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Exciting things on the horizon: Walker Jones discusses the progress of The Grove Collective, new opportunities coming for fans

Exciting things on the horizon: Walker Jones discusses the progress of The Grove Collective, new opportunities coming for fans

OXFORD, Miss. — Since Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) arrived and put an end to amateurism rules that previously governed college sports, colleges, universities, and NIL collectives have been on an endless quest for how to handle all that NIL brings to the table.  

For several months, Walker Jones and the Grove Collective body have been working to streamline NIL opportunities for Ole Miss athletes. The Rebel Walk visited with Jones recently to get an update on the growth of the collective as well as learn about some new and exciting opportunities for fans to participate.

Grove Collective collaboration with Oxford businesses

The Grove Collective has also embarked on a campaign to increase members’ benefits while finding additional sources of funding for the collective.  The result is a collaboration between local Oxford businesses and the Grove Collective to give members of the collective incentives and rewards for joining.  

“We (Grove Collective) will have some opportunities for current members that we are getting ready to announce in the next few days to weeks,” Jones explained.

We are developing a local Oxford business consortium.  Businesses that are corporate sponsors of the collective will offer direct discounts, depending on the nature of the business, to Grove Collective members and/or a percentage of profits donated back to the Grove Collective on behalf of those members. We are working right now and have about twenty businesses who have agreed to participate.

Walker Jones

The types of businesses joining the consortium include restaurants, bars, clothing stores, and home furnishing establishments. 

Grove Collective sponsor stores will have a sticker on their window which signifies they are a Grove Collective sponsor, enabling Grove Collective members to know which shops they should frequent to receive an incentive.  

This program should launch before the year’s end, and Jones is excited about the endeavor.

Another exciting announcement is the Grove Collective’s partnership with GenTeal Apparel, a local Oxford business, to add another merchandise option for collective members beyond what presently exists.  

GenTeal has a great product line with high-quality quarter zips, polos, and pants. They will produce products only available to Grove Collective members, which will be accessible through the members-only portion of the Grove Collective website.

Walker Jones

In addition, Ole Miss-led company Blue Delta Jeans is partnering with the Grove Collective. “Nick and his team are going to design and make custom jeans for the collective, and we will auction those off to our members and have our athletes involved in the process,” Jones explained. 


The Grove Collective strives to provide NIL opportunities, support, and guidance to student-athletes.  Jones talked with us about the student-athletes already under contract with the collective.

We (Grove Collective) have eighty-five athletes right now under contract.  That number will be over one hundred by the first of January as we sign more athletes.  We have expanded into soccer, volleyball, and track and field.  They are the newest additions from a sports standpoint in addition to baseball, football, and men’s and women’s basketball.  We are really trying to branch out and cover as many of the athletes as we can. Adding more from some of our Olympic sports is a real priority.

Walker Jones on the number of Ole Miss athletes in the collective 

Jones indicates that the collective wants fans to get to know the athletes and will be employing some new experiences on the Grove Collective website. 

Depending upon a member’s giving level, Grove Collective contracted athletes may be available to send personalized messages, make appearances at events, etc.  

We are going to launch, sometime during the first of January, player-generated content that consists of behind-the-scenes videos from our players, one-on-one interviews, day-in-the-life type stories, and athlete spotlights. We really want our members to get to know the athletes.  Fans see their superlatives on the field.  Fans know what the athletes are doing when they are competing, but giving them (fans) a glimpse of who they (athletes) are, what their interests are, who their heroes are, their family history, why they chose Ole Miss, what they love about Oxford and just a deeper dive into who these athletes are as a person is what we want to do.  The content will be on our members-only content hub behind the pay wall on the website.

Jones on opportunities for fans to learn about the athletes

Grove Collective growth

Through November and December, the Grove Collective surpassed the 5,000-member mark — and did so much more quickly than anticipated.  The influx of members may have been due in part to the uncertainty regarding the possibility of head coach Lane Kiffin leaving Ole Miss, with the Rebel fan base showing its support for Ole Miss athletics and NIL by joining the collective.  

When asked whether he thought the Kiffin-to-Auburn storyline played a factor in the increased collective membership numbers, Jones replied, “That helped to a degree.  There was a little paranoia and fear that we were going to lose Coach (Kiffin), and that certainly helped probably to get things moving and fanned the flames a little bit.  But it’s also a real tribute to our fans and them not only listening to what we (Grove Collective) had to say but trusting what we had to say and stepping up in a big way,” Jones commented. 

You just can’t put a price on that.  It’s one thing for them (fans) to hear the message, but for them to trust the message in a world (NIL) that’s so undefined right now is really a tribute to our fans.  They stepped up in a big way.  They realized the relevancy of it, the importance of it.


I will also say that whether Coach (Kiffin) had decided to stay or go, I think our fans kind of got to the point that they said, ‘Hey, this needs to be a successful venture, regardless.  It’s bigger than any one person.’  I think it started with the fear of losing him (Kiffin), but it ended up with people saying, ‘Hey, we need to be doing this anyway, regardless of who our head coach is.’  So, that’s another tribute to our Ole Miss fans who have stepped up and trusted the message.

Jones on fans stepping up

Giving to the University and the Collective

University giving also remains at the center of the Grove Collective’s message.  Although both entities pursue monetary contributions for different reasons, the end goal is still the same. For Ole Miss athletics to be successful, fans must give to the university and the collective.  

Jones discussed the importance of the two groups working together to enhance Ole Miss athletics. “It’s a team effort in all of this, and having (Vice Chancellor for Intercollegiate Athletics)  Keith Carter’s endorsement, the university’s support, and their backing helps,” Jones began. “Those things helped add validity to what I was saying. It’s one thing to hear it from me, but then to hear it from Keith, our coaches, our administration, our university; it really got us over the top,” he added. 

Times are tight for many American households, but individuals love sports and the entertainment it provides. Jones, Carter, and everyone involved with Ole Miss athletics are acutely aware of what they are asking of people, and they take the utmost care to be respectful when asking fans to give.  

However, the reality is that if fans want Ole Miss to win championships,  fans are going to have to find ways to support both the university and the collective.  

Jones remarked, “We have got to do both.  Keith (Carter) and I have done several presentations together, some town halls, and Keith leads with that statement.  People ask, ‘Do I give to the university or the collective?’ His answer is, ‘We’ve got to figure out a way to do both.’ He’s right.  The university has needs that must be supported.  Keith has to be continually enhancing our facilities and addressing those just as much as he has to support NIL.  We’ve got to support both.  There’s no exact formula for how to do that other than we are going to cooperate with each other and work hard hand-in-hand not to confuse our donors, not to cannibalize them, and to make them feel like the money they are giving to both endeavors is incredibly impactful and is going to be used in the best and most impactful ways.”

The Role of the Collective

When it comes to recruiting college athletes, collectives are not allowed to have direct contact with a recruit. However, with NIL now in the picture, collectives are put in the unique position of somewhat assisting coaches in the recruitment process, with the coach being the collective’s proxy of sorts to convey to athletes the advantages and benefits of the collective. 

Using Coach Kiffin as an example, Jones gave us insight into the role of the collective in recruiting. 

Our role is to give him (Kiffin) the confidence that he can sit in a room and say, ‘Look, we have a well-funded and highly organized NIL platform run by the Grove Collective, and you can go to the website and see all the work they’re doing.’ I think that’s where we (Grove Collective) can make a difference. Although we can’t technically be in the room and talk to the recruits, he can take the information we’ve given him and make a case for why he feels Ole Miss will be just as competitive on the NIL landscape as any other school out there.

Jones on the role of the collective in recruiting

Jones discussed his goal for the collective and how he envisions it with respect to recruiting.

That’s been my goal from day one – to give Coach Kiffin and all the other coaches the confidence to make those statements and to let the kids feel like, ‘Yeah, I see that it is a well-organized and well-funded operation, and if I did decide to go there, I’m sure they’d take good care of me.’ I think that’s ultimately what we are trying to do through this process is give coaches the confidence that they can do that, and ultimately we don’t really care about what other schools are doing.  We can’t worry about that.  Our goal is to make our NIL platform as competitive as possible where it doesn’t come down to being the defining reason on why a kid chooses to come to Ole Miss.  We know it will happen sometimes, but if we (Grove Collective) can be competitive enough to where a prospective student-athlete can go, ‘You know what? I know Ole Miss is going to be competitive in helping me get paid for what I’m worth or what other schools say I’m worth. So, I’m going to look at the coaching staff, distance from home, the City of Oxford, and the brand of Ole Miss. I’m going to make my decision based on those things because I know all things being equal, the money will be competitive.’ If we can do that, we will win more than we lose.  My goal is to get Ole Miss competitive enough to where NIL isn’t the overriding factor.

Jones on his goal for the Collective

Allocation of funds

Another element for the Grove Collective to consider is the allocation of funds. Remember that the collective’s contracts with athletes are for one year. So, there is a never-ending cycle of negotiation.  

With player retention being a concern and an influx of new athletes each season,  how does the collective determine how much money it needs to keep in reserve for high school recruits and transfers?  

It is one of the most complex questions the collective has to decipher, and no actual formula or straightforward method of determining the answer exists. 

Jones tells us, “That’s probably the hardest thing we do. There’s no real salary cap. There’s no collective bargaining like in the NFL.  Money isn’t made public like the NFL. So, a lot of it is a guessing game. A lot of it is trying to get as much information as possible to back your way into a valuation, but it’s really hard. We don’t have a one hundred percent tried-and-true formula that tells us this kid is worth this and this kid is worth that, etc.,” he explained.

” I rely on my background of doing player deals for Under Armour, where we would value the impact they (athletes) could have on our business with their Name Image Likeness.  There are some parallels there, but it’s still an imperfect science.  Anybody who tells you they know exactly what you should or shouldn’t be paying people is really kind of guessing at this thing.  So, that’s probably the biggest unknown.  Every day, every week, every month that goes by, we get a little more intel and a little more information to start to put a little finer point on what those valuations can be. However, even then, you’re still kind of working off limited information and some really basic, for lack of a better term, guesses.  Again, you try to line up the obligations the kids have to perform for the money to ensure those are commensurate with each other the best you can,” Jones added.

Thank you to Ole Miss fans

Walker Jones is beyond appreciative of the support and trust Ole Miss fans have placed in the Grove Collective, and in him and the others working tirelessly for the betterment of Ole Miss athletics and its athletes.  

There is no doubt Jones realizes the commitment and sacrifice fans have exhibited in their effort to bring the Grove Collective to its feet regarding funding and member support.  

He wants fans to know two things:

First, a big sincere thank you to Ole Miss fans for stepping up as they have.  We are humbled by the trust and support they have given us, but we can’t stop.  Second, understand this will be a never-ending process, and it will continue to develop. We need people who haven’t joined to join.  We have over 40,000 season ticket holders in football and a little over 5,000 Grove Collective members.  So, we need a larger percentage of our season ticket holders to sign up for the collective.  Again, while we are extremely appreciative and humbled by the support we’ve gotten to this point, we’re not where we need to be long-term for sustainability.  So, we need to get that percentage of our season ticket holders higher.”

Walker Jones’ message to fans

To join the Grove Collective or to learn more, please click here. 

Donna Sprabery

Donna Sprabery

Donna Sprabery is a former teacher, graduation coach, and academic coach for boys basketball. She graduated from the University of West Alabama with a major in business education and from Arkansas State University with a MA in Educational Leadership. A native of Meridian, MS, Donna enjoys traveling, gardening, writing, volunteer work, and cheering on the Rebels.

About The Author

Donna Sprabery

Donna Sprabery is a former teacher, graduation coach, and academic coach for boys basketball. She graduated from the University of West Alabama with a major in business education and from Arkansas State University with a MA in Educational Leadership. A native of Meridian, MS, Donna enjoys traveling, gardening, writing, volunteer work, and cheering on the Rebels.

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