In the age of paid college sports, women are emerging as big winners

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MARCH 6: Iowa guard Caitlin Clark (22) raises her arms in an effort to cheer 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 Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, IN. (Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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

“I think it reflects a broader movement that we’re seeing in sports. I think this is a reckoning, a slow reckoning, though, but a reckoning that there’s more opportunity, more interest,” Patrick Rishe said. , director of the sports business program at the University of Washington.

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

“I grew up watching Nike athletes in all sports play their game. They inspired me to work hard and make a difference. I’m honored to be a part of this first class of Nike basketball and I’m passionate about inspiring the next one,” he said. Clark in a Nike launch.

Female sporting 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 about in July 2021 after a landmark Supreme Court decision, female athletes were expected to benefit significantly.

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

Following the agreements from the NIL run to September 30 this year, women’s basketball ranked third among NIL-compensated sports, according to technology company NIL and marketplace Opendorse. With a total of 12.6% of NIL compensation going to women’s basketball, the sport trailed only men’s basketball (18.9%) and soccer (49.6%).

Despite the large gap between NIL compensation for female soccer players and all other athletes, Opendorse data shows potential for further gains within women’s sports. Six women’s sports made the top 10 list for NIL compensated sports, with women’s basketball, volleyball and softball surpassing baseball, the third most profitable men’s sport.

“The brands we’re working with are very explicit in saying they want to make sure there’s full representation of the athletes they’re working with on a campaign. They’re specifically asking for diverse representation of athletes across multiple sports. [and] equal representation of men and women,” said Lisa Bregman, Opendorse’s senior director of market success.

Nike, who has a wide presence in university sports merchandisinghas been investing more in growing the women’s apparel business through its university partnerships.

Both local and global brands see the potential in endorsing college athletes, and even when lucrative deals with soccer players lead the way by a wide margin: 12 players have deals over $1 million and 50 player deals for value of $500,000 or more, according to sports data firm On3 — there are a growing number of companies signing NIL agreements with female athletes.

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

Bock, and a total of eight student athletes, recently signed an 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’s 1972 amendments that prohibits discrimination in any school or any other educational program that receives funds from the federal government.

NIL agreements are expanding career opportunities for female athletes.

“Many 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 having the visibility that they have in college, will hopefully prepare them for several years beyond.” Risha said. “That’s why it’s exciting to see, but not surprising to see many college athletes solidify various, sometimes lucrative NIL deals.”

The presence of women in social networks influences agreements

Clark ranks as the 10th most bankable college women’s basketball player and Jones ranks 12th, according to On3’s “College Women’s Basketball NIL Rankings.” While the Nike deals are likely to help boost the rankings of these players, the responsibility also falls on the athletes to maintain their newfound fame.

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

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

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

Excluding soccer, Opendorse found that female athletes receiving NIL compensation are engaging in 19.6% more social media activity for their offers than their male counterparts.

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

Whether posting a photo of a new Liquid IV product or sharing her Adidas discount code with friends and family, Bock is enjoying the benefits of NIL deals, along with the growing recognition for her athletic abilities and women’s sports in general.

“Only the difference between the [viewership for the] The Men’s College Baseball World Series and the Women’s College Softball World Series, I mean, the women blew the men out of the water. So in terms of women’s sports in general, I think they’re becoming something bigger,” Bock said. “We are getting the attention we have deserved all along.”

Future impact on the business of college sports

Even after the 50th anniversary of Title IX’s passage, girls still miss out on a million high school athletic opportunities and women miss out on 60,000 college athletic opportunities, the Women’s Sports Foundation found in a recent study. But the growing number of NIL settlements for female athletes draws more attention, and expect continued growth in compensation for women’s sports in the future.

“If these women are successful on the court and successfully build their brands off the court, especially through social media, they certainly have the potential to increase and elevate the exposure of women’s basketball,” Rishe said of the Nike deal. with Clark. , Jones, and Watkins. “The more student athletes do this for the women’s game, then this could have an impact on corporate partnership agreements and even media rights agreements that women’s basketball may control and the individual universities or schools they play at. these young.”

Division I athletic programs continue to spend nearly twice as much on their men’s teams as on their women’s teams, according to the 2022 NCAA “State of Women in College Sports” report, with Divisions II and III seeing gaps similar, but less severe. The success of the NIL deal could influence universities to start setting aside more funds for 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 will inevitably be more eyes on the sport that they play,” Bregman said.

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

“It’s our turn, to continue paving the way for the generation that comes after us, and that’s not just in sports, but in the classroom. With NIL’s offerings, you can really tackle anything of that sort now.” Bock said.

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