The NIL Era Begins. ESPN: Social Media Stardom:

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Good story on the potential of NCAA NIL changes to impact college athletes with a focus on the earning power of female athletes.

Hanna Cavinder is standing on a folding chair in the Fresno State locker room with her twin sister, Haley, on the floor. Both are wearing Bulldogs women's basketball jerseys. The music kicks in. For 12 seconds, they dance to TisaKorean's song "LSD," which is, ostensibly, about breakfast cereal. It's a little locker room silliness.

On TikTok, the video has more than a million views.

Nearly every day, there's a new post of the twins dancing, lip-syncing, dribbling or shooting, and each one has been seen by hundreds of thousands.

The twins aren't household names among women's college basketball fans nor do they play for a blueblood program, but their exploding popularity on social media -- they have 2.7 million followers on TikTok -- has made them stars well beyond their sport. They're the leading scorers for Fresno State, but as the NCAA moves toward allowing athletes to profit from endorsement deals, it's follower counts, not stat lines, that could translate to serious money.

"The Cavinder twins collectively," said Blake Lawrence, CEO of the marketing firm Opendorse, "have almost as big of an influence in terms of value as Trevor Lawrence."


The NCAA currently restricts athletes from profiting from endorsements, but a new era of name, image and likeness (NIL) rights is coming as soon as this summer, and it won't be just the Heisman finalists or March Madness heroes cashing in. The Cavinder sisters offer just one example of a growing group of predominantly female athletes whose social media fame and marketability eclipses their athletic stardom.

The twins could have a potential combined income of more than a half-million dollars annually thanks to their massive online following, according to Opendorse -- and they're not alone. From volleyball player Lexi Sun, the most followed athlete at football-crazed Nebraska, to Olivia Dunne, a freshman gymnast at LSU, whose nearly 5 million combined followers on Instagram, Twitter and TikTok make her one of the most potentially valuable brands in college sports, women are countering the persistent narrative that star athletes from the big-time men's sports stand to gain the most from the coming changes.

In fact, of the 30 most-followed college athletes, according to Opendorse's tracking, only 16 come from the revenue sports of football and men's basketball, while more than one-third of the list is made up by women. A new study from Temple University suggests women and athletes in non-revenue sports like rowing or volleyball would have, on average, about the same earning power as those playing football or basketball.

The potential for athletes like Dunne or the Cavinder sisters to earn significant money from NIL isn't simply theoretical, either. At the NAIA level, athletes are already profiting from a broad expansion of NIL rights, including Aquinas volleyball player Chloe Mitchell, who turned a home DIY project into an online brand.

At Fresno State, the Cavinders haven't given much thought to a future in professional basketball, but they're keenly aware of the lucrative future NIL could provide.

"We have companies contacting us every single day," said Haley Cavinder, who on Sunday was named the Mountain West Conference women's basketball player of the year. "It's crazy to think we could make a living out of this."

The NCAA has historically avoided allowing direct payments to athletes for endorsements, but dozens of states have recently begun to consider forcing the NCAA's hand through legislation, including a Florida law set to go into effect this summer allowing college athletes in that state to profit from their name, image and likeness. The NCAA hopes to create its own broad rules for NIL rather than deferring to individual states, but in January, it punted on delivering specifics, choosing instead to wait on a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court on an antitrust suit aimed at giving NIL rights to athletes. (The Supreme Court is expected to hear testimony in March with a ruling anticipated this summer.) Meanwhile, the federal government is also discussing possible legislation that could open the floodgates for endorsement deals nationwide.

NCAA officials, athletic directors and coaches have all offered varying arguments against NIL reform, including concerns about the potential for internal strife between athletes earning significant money and those who don't, schools subverting the intent of the rules to gain an advantage in recruiting, and individual NIL revenue coming at the expense of donations that might have gone to the school itself. One of the NCAA's primary arguments has been that NIL would shift revenue the school currently distributes to sports with lesser followings and instead funnel money only to high-profile athletes.

But Mitchell, the NAIA volleyball player, said she's already seen the future, and NIL has only helped bring more attention to her, her teammates and Aquinas volleyball.

When the pandemic cut short Mitchell's senior year of high school, she joined so many other bored do-it-yourselfers by trying her hand at a little renovation work on a shed in her parents' backyard in Michigan, tracking her progress on TikTok. The videos caught on, and her audience soon ballooned to more than 2 million followers.

Companies quickly took notice, and last June, Mitchell partnered with a tech company called Smart Cups, which sponsored a series of videos in which she created a bonfire lounge in her parents' backyard. The partnership was a hit, and more ads followed.

Still, the whole endeavor might have ended as quickly as it began. As she entered college, Mitchell planned to play volleyball, and existing rules would have prevented her from earning any revenue from endorsements. But Mitchell arrived at Aquinas at the perfect time. Last October, the NAIA revised its rules on NIL, and in December, she became the first athlete to profit from an endorsement, a demonstration of golf clubs on a mini-golf course she'd built for her dad inside their home.

"It's the American way to be able to leverage your gifts and your talents," Mitchell said. "I couldn't be more excited to be an NAIA athlete, because we beat the NCAA to the punch."

When the NCAA adopts NIL rights, which appears inevitable, it's possible some top-tier athletes could earn more than $1 million annually in endorsement deals, said Casey Schwab, CEO of Altius Sports Partners, a consulting firm focused on NIL legislation for athletes, coaches and schools, adding that the benefits won't be limited to big-sport superstars.

A new study from Temple University's School of Sport, Tourism and Hospitality Management found the potential for NIL revenue, on average, was actually greater for female college athletes than men, and athletes outside the revenue sports of football and men's basketball could still cultivate valuable brands.

"[College athletes] are really engaging a specific and targeted audience from a demographic perspective," said Dr. Thilo Kunkel, the author of the Temple study. "They're becoming really effective endorsers -- and maybe it's not the next national shampoo commercial, but it's companies more focused on getting their brand out there and connecting with an audience."

Kunkel's study showed that athletes outside the revenue sports of football and men's basketball could still earn about $5,000 per year with just 10,000 followers on various social media platforms. Engagement is critical, so the value would depend more on content and frequency of new posts than actual on-field accomplishments.

Even athletes with smaller social media followings would still have some value, Schwab said. He calls this the "in kind" group, athletes who might be able to snag a few free pizzas at a local restaurant in exchange for posting a photo with the owner to Twitter.

With 3.7 million followers on TikTok and a million more on Instagram, Dunne, the LSU gymnast, has cultivated the second-largest online following of any current college athlete, according to Opendorse's tracking (Shaquille O'Neal's son Shareef is No. 1), but for now, that hasn't translated to a single dollar of revenue, and each day the NCAA delays in moving NIL reform forward costs her money. And unlike stars in football and men's basketball who'll typically earn millions in endorsements in the pros, the peak earning years for many athletes outside the revenue sports come during college.

"Social media opportunities are definitely time-sensitive," she said. "There's no professional sports for gymnastics, so I want to be making money while I can, right? I feel like [male athletes] have a different opportunity than I do, so it's a bit unfair."


Schools are anxiously awaiting details on how NIL reform will ultimately look, but many are taking a proactive approach in getting their athletes ready for inevitable changes by consulting with outside companies like Opendorse and Altius, hoping to be ahead of the curve when the new rules pass.

Dunne was part of a recent panel discussion with fellow LSU student-athletes on NIL, but she's still far from an expert. Her approach to her posts is all about fun and engagement, but if she could cash in on all those posts, the job gets a lot more complicated.

Opendorse offers advice on designing content for social media, using data to explain to athletes what kinds of posts drive engagement to maximize their revenue. Altius takes a broader approach, working with athletes on marketing opportunities beyond social media, including speaking engagements, training camps or even TV commercials. Meanwhile, some schools see an opportunity to use NIL as a means of engaging athletes in lessons in business, finance and even paying taxes.

At Fresno State, Opendorse is working directly with the Cavinder sisters in anticipation of new NIL legislation, and AD Terry Tumey said he thinks it's a wise investment that overlaps nicely with the student-athlete model, connecting on-field success with real world business lessons.

"We all see academics as a transformational experience," Tumey said. "So how do we as an athletic department participate in that? We've been very proactive here. Having folks understand how to better their brand is no different than a person going to business school and learning how to market a product."

Nebraska volleyball player Lexi Sun is studying up on NIL. Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images
At Nebraska, senior volleyball player Lexi Sun landed an extra year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which opened the possibility that she could cash in on NIL at the tail end of her career. With more than 70,000 Instagram followers, she saw an opportunity, and now she's immersing herself in NIL while working on a master's degree in advertising and public relations, two goals that dovetail perfectly.

"It's pretty cool getting first-hand experience of what goes on behind the scenes," Sun said. "And because social media plays such a significant role in basically every business, it's super helpful."

Mitchell, meanwhile, sees a career that goes well beyond paid endorsements.

Last June, Mitchell and her father, Keith, began talking about designing a platform to connect college athletes with NIL opportunities. They called it PlayBooked, and the idea is a mix of an employment site, a dating app and Cameo, the video sharing site that allows fans to pay for celebrity shout-outs. PlayBooked partners with corporations, small businesses and even fans eager to connect with college athletes, then those athletes can choose which opportunities they want to try. Mitchell sees it as giving athletes the tools to DIY their own brands.

PlayBooked's first partnership paired an apparel company with 10 other Aquinas athletes, and new deals have followed, offering NAIA athletes anywhere from $30 to $100 for social media posts. That's just the beginning, Keith Mitchell said. PlayBooked is already working with 200 NAIA athletes, but it plans to ramp up its functionality this spring with a goal of more than 5,000 by the end of March.

"We're trying to connect the two dots, get athletes paid and get the businesses some publicity," Chloe Mitchell said. "It's a win for everybody."

In January, Clemson soccer goalie Hensley Hancuff sent an email to Jonathan Gantt, an associate athletics director, who is heading up the school's preparation for NIL legislation. Her social media following was sparse -- about 1,000 on Twitter, 4,000 on Instagram and a little over 7,000 on TikTok -- but with NIL changes looming, Hancuff was looking for advice on improving her online brand.

Clemson has been working with Opendorse since 2015, and Gantt said Clemson views NIL changes as an opportunity to set itself apart on the recruiting trail while providing its athletes with the tools they'll need to succeed in this new landscape.

Clemson goalie Hensley Hancuff is building her brand from the ground up. David Platt/Clemson Athletics
Gantt offered Hancuff a three-step plan for branding her social media based on his work with Opendorse.

The first step is determining a purpose. Schwab said he begins every meeting by asking athletes their goals in building a brand, and he's often met with blank stares -- even from professionals. Identifying the driving force behind a brand, Gantt said, is critical to streamlining the process.

Next, Gantt advised Hancuff to "take an inventory" of what makes her story different.

Hancuff has tattoos and pink streaks in her hair that speak to her personality, she thought. But more than that, she had a story to tell. She was raised by a single mom. She had cancer. She transferred from Villanova to jump-start her career with the Tigers.

Finally, Gantt helped Hancuff write a strategic plan for her brand that would allow her to track her progress and make adjustments.

It's not a roadmap to overnight stardom, and there's no guarantee she will build a brand as valuable as the Cavinder sisters or Dunne, but Hancuff said she is excited by the possibilities.

"It's inspiring to be a women's player and use who I am to brand myself," Handcuff said, "and show the world and the younger generation that you can be in college and you don't have to be Trevor Lawrence to build your brand."
 

Ignatius L Hoops

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B1G Ten joins the other power five conferences in releasing a joint statement regarding "Names, Image and Likeness: legislation.

The Autonomy Five Conferences thank Chair Maria Cantwell and Ranking Member Roger Wicker for today’s hearing and their determination to set a fair and enforceable national standard on NIL. Only Congress can pass a national solution for student-athlete NIL rights. The patchwork of state laws that begins on July 1 will disadvantage student-athletes in some states and create an unworkable system for others. As leaders in college athletics, we support extending NIL rights in a way that supports the educational opportunities of all student-athletes, including collegians in Olympic sports who comprised 80% of Team USA at the Rio games. We continue to work with Congress to develop a solution for NIL and expand opportunities.
 

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Go time approaches:

NCAA President Mark Emmert told the organization's more than 1,100 member schools Friday that he will seek temporary rules as early as July to ensure all athletes can be compensated for their celebrity with a host of state laws looming and congressional efforts seemingly stalled.

In a memo obtained by The Associated Press, Emmert urged members to pass legislation that would make it permissible for the first time for college athletes to earn money off their names, images and likenesses.

All three divisions of NCAA athletics have been working toward reforming NIL rules and lifting restrictions on athletes since 2019.

"Since that time, many states have enacted NIL legislation and 10 state laws can take effect this July. It is therefore essential we now enact rules before the end of the month," Emmert wrote in an email sent to presidents and chancellors, athletic directors, senior compliance administrators, conference commissioners and others.

The NCAA Division I Council meets Tuesday and Wednesday and could act on an NIL proposal that was expected to be voted on back in January
 

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In summation: "inevitable confusion, uncertainty and likely litigation":

College sports' most powerful conference commissioners appear to be divided on the best way to move forward with name, image and likeness rule changes as the industry enters a crucial 10-day period for defining the future parameters for amateurism in the NCAA.

A group of commissioners -- including Greg Sankey of the SEC, Jim Phillips of the ACC and Larry Scott of the Pac-12 -- are urging their colleagues to consider a new and minimalist approach to regulating the soon-to-arrive marketplace for college athlete endorsement deals, according to a letter obtained by ESPN.

The letter says previous proposals to change NCAA rules will lead to "inevitable confusion, uncertainty and likely litigation against the NCAA and its member conferences and institutions."

The NCAA's Division I Council, which is the governing entity that votes on rule changes for the top tier of college sports, is scheduled to meet this week and expected to make a decision by the end of the month on proposed rule changes that would allow college athletes to monetize their fame without losing NCAA eligibility. New laws in at least a half dozen states that are scheduled to go into effect on July 1 will make it illegal for schools in those states to follow current NCAA policies for name, image and likeness (NIL) opportunities.
 

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NCAA steps aside...sort of

Every NCAA athlete in the country will be able to make money from endorsements and through a variety of other ventures starting Thursday.

The NCAA's board of directors decided Wednesday to officially suspend the organization's rules prohibiting athletes from selling the rights to their names, images and likenesses. The new rules represent a major shift in the association's definition of amateurism -- one that NCAA leaders previously believed was antithetical to the nature of college sports.
...
The new rules will allow athletes to profit by monetizing social media accounts, signing autographs, teaching camps or lessons, starting their own businesses, and participating in advertising campaigns, among many other potential ventures. Athletes will be allowed to sign with agents or other representatives to help them acquire endorsement deals.

Some opportunities will be restricted, but the types of restrictions will vary based on state laws and policies created by individual schools. For example, some but not all state laws prohibit athletes from endorsing alcohol, tobacco or gambling products. Some but not all laws prohibit athletes from using their school's logos or other copyright material in endorsements.

According to Wednesday's rule change, schools in states that have an NIL law on the books are instructed to follow state law while determining what their athletes can do. The NCAA instructed schools located in states without an active NIL law to create and publish their own policies to provide clarity to the gray area and come up with a plan to resolve any disputes that arise.
 


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ESPN: FAQ guide to NIL

The doors to a new era of college sports officially opened Thursday. For the first time, all NCAA athletes are now able to make money from a wide variety of business ventures without losing their eligibility.

A mixture of state laws and NCAA rule changes have removed prohibitions that prevented athletes from selling the rights to their names, images and likenesses (NIL). The transformative shift comes after more than a decade of legal, political and public pressure to give athletes access to a bigger piece of the billions of dollars generated by college sports each year.

The new opportunities in front of athletes are abundant, but they also can quickly become murky amid a confusing, complex and sometimes conflicting set of guidelines for the types of deals athletes can strike and the types of products they can endorse. This beginner's guide to understanding NIL should get you up to speed with everything you need to know about how the new rules will impact college sports.
 

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How athletes are cashing in:

Hanna and Haley Cavinder waited for only a few minutes after the clock struck midnight before taking advantage of the new opportunities for college athletes to cash in on their fame.

The twin sisters, who play for Fresno State's basketball team and entertain millions of followers on social media, flew to New York on Wednesday to sign their first major endorsement deal. They are now spokeswomen for Boost Mobile with plans to promote the wireless telecommunications company in a variety of ways in the coming year. NCAA rules changes and state laws that went into effect July 1 opened the door for college athletes to sell the rights to their names, images and likenesses for the first time.

"It was really exciting that such a known company wanted to work with Hanna and me," Haley Cavinder said. "... This is a big switch for all student-athletes. Being able to use your name, image and likeness is something we all deserve, and I'm really thankful the NCAA is finally passing this."
 

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How athletes are cashing in:
Why on earth would Boost Mobile want to partner with a couple of women's basketball players from Fresno State?

(Checks Instagram feed for Cavinder sisters.)

Nevermind.
 

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Why on earth would Boost Mobile want to partner with a couple of women's basketball players from Fresno State?

(Checks Instagram feed for Cavinder sisters.)

Nevermind.
Its because they have over 3 million tik tok followers, social media stars are gonna be the ones cashing in on this NIL stuff.
 
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2nd Degree Gopher

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Its because they have over 3 million tik tok followers, social media stars are gonna be the ones cashing in on this NIL stuff.
Yeah, I get it. I hadn't ever thought of it this way before, but this might succeed in bringing more revenue to the women's side of college athletics than anything that's been tried before since there seem to be far more women influencers than men.
 

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UCONN WBB Weekly: Bueckers is primed to reap the benefits

Huskies fans are already familiar with what Bueckers brings on the court — the Minnesota native averaged over 20 points per game and claimed National Player of the Year honors as a freshman last season — but the brand she’s built off the court is arguably more impressive. Between Instagram (829,000 followers), Twitter (51,100), and Tik Tok (334,900), Bueckers boasts over 1.2 million followers and is already a national household name.

To put it in perspective, Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley, and UConn’s own James Bouknight — three projected lottery picks in the upcoming NBA draft — have less than 400,000 followers on Instagram combined.

In Connecticut, Bueckers will likely be bombarded by big local companies with deep pockets looking for her to promote their cars, restaurants, or products. That makes sense, of course — she’s the most popular player on the most popular team in the state. And while there’s certainly plenty of money to be made for Bueckers just within the Connecticut state lines, she already has a strong national following.
 

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UCF players ink team wide deal with "College Hunks Hauling Junk".

So far, the early returns from college sports’ NIL gold rush have been good for UCF Knights athletes, but perhaps no single athlete has done as well as the entire UCF Women’s Basketball team.

The Tampa Bay Times was first to report UCF’s women’s hoops players had entered into a sponsorship deal with the moving company College Hunks Hauling Junk. The deal was first announced by the company’s CEO:

According to Chris Hays of the Orlando Sentinel, who spoke with senior Masseny Kaba:

“[T]he initial deal would pay each player $500 to promote the College Hunks brand on their social media, and the contract also leaves room for commissions to be made as the business picks up clients directly related to the endorsement of the UCF players. The deal is a one-year contract renewable each year.”
This is in addition to Becca Ripley, a member of the team, who has also reportedly signed on with Barstool, Ethika (an apparel company) and Revive Superfoods.

While Dillon Gabriel’s individual brand has gotten quite a bit of attention, the fact that women’s sports — and women’s basketball in particular — is receiving this much commercial attention should not be lost on anyone
 



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"Paige Buckets"

With more than 900,000 followers on Instagram and 336,000 on TikTok, the basketball court isn't the only area where former Hopkins standout Paige Bueckers accumulates massive stats.

Now the University of Connecticut star is looking to take advantage of her name, image and likeness to start profiting as a college athlete, which is allowed after the NCAA's board of directors officially approved clearance for students to make money off things such as social media posts, endorsement deals and sponsorships in June.

Bueckers, who became the first freshman in women's college basketball history to win the John Wooden Award and be named the Associated Press Player of the Year and the Naismith College Player of the Year, has filed for a trademark on her nickname, "Paige Buckets," according to a document from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
 

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ESPN's Myron Medcalf posts his list of college basketball (men's and women's) 25 most marketable NIL players. He has Paige Bueckers at #1 and Caitlin Clark #16.

Our criteria are simple. Players who have generated a sizable following on social media can offer companies access to an existing pool of potential customers and, as a result, hold an advantage in the pursuit of NIL opportunities. They are prominent on this list. Others possess exceptional talent that could -- much like Young -- make them favorable targets for companies that will invest in their abilities and future successes. Every player on this list has either an extraordinary following or extraordinary talent. Or in some cases, both.

1. Paige Bueckers​

i
Point guard, UConn
901,000 followers on Instagram; 336,000 on TikTok; 56,800 on Twitter​

Weeks before NIL rules went into effect, Six Star Pro Nutrition bought a billboard on a major highway in Connecticut that read, "America's highest paid college athlete plays in Connecticut, we just can't pay her yet." It was a not-so-subtle reference to Bueckers, the first freshman in women's college basketball history to win the Wooden Award and an all-round phenomenal athlete who led the Huskies in points (the third freshman to do so after Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Maya Moore), assists, steals and 3-point field goal percentage last season. A brand official told the Hartford Courant that Bueckers could be at the center of a campaign, based on her status as the top player at UConn, which is the strongest brand in women's college basketball.

It helps that she's unafraid to speak her mind. Last year, Bueckers -- who has a Black sibling -- said she didn't care if she lost fans for supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. And in her acceptance speech for the ESPYS women's collegiate athlete of the year award in July, she advocated for more media recognition and coverage of Black female athletes. That's why it's not surprising that the current face of women's college basketball, who has trademarked "Paige Buckets," is projected to make more than $1 million this season from NIL deals, per the Wall Street Journal.

16. Caitlin Clark​

i
Guard, Iowa
45,000 followers on Instagram; 11,300 on Twitter​

Kevin Durant follows her. Travis Scott tagged her in an Instagram story with "Gonna come back gangsta" after Iowa lost to UConn in the Sweet 16. Clark has long been recognized, and not just by celebrities; she has also been a vocal proponent of NIL rights. "As a female college athlete, valuable opportunities could come in our college career that may not be given at a professional level, especially with the support of female athletics we have here in the state of Iowa," Clark wrote earlier this year in a letter of support for a bipartisan NIL bill in the state.

She has received significant interest from potential sponsors who have filled up her DMs with offers, according to hawkcentral.com, but Clark says she will be "picky" about who she signs with, because she wants to focus on basketball. After leading the United States Under-19 to a gold medal in the FIBA World Cup in Hungary last week -- Clark was named MVP of the tournament -- and averaging 26.7 PPG last year at Iowa, she's now ranked fourth on ESPN.com's list of the top women's college basketball players for the 2021-22 season. Expect more offers, Clark.
 




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