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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Tunney

Female Athletes Have Taken Over NIL

By: Jonathan Tunney

April 24, 2024

Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated

Since the NCAA began allowing college athletes to profit from their name, image, and likeness (NIL) in the summer of 2021, an interesting and exciting development has occurred. Female athletes, especially college basketball players, have become some of the hottest names on the NIL market. SponsorUnited found that women make up 52% of the top 100 NIL earners among all college athletes and that female athletes averaged more NIL endorsements than male athletes. Currently, 15 female athletes have signed an official NIL shoe deal with Iowa star Caitlin Clark reportedly nearing a $20M signature deal with Nike. Only three male athletes have signed such an official NIL shoe deal.

So, what enabled female athletes to take over the NIL space? Firstly, female athletes consistently stay on par with or outperform their male counterparts regarding followers. Iowa star Caitlin Clark currently has 1.9M Instagram followers, while LSU teammates Angel Reese and Flau’jae Johnson have 2.9M and 1.8M Instagram followers, respectively. These numbers trump Instagram follower counts from top valued male athletes like Texas QB Quinn Ewers, and are on par with ON3’s number one valued male athlete Shedeur Sanders (Colorado QB, Deion Sanders’ son, 1.8M Instagram followers).

Secondly, the prevailing sentiment throughout the NIL industry is that female athletes generally do a better job at posting content, displaying a higher frequency while also using unique, creative methods to garner users' attention. A great example of this is UCONN star point guard Paige Bueckers, whose Instagram account is filled with advertisements for everybody from Nerf to CVS Pharmacy.

Finally, female athletes have capitalized on channels that their male counterparts have yet to explore. Angel Reese was recently on the cover of Vogue Magazine. Reese and LSU gymnast Livvy Dunne also appeared in the 2023 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition. These opportunities are a platform for female athletes to gain more followers, build their brand, and amass more NIL deals that male athletes simply have not taken advantage of.

These NIL deals can result in two different, positive outcomes for female athletes. In one scenario, NIL deals increase a female athlete’s likelihood to stay in college longer, complete their educations, and build a legacy at their universities. On the other hand, NIL deals can allow female athletes to build their brand to the point where they can comfortably sustain themselves through endorsements alone. These circumstances enable female athletes to turn pro when they want without being reliant on the meager salaries many women's professional sports leagues offer. NIL money gives these female athletes more freedom in dictating their career path.

With all of these factors in place, it’s clear that women will continue to be a driving force in shaping the NIL industry for years to come. 


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