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

Icon Sportswire | Icon Sportswire | Getty Images

Lebron James’ son Bronny got most of the headlines, but there’s another big story in the recent Nike NIL deal that allows college athletes to get paid. At a time of increased scrutiny of the pay gap between male and female athletes, the Nike 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 the sport. I think this is a reckoning, a slow reckoning, albeit, but a reckoning that there’s more opportunity, more interest, ” says Patrick Rishe, director of the sports business program at Washington University.

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

“I grew up watching Nike athletes across all sports play their game. They have inspired me to work hard and make a difference. I am humbled to be a part of this inaugural Nike Basketball class and passionate to inspire the next,” Clark said in a Nike release.

Female sports success in early NIL era 

Since the adoption of the NIL (Name, Image and Likeness) structure to allow amateur athletes to seek endorsement deals, which came in July 2021 following a landmark Supreme Court decision, it was hoped that female athletes would benefit greatly. This may interest you : Brant Berkstresser was named Associate AD of Sports Medicine.

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

Tracking deals from the NIL’s execution through Sept. 30 of this year, women’s basketball ranked third among NIL-compensated sports, according to NIL technology firm and marketplace Opendorse. With a total of 12.6% of NIL compensation for women’s basketball, the sport was behind only men’s basketball (18.9%) and soccer (49.6%).

Despite the wide gap between NIL compensation for soccer players and all other athletes, Opendorse’s data shows potential for greater gains in women’s sports. Six women’s sports made the top 10 list for NIL compensated sports, and women’s basketball, volleyball and softball all beat baseball, the third most profitable men’s sport.

“The brands that we work with say very clearly that they want to make sure that there is full representation in the athletes that they work with on a campaign. They specifically ask 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, which has a large presence in college sports merchandising, has invested more in the growth of the women’s apparel business through its college partnerships.

Both local and global brands see the potential in endorsing collegiate athletes, and while lucrative deals with soccer players lead by a wide margin — 12 players have $1 million-plus deals and 50 players deals worth $500,000 or more, according to sports data firm On3 — there is an increasing number of companies signing NIL agreements with female athletes.

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

Bock, along with a total of eight female student-athletes, recently signed a NIL agreement with the New Brunswick Development Corporation (Devco) in honor of 50 years of Title IX, the portion of the federal Department of Education’s 1972 amendments that prohibit sex-based discrimination in any school or other educational program that receives support from the federal government.

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 having the visibility they have in college will hopefully set them up for years after that,” Rishe said. “That’s why it’s exciting to see, but not surprising, to see a lot of female college athletes maintain various and sometimes lucrative NIL deals.”

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Women’s social media presence influences deals  

Clark ranks as the tenth most profitable college women’s basketball player, and Jones comes in at twelfth, according to On3’s “College Women’s Basketball NIL Rankings. See the article : Development program held in Madisonville for minority business owners.” While the Nike deals will likely help these players’ rankings rise, the onus is also on the athletes to maintain their newfound fame.

“It creates a bigger platform and bigger incentive for any student-athlete who makes a NIL deal, but especially [for] the female athletes, to hone their brand, polish it, perfect it,” Rishe said.

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

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

With the exception of soccer, Opendorse found that NIL-compensated female athletes engage in 19.6% more social media activity for their deals than male counterparts.

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

Whether it’s posting a picture of a new Liquid I.V. product or sharing her Adidas discount code with friends and family, Bock is enjoying the benefits of NIL offers along with the growing recognition for her athletic ability and women’s sports as a whole.

“Just the difference between [the viewership for] 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 as far as just women’s sports in general, I think they’re going to be a bigger thing,” Bock said. “We’re getting the attention we’ve deserved all along.”

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Future impact on college sports business

Even after the 50th anniversary of Title IX’s passage, girls are still missing out on one million high school sports opportunities and women are missing out on 60,000 collegiate sports opportunities, the Women’s Sports Foundation found in a recent study. This may interest you : Sports on TV, July 11-17: British Open, Tour de France, MLB, WNBA, NBA Summer League, football and more. But the growing number of NIL deals for female athletes brings 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 they are successful in building their brands off the court, especially through social media, it certainly has the potential to increase and elevate the exposure of women’s basketball,” Rishe said of Nike’s deal with Clark, Jones and Watkins. “The more student-athletes that do this for the women’s game, then this could have an impact going forward on corporate partnership deals and even media rights deals that women’s basketball is able to manage and universities or individual schools that these young women play at. “

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 “The State of Women in College Sports” report, and Divisions II and III are seeing similar but less severe gaps. Success with the NIL deal could prompt colleges to begin devoting more funds to women’s sports.

“Women will have this new platform now that they can activate on, and I think the impact of that will inevitably be more eyes on the sport they play,” Bregman said.

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

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

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