In the era of college sports pay, women are becoming big winners


INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MARCH 6: Iowa guard Caitlin Clark (22) raises her arms to cheer on the crowd during the Women’s Big Ten Tournament Championship college basketball game between the Indiana Hoosiers and the Iowa Hawkeyes on March 6, 2022 at Gainbridge Country House in Indianapolis, IN. (Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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Lebron James’ son Bronny got most of the title, but there’s another big story in the recent Nike NIL deal to allow college athletes to get paid. At a time of heightened scrutiny of the pay gap between male and female athletes, the Nike deals show that collegiate and amateur female athletes are emerging as winners in the early days of the NIL era.

“I think it reflects a wider movement that we see in the sport. I think it’s a calculation, a slow calculation, though, but a calculation that there are more opportunities, more interest “said Patrick Rishe, director of the sports business program at the University of Washington.

University of Iowa point guard Caitlin Clark, Stanford University guard Haley Jones and Sierra Canyon High School guard Juju Watkins are the three basketball players signed to NikeThe recently finalized NIL endorsement deal, alongside Sierra Canyon High School point guard Bronny James and Camden High School guard DJ Wagner.

“I grew up watching Nike athletes from all sports play their game. They inspired me to work hard and make a difference. I’m honored to be a part of this premier Nike basketball class and passionate about ‘inspire the next,’ Clark said in a Nike release.

Female sports success in the early NIL era

Since the enactment of the NIL (Name, Image and Likeness) structure to allow amateur athletes to seek endorsement deals, which came in July 2021 after a landmark Supreme Court ruling, the hope was that female athletes would benefit significantly.

“I think most people knew that female athletes in particular were going to see great opportunities,” Rishe said.

Tracking the deals since NIL’s execution through September 30 this year, women’s basketball ranked third among NIL-paid sports, according to technology firm NIL and market Opendorse. With a total of 12.6% of NIL earnings going to women’s basketball, the sport was only behind men’s basketball (18.9%) and soccer (49.6%).

Despite the large gap between NIL compensation for football players and all other athletes, data from Opendorse shows the potential for greater gains in women’s sport. Six women’s sports were in the top 10 NIL earning sports, and women’s basketball, volleyball and softball all beat baseball, the third highest-grossing men’s sport.

“The brands we work with are very explicit that they want to ensure there is full representation of the athletes they are working with on a campaign. They specifically ask for diverse athlete representation across multiple sports. [and] equal representation of men and women,” said Lisa Bregman, Senior Director of Market Success at Opendorse.

Nike, which has an extensive presence in college sports merchandising, further invested in growing the women’s apparel business through its college partnerships.

Local and global brands see the potential to support college athletes, and while lucrative deals with football players lead the way from afar – 12 players have million-plus deals and 50 player deals from worth $500,000 or more, according to sports data company On3 — there are a growing number of companies signing NIL agreements with female athletes.

“We’re seeing more of our football and basketball guys getting the bigger deals that involve cash payouts,” said Rutgers University softball player Kayla Bock. But she added: “There are companies that are actively looking for women and looking for specific sports.”

Bock, and a total of eight student-athletes, recently signed a NIL agreement with the New Brunswick Development Corporation (Devco) in honor of 50 years of Title IX, the part of the federal Department of Education amendments of 1972 which prohibits discrimination in any school or other educational program that receives federal government funding.

NIL agreements expand career opportunities for female athletes.

“A lot of these women don’t have the opportunities at the team sports level that their male counterparts have professionally. So being able to monetize their brand, while they have the exposure that they have in college , will hopefully put them in place for several years beyond,” Rishe said. “That’s why it’s exciting to see, but not surprising to see a lot of female varsity athletes doing various NIL deals sometimes. lucrative.”

The presence of women on social networks influences offers

Clark ranks tenth among the highest-grossing college women basketball players and Jones ranks twelfth, according to On3’s “College Women’s Basketball NIL Rankings.” While the Nike deals are likely to help these players’ rankings rise, the onus also falls on the athletes to maintain their newfound fame.

“It creates a greater platform and incentive for any student-athlete who does an NIL deal, but in particular [for] female athletes, to hone their brand, polish it, perfect it,” Rishe said.

NIL-signed female athletes can make up for the lack of attention women’s sports have historically received by focusing on growing their followers and engagement on social media.

A 2021 study from the Pew Research Center found that 12% more women than men use social media, and companies are recognizing this as more NIL deals are signed. Companies want to partner with student-athletes who can effectively market their brand and know there’s no better way to do that than through social media.

Excluding football, Opendorse found that NIL paid female athletes engage in 19.6% more social media activity for their offerings than their male counterparts.

“Knowing that women tend to be more active and engaged on social media and knowing that these offerings and the real opportunity to build their brands is really in that space, it’s really created an opportunity for female athletes to stand out. “Bregman said.

Whether it’s posting a picture of a new Liquid IV product or sharing his Adidas discount code with friends and family, Bock is enjoying the benefits of NIL offers, along with the growing recognition of his athletic abilities and the sport. feminine as a whole.

“Just the difference between the [viewership for the] The Men’s Baseball College World Series and the Women’s Softball College World Series, I mean the women blew the men out of the water. So when it comes to just women’s sports in general, I think it’s becoming a bigger thing,” Bock said. “We get that attention we deserve from the start.

Future impact on college athletic affairs

Even after the 50th anniversary of the adoption of Title IX, girls are still missing a million high school sports opportunities and women are missing 60,000 college sports opportunities, the Women’s Sports Foundation found in a recent study. But the growing number of NIL deals for female athletes is attracting more attention and hope that there will be continued growth in compensation for women’s sports in the future.

“If these women are successful on the court and are successful in building their brands off the court, especially through social media, it certainly has the potential to increase and increase the exposure of women’s basketball” , Rishe said of Nike’s deal with Clark. , Jones and Watkins. “The more female student athletes who do this for women’s football, the more it could impact corporate partnership deals and even media rights deals that women’s basketball is able to command. and on the individual universities or schools in which these young women play.”

Division I athletic programs continue to spend nearly twice as much on their men’s teams as their women’s teams, according to the NCAA’s 2022 report “The State of Women in College Sports,” and Divisions II and III are seeing discrepancies similar, but less serious. The success of the NIL agreement could spur colleges to start devoting more funds to women’s sports.

“Women are going to have this new platform now that they can get active on, and I think the impact of that is inevitably going to be more eyeballs on the sport that they play,” Bregman said.

Female athletes are already doing their part to spread the message about the future of women in sport and as public figures.

“It’s our turn to continue to pave the way for the generation that comes after us, and that’s not just in sport, but in the classroom. With NIL agreements, you can really approach n’ anything like that now,” Bock said.

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