It has been two years since the NCAA allowed college athletes to profit off their name image and likeness (NIL) as well as other marketing opportunities. Since then, college and high school athletes have generated an estimated $2 billion with 80% of that coming from NIL. The remaining 20% is from brand deals.
Most of that money is directed to male football and basketball players, with money often coming from booster collectives and fan collectives. The top male earners are Bronny James (son of LeBron James) and Shedeur Sanders (son of Deion Sanders) with an estimated $3.2 million.
On the female side, LSU has positioned itself as one of the top NIL schools. There’s national champion basketball team stars Angel Reese ($1.7 million), Flau’jae Johnson ($1.1 million), who are the second and third national earners, and incoming transfer Hailey Van Lith ($554k). LSU gymnast Olivia (Livvy) Dunne is in a league of her own with 7.8 million followers on TikTok and 4.4 million on Instagram, which gives her a value equal to James and Sanders. She’s also picked up deals with ESPN, Grubhub, Forever 21 and others.
According to Business Insider, student athletes are not just capitalizing with fortune following what was once just fame. They now act as highly successful influencers and have become key elements in many big-time marketing strategies with social media campaigns and traditional endorsements. Companies are seeing higher than expected results with student-athletes routinely outperforming influencer benchmarks by a wide margin and college athletes are the top overall subset.
Athletes can make money posting about brands (Dunne reportedly was paid $500,000 for a post), but they can also get money for attending events, signing autographs and other activities. They can also pivot to launching startups or work with existing companies, designing and selling merchandise, jersey sales and retail campaigns. There are now branded training clinics and fan engagement events. Dunne has also set up a group that will expand NIL and branding opportunities of female athletes.
What about the rest of them
Obviously, Dunne, Reese, Johnson, Sanders, and James are at the pinnacle, but there are about 460,000 student-athletes in the United States. This long tail means that there are also opportunities for athletes who don’t compete on the national media stage. Now local restaurants, car dealerships and other businesses are lining up for their local celebrity. Perhaps offering free swag, gift cards or smaller checks.
Schools also getting a bump
Bigger stages often mean more exposure. With the transfer portal now used regularly by stars, NIL earners like Hailey Van Lith (who left Louisville) are looking to expand their brand. Football and basketball programs now use NIL opportunities as part of the pitch for landing athletes. Cynics see this as pay-for-play, but the reality is that it can be a recruiting advantage that schools are happy to use.
Follow this space as we continue to discuss student-athlete business opportunities.