WNBA, Angel Reese, nickname, Chicago Sky

Why NIL Deals Have More Brands Investing In College Athletes Over Pros, And Women Athletes’ Dominance In The Arena

More big brands are investing into college athletes over professional players since the introduction of NIL deals in 2021.

The popularity surrounding women’s college basketball stars like Angel Reese and Caitlin Clark has more sports fans noticing the evolution of name, image, and likeness (NIL) deals.

A recently released report on NIL Marketing Partnership for 2023 to 2024 highlights the significant shift taking place in the sponsorship scene since the advent of NIL policies in 2021. Prior to the introduction of NIL deals, the NCAA rigorously upheld regulations prohibiting college athletes from receiving compensation for endorsements, autographs, and similar activities.

But since their inception, the collegiate sports industry has experienced a surge of activity, as athletes dive head-first into million-dollar endorsements, sponsorships, and initiatives while developing their personal brands. With former star college players like Angel Reese, who recently joined the WNBA’s Chicago Sky, her rank as the athlete with the highest follower growth across her social media accounts has helped to garner her around $1.8 million in NIL money.

Reese has secured over 17 NIL deals with major brands like Goldman Sachs, Beats by Dre, Reebok, Amazon, and more. Caitlin Clark, who signed with the WNBA’s Indiana Fever, is one of the highest earners among women’s college basketball players earning over $3.1 million in NIL deals with the likes of Gatorade, State Farm, Buick, Nike, and more.

The growth in investment into women’s college basketball stars highlights the switch big brands are making in backing young college players rather than professional athletes. The report found that 35% of brands invest exclusively in NIL athletes versus major pro sports athletes with brands like Hey Dude Shoes holding the highest volume of NIL deals with 78 deals across all sports.

Apparel & Accessories is the most active category in NIL with 591 deals across athletes in various sports. While Reese and Clark captured the nation’s attention for the 2023 to 2024 basketball season, college football players held the majority of NIL deals, with 30% of the total number of sponsorships.

Reese and Clark still show the huge shift many brands took in investing in women college athletes over their male counterparts. From 2023 to 2024, women athletes averaged a higher number of brand deals than men athletes, with 3.5 versus 2.5.

With nearly 2,500 NIL agreements within the top five college conferences that exemplify the highest deal counts in history, it illustrates the transformative shift in the investability of college athletics over the last three years.

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