. The results can be shared online, allowing major advertisers to take notice. After all, they want to get widespread exposure for their product.