By Luke Conway
In this episode of Zone In, two former college athletes that have now found themselves on the other side of the playing field join hosts Kayvon Thibodeaux and Chase Griffin. Travelle Gaines is Kayvon’s mentor, longtime friend and business partner, coordinating his name, image and likeness (NIL) deals. And Michelle Meyer is the founder of The NIL Network, a hub of information for anyone involved in the NIL industry. They’re joined by Sam Palmer of J.P. Morgan Wealth Management, who provides insights and resources to help listeners build healthy financial habits of their own.
Travelle opens the episode describing how he played Division I baseball in college, but was equally focused on academics. He became a college strength coach then moved home to Louisiana to be around his family and opened a gym. His relationship with Kayvon began as a training relationship and turned into a business partnership around NIL deals.
Michelle was also an athlete, playing volleyball collegiately at UC Santa Barbara and then professionally in Denmark. Returning to the states, she coached at both the University of Hawaii and Pepperdine University as well as with USA Volleyball. She says her interest in NIL was sparked with the O’Bannon decision in 2014, which ruled that the NCAA's practice to ban payments to student athletes violated antitrust laws.
“I was coaching beach volleyball at the University of Hawaii and I thought, man, my athletes would love to take advantage of their own name, image and likeness,” Michelle recalls. “And I don't think necessarily they would have done it through social media endorsements. But even the opportunities for entrepreneurship and running camps and clinics and really using their own name would have been so powerful for them on the islands.”
By 2020, she was starting to work on the NIL Network, realizing that NIL deals were coming to college and not enough people were paying attention to the trend.
Helping athletes leverage their NIL
Michelle describes how the NIL Network operates as a resource aggregator for athletes at all levels who are interested in exploring the space. She collects resources including news articles, podcasts, databases and more.
“I've found about 400 new service providers that are working in the space and partnering directly with athletes across [about] 10 different sub-industries with marketplaces and agencies and advisors,” she explains. “And so it's a place where athletes can go and filter through and find support to help them monetize their [NIL]. So it is mostly just for autonomous independent athletes to get on there and do their research and figure out, you know, how to make this space work for them.”
Meanwhile, Travelle says his partnership with Kayvon grew organically from their training relationship.
“We had an interesting strategy. I sat down with Kayvon. He's very authentic. And I felt that he has to be real. He has to be him. He did not want to do anything that's going to have a negative effect on the Black community,” said Travelle. “So whether it was fast food, whether it was soda…we were not able to promote that.”
Kayvon ultimately turned down two six-figure deals because they didn’t match his values or his strategy. He says building the trusting relationship with Travelle was key. “I think it starts with just not being afraid, right? When I say afraid, we scare ourselves into not asking questions or being too prideful to tell someone that we didn't know,” says Kayvon. He recalls that every time he came into Travelle’s gym, he would have a new question or idea to bounce around. And the two grew their successful strategy from there.
Leveraging resources and strategies
Travelle, Michelle, Chase and Kayvon all agree that being strategic and connecting to resources like the NIL Network and formal or informal advisors are key to empowering athletes at any level to monetize their brand. Sam adds some practical advice for listeners:
“Creating a strategic plan is difficult and it's not natural to us,” he notes. “There is this concept of present bias where it's hard for us to plan for things that are far away in the future and that we're not emotionally connected to. One way to get around it is to reward yourself for good behavior. For example, in college, every time I paid off $200 for my credit card that I allowed myself to buy lunch from the nicer cafeteria. You have to figure out what that reward is for you. But we all need help in creating that strategic plan.”