How female basketball players capitalized on new NCAA branding rules
For decades, female athletes have had to fight for recognition and resources, and while it’s obviously still an ongoing struggle, college female athletes in particular have recently made strides thanks to the new NCAA rule allowing student-athletes to take advantage of their name, image and likeness (NIL).
College football still reigns supreme, of course, with football players earning the most compensation from all NIL deals (51%, according to Opendorse data), but female basketball players earned the second highest payout of all deals (19%), ahead of their male counterparts (15%) – and the top five are rounded out by two other women’s sports, swimming and diving and volleyball. UConn point guard Paige Bueckers recently became the first varsity athlete — male or female — to sign a sponsorship deal with Gatorade. She is believed to be earning over a million dollars from his endorsements.
This is of course an extremely encouraging sign. Because we live in a society that unfortunately still struggles to see women as three-dimensional human beings and appreciate them for their talent rather than their looks, it’s easy to become cynical and wonder if success female athletes in NIL deals has nothing to do with our tendency to objectify them. But luckily, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Like ESPN pointed out, viewership of the NCAA Women’s Tournament — which finally has the same branding as the men’s — has grown steadily in recent years. The 2021 NCAA women’s title game between Stanford and Arizona drew 4.1 million viewers — the most since 2014, and higher than the average NBA playoff game last season. According to the publication, viewership for this year’s women’s tournament increased by 15% in the first two rounds, and the second round increased by 25% compared to 2021.
So there is an argument to be made that NIL offers for female college basketball players are simply the result of a growing interest in their sport. But social media is also a huge factor. Many college athletes have massive followers on Instagram or other platforms, making them more attractive to companies looking to partner with them on sponsored posts. And female athletes in particular are particularly savvy when it comes to cultivating their brand on social media; according to a Sport Management Review studyfemale athletes post more on average than their male counterparts.
This begs the question: is this the result of years of inequity they have had to face? Since their schools and/or the NCAA haven’t spent as much time and energy promoting them as they have in men’s sports, have they been forced to take matters into their own hands and become experts in promoting themselves?
Whatever the reason, NIL transactions have undoubtedly been a big step towards leveling the playing field.
“Until we as a society enter into this equal pay and equal respect for women’s sports and men’s sports, this is an area and an opportunity for us to make money and to make a living,” said Penn State women’s basketball player Anna Camden. said recently. “I can’t imagine a female athlete not being ridiculously excited about this.”
This article was published in the Inside hook newsletter. Register now.