On January 19, Fairfield University’s athletics department announced a new partnership with YOKE, a “fan engagement platform” for intercollegiate athletic programs to help student-athletes enhance their name, image and likeness (NIL). The new initiative allows for college athletes to profit off of their NIL for the first time through the Fairfield NIL Club, “a web and mobile app-enabled community,” powered by YOKE.  

“We’re so busy all of the time. We can’t have jobs. We can’t have an income for ourselves, so it has definitely had an impact on us and on our team and we have really enjoyed it,” says Fairfield University women’s basketball forward, Callie Cavanaugh. 

According to Paul Schlickmann, Fairfield vice president of athletics, the debate over whether or not student-athletes should be paid has only recently heightened. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) prohibited college athletes from profiting from their NIL since its founding in 1906, claiming that doing so would overlook amateurism and neglect to distinguish them from professionals. However, the Supreme Court’s 2021 ruling in National Collegiate Athletic Association v. Alston, et. al. overturned this decision. 

Since then, state governments have started to make their own policies. Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont announced on June 30, 2021 that he had signed legislation allowing for student-athletes to profit from their NIL. Since then, Fairfield University was able to develop its own NIL policy within the framework—a process that was fairly straightforward and simple, according to Schlickmann. 

Schlickmann shares that he is a proponent of the university athletics’ new partnership with YOKE, which allows student-athletes to promote themselves through various forms of media. Athletes are able to record podcasts and join video chats, among other opportunities to engage with fans. 

“It very much aligns with Fairfield’s educational values and our holistic process and outlook,” Schlickmann says. “You want students to have an entrepreneurial spirit and an avenue to try and develop it.”

Following a five-year, department-wide partnership with INFLCR and INFLCR Verified that started in May 2021, the new partnership with YOKE is just another step in the university’s endeavor  to empower student-athletes. 

YOKE differentiates itself from INFLCR by engaging student-athletes in a subscriber-based model and being social-media-content-driven, according to Schlickmann. 

The NIL Club grants fans exclusive access to media content created by student-athletes. All fans have to do is pay a five-dollar-minimum monthly subscription fee. 

Cavanaugh shares her experience being invited to discuss the women’s season and the team’s new head coach in an interview setting, which was then published on the new platform during its first week after launch. She says the team has marketed the new platform across all social media outlets in the hopes of getting more subscriptions.

“It’s been really cool because we’re able to communicate with our fan base and those people who you can’t really communicate with at games,” she says. 

Cavanaugh still hopes fans’ engagement with the new platform will continue to improve over time as the word gets out. 

“This is my last year, so I won’t be able to experience it for long,” she says, “but I hope it only gets better for the girls below me and girls coming into college that are not used to the experience.” 

Schlickmann says that data on the amount of subscriptions will be reviewed at the end of this month. 

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