Sam Thomas Takes Her Brand to Arizona's EDGE
When the Arizona Women's Basketball team returned from its historic run in the 2021 NCAA Tournament, thousands of fans arrived at Arizona Stadium to greet the team just hours after losing to Stanford by a point in the national championship game. This surreal moment struck a chord with Arizona forward Sam Thomas.
"When we came home after the national championship game to thousands of fans in the football stadium to greet us, take pictures and sign autographs," Thomas reflected. "I truly felt our profile and popularity had truly changed."
Things had changed… a lot.
Coach Adia Barnes and the Wildcats had captivated a nation with a dramatic, made-for-tv run in San Antonio with five wins in two weeks that included a dominating 10-point victory of legendary powerhouse UConn. It was at this welcome back event that Sam Thomas announced to the boisterous crowd that she would return for another season.
Things had changed… a lot.
The bright lights of a nationally-televised deep run in March Madness had raised the profiles of Arizona's student-athletes and coaches. Instagram followings grew, student-athletes got verified and some of the biggest stars were filling up @ArizonaWBB's mentions on Twitters.
McDonald is NICE! @ArizonaWBB Also, hi Coach!!! ??????
— Megan Rapinoe (@mPinoe) March 30, 2021
All of Arizona is behind you.
— Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) April 4, 2021
"After the BYU game, a bunch of us started getting a ton of followers on social media," Thomas remembered. "It wasn't until later that night that everyone started checking their phones and seeing all of the attention we were getting. Then after the next game, a bunch of us got verified and we were all like 'Yup, everyone is definitely talking about us.'"
Things would continue to change… a lot
On July 1, 2021, the NCAA legislation regarding Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) was ratified that allowed student-athletes to be compensated for NIL opportunities. Arizona Athletics launched its "Arizona EDGE" program that focuses on personal brand management, business development, financial literacy, networking as well as aspects of Business law to optimize the decision-making process and enhance NIL opportunities.
Arizona EDGE became the newest addition to the department's longstanding Commitment to an Athletes Total Success (C.A.T.S), Arizona Edge is symbolic of the University of Arizona's commitment and investment to developing student-athletes and preparing them for successful careers and personal fulfillment after college.
With this sea of change in her life, Thomas set out for a final season at the University of Arizona. She immersed herself in Arizona EDGE's programming and resources immediately and intently waited before jumping into the new world of NIL.
"My biggest concern going into NIL was getting scammed or signing a bad contract," she noted. "I took a step back and took my time. I went through some of Arizona EDGE's educational materials on contracts and saw what to look for and be aware of."
Her fears were eased further knowing Arizona's NIL program had a partnership with the university's James E. Rogers College of Law that offers lawyers and law experts as resources to help look things over.
In September, the University of Arizona opened its D.C. Center for Outreach & Collaboration in the nation's capitol. The grand opening festivities included a panel on Name, Image and Likeness that included head men's basketball coach Tommy Lloyd, INFLCR CEO Jim Cavale, Jason Ranne of Wasserman Sports Agency, UArizona President Dr. Robert C. Robbins and Director of Athletics Dave Heeke. Thomas joined the panel on behalf of all Arizona student-athletes, which created some nerves in her stomach.
"I was so nervous at the DC event because I was on a panel with such notable people. I actually got starstruck sitting there listening to panel members, but then I would remind myself that they invited me to come because they wanted my voice and perspective on things because it was important."
Among her other takeaways, Thomas learned a lot from Cavale's sharing of NIL statistics and analytics as well as his message of remaining focused on being great on the court, in the classroom and in the community.
Her trip to Washington, D.C. was eye-opening, but it also helped her visualize what she wanted her brand to be when it came to NIL. It was the latest realization of what her platform could be. What Sam Thomas, the brand, stands for. It also showcased for her, the importance of networking and relationships.
"One thing that has stood out to me through this entire NIL process with Arizona EDGE is connections," Thomas continued. "I'm able to network, meet people and make great connections. It's giving me the opportunity to talk to even more people outside of basketball and opened a lot of great doors for my career after basketball."
Providing education and resources towards elevating their NIL opportunities, Arizona EDGE has emerged as the newest initiative of the first pillar of Arizona Athletics' "Wildcat Way" strategic plan. Known as "The Wildcat Journey", this pillar focuses on driving student-athlete success through new and cutting-edge strategies.
Sam Thomas has spent four years as a Wildcat, building her brand as a star player on the court, being an Academic All-American, serving her community and focusing on her vision. Her foray into name, image and likeness, through the Arizona EDGE program, has allowed her to build her brand into a reflection of who she is.
"I want my brand to stand for my journey here. I took a chance coming to the program when it wasn't high profile, and I'd like folks to take the same chance on me and my brand. I want my brand to be about taking a chance on someone, believing in them and letting that grow."