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In June of 2021, The Supreme Court’s decision to rule against the NCAA in NCAA v. Alston, ultimately prohibiting the NCAA from interfering with student-athletes compensation, has ushered in what we know today as NIL (name, image, and likeness). As a result, starting July 1, 2021, companies and brands could reach out and engage student-athletes on potential partnerships to market their products and services in exchange for compensation. In addition, companies that may have yet to have large marketing budgets could spread that money across several athletes leveraging their following and reach across social media. According to data provided by Opendorse in the first year of NIL, over 60% of NIL deals involved posting content on social media; also, social media content led the way as the top form of compensation for student-athletes accounting for over 30%.
Icons of NIL
Haley and Hanna Cavinder are among the most talked about duo in college sports regarding NIL. The Cavinder twins transferred to the University of Miami from Fresno State in April 2021; the athletes struck NIL brand deals with Boost Mobile and Six Star Pro Nutrition shortly after the July 1 policy change in 2021. Their most recent NIL deal was with Leaf trading card company, in which they partnered with the company to sell autographed cards throughout March, highlighting their historic Elite Eight run at the University of Miami. For the Cavinder twins, it is not so much about the deals they sign but their social media following. They have over 4 million followers on TikTok and have amassed over $1 million in NIL deals.
The twins recently announced they were forgoing their fifth year of eligibility to pursue other business endeavors. News started to surface that their next chapter would be with the WWE, and the Cavinder twin’s agent confirmed that they had begun training with World Wrestling Entertainment. Now it remains to be seen if they enter the ring, but given their social media following and connection to many brands, I am confident they will be a part of future storylines. Hanna and Haley have an already established relationship with WWE. They were a part of the WWE’s inaugural Next In Line NIL class. WWE has three classes of student-athletes who signed NIL deals, and in return, they can train at WWE’s facility and receive brand training from their leadership.
An essential aspect of the Cavinder Twins and their relationship with WWE is that WWE merged with UFC, which increased WWE’s value to $9 billion. Media companies are strong, and the Cavinder Twins are the most valuable content property, given their TikTok followers. Suppose they become a part of WWE storylines, viewership will increase, and the amount of partnership revenue they generate will increase the company’s value.
A New Trend in College Basketball To Keep An Eye On
As much as the move by the Cavinder twins may make you scratch your head, they are ushering in a new era of college basketball primarily impacted by NIL and the transfer portal. The entertainment aspect of sports is becoming more popular than ever, and student-athletes through NIL have become influencers with massive followings. From a business perspective, on the women’s basketball side of things, there are some cases in which women’s college basketball players, because of NIL, are making more than their counterparts in the WNBA.
We will see more women’s basketball players making similar business moves to the Cavinder twins entertaining other opportunities outside of basketball to expand their brands.
Take the top 5 players in 2024’s WNBA draft class, Caitlyn Clark, Paige Bueckers, Angel Reese, Hailey Van Lith, and Cameron Brink; out of those five players, do not be surprised if three to four stay for an extra year of college because of NIL opportunities. According to On3, each one of those players has a NIL valuation of over $700,000.
In addition, national Champion and Most Oustanding Player of the 2023 Women’s NCAA tournament came out on the I Am Athlete podcast and said, “I’m in no rush to go to the league,” Reese, 20, recently told the “I Am Athlete” podcast. Angel Reese’s NIL valuation is considered to be over $1 million.
As much as women’s basketball players are receiving scrutiny for staying in school to take advantage of NIL opportunities, men’s college basketball players are doing the same. For example, Gonzaga’s Drew Timme decided to forgo going to the NBA draft to maximize his earning potential with NIL. Most recently, he participated in a Pringle’s Mustaches of March NIL deal where his signature mustache was seen on the front of Pringles products throughout March Madness. In addition, players like Duke basketball phenom Kyle Filipowski had played himself into NBA lottery pick status this past season. Still, he has instead decided to return to Duke for his sophomore season. However, Filipowski’s case has yet to be confirmed if he is coming back to Duke solely for NIL reasons.
Further, whether you favor NIL or not, it is not going anywhere, and college athletes are more mobile than ever because of the transfer portal. March Madness is slowly becoming the most significant NIL activation opportunity for college basketball players. The more exposure college athletes have through NIL, will continue to create alternative business opportunities beyond going pro.
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