For Aliyah Boston, the Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) era helped her to be his.
“In the beginning, the goal wasn’t just to partner with each company, because you really wanted to prepare for what you were interested in,” Boston said.
She wanted deals that could reflect who she is as a person just as she lets her game speak for her on the pitch. The South Carolina eldest moved to the United States at the age of 12 from the US Virgin Islands to seek better basketball opportunities. She became a top prospect, earning her program selection. She picked South Carolina and her dominating play kept the Gamecocks atop the standings last season, capping her with the dream moment of a national championship. It was even sweeter after losing in the Final Four the year before.
As for NIL, Boston’s mother, Cleone Boston, explained in an email response that the family wanted to make sure they surrounded themselves with people who had their best interests at heart, while being in able to prepare their daughter for long-term success. . Boston signed agent Jade-Li English, a former South Carolina agent, in September. English then joined KLUTCH Sports Group and helped launch their women’s basketball division. Boston began making deals with Bose, Bojangles and Under Armour. All the while, she and her team slowly made intentional decisions.
Under Armor typically uses two types of NIL partnerships with its collegiate athletes, says Charece Williams Gee, the company’s senior director and head of sports marketing and partnerships. They have signed nearly 100 athletes since last summer, and of those, 58% are women. The majority of deals have been for brand ambassadors, which tend to be situational and short-term. But there is a possibility to build on this. The second type is more integrated and can be multi-year and gives the company the opportunity to develop closer ties with the athlete. Williams Gee arrived at Under Armor last fall as the company began to think about how to move forward. Sam Gordon, who helped found what is believed to be the country’s first women’s soccer league, was one such athlete. Maryland football player Rakim Jarrett is another whose passion and Maryland roots the company wanted to showcase and grow.
Boston has become one too.
But before any individual deals were struck, the company had already interacted with the South Carolina superstar. In early 2022, Under Armour, which already has an agreement with South Carolina, met with the team and administration of Columbia, SC A deal was then finalized to create custom shirzees for each of the South Carolina players. These debuted in March ahead of the NCAA Tournament, with Williams Gee seeing fans already wearing the garments in weekend tournament games.
“It was pretty cool to see him in the tournament, everybody was just wearing your shirzee,” Boston said. “It was just pretty awesome.”
Beginning with a team-first approach, Under Armor highlighted the Gamecocks as a whole, focusing on a successful season and a rabid fanbase that consistently leads the nation in home attendance. As a result, Williams Gee and Under Armor learned more about Boston. Williams Gee got to see Boston’s leadership and influence on his team and see how grounded it was. Williams Gee had worked with English with a former athlete, so the two discussed a potential deal, and they all sat down to learn more about Boston. There was already a natural relationship with the products, as Boston has worn Under Armor since its inception.
“Part of all marketing is storytelling, and frankly, I didn’t think (the Boston story) was told enough,” English said. “I think it’s partly a media thing and partly because, you know, NIL is so new, and it allows for more storytelling. And so I think working with Under Armor was sort of a no-brainer.
Although a partnership with Boston wasn’t announced until late April, that didn’t mean Boston wasn’t on the company’s radar. Naturally, Boston was focused on basketball, so it made sense to announce at the right time. Part of this year has been learning to balance NIL obligations while focusing on basketball, so she turned to English for help. But there were hints of the deal to come for eagle-eyed fans – Boston was featured in the brand’s showcase at the Final Four.
“There’s never a moment when you don’t think about partnering with Aliyah Boston,” Williams Gee said. “It’s definitely always something you want.”
Boston is part of Under Armour’s goal-oriented approach when signing athletes, and the components of the deal reflect that. Boston appreciates that the company listened to his thoughts and acted on them. One of them started the first-ever UA Next women’s basketball camp in the hometown of Boston in the Virgin Islands. Boston’s mother wrote that it was a huge family call. All of these discussions materialized last month with the first camp.
“Just thinking back to when I was younger, I wasn’t really lucky to have a camp in my backyard,” Boston said. “And so being able to just, you know, give continued hope to young girls on the islands is just something special to me.”
Boston’s mother wrote that thinking about the dedication put into making the event special brought tears to her eyes.
“Watching Aliyah interact with the children and parents who came to watch was an amazing sight to see,” Cleone Boston wrote. “Nothing of this magnitude was available to her, her sister or any other young women here in the territory – which is why it was so important to Aliyah and our family that we worked with Under Armor to make this camp happen. “
She’s also provided design insight to the company and will be the face of the UA FLOW Breakthru 3. A self-proclaimed “color person” who doesn’t want things to be bland, Boston enjoyed picking out hues for the shoe. Already wearing the previous edition on the court, she will sport the basketball shoes designed for women next season.
“I love that she’s a basketball player, she always pushes us and talks about what we can do for women in sports, even beyond her sport that resonates with the business, so I appreciate her voice in that she’s just an advocate for women in sport,” Williams Gee said.
After winning the national title, Boston was hit with an occasional realization: “Dang, we really won a national championship.” She’s still winning awards, but now back on campus, Boston’s attention has turned to the upcoming season.
“I think it’s going to be super fun,” Boston said. “You know, I worked hard. The goal is definitely to win another national championship before we leave South Carolina, and so, we’re just going to work hard, stay focused, and I’m just going to be dominant.
(Aliyah Boston top photo: Kirby Lee/USA Today)