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For women’s college hoopers, will a signature March moment lead to NIL sponsorships?

Presumably, a successful showing the NCAA tournament can help a women’s college basketball player expand her NIL portfolio. Data collected by HypeAuditor suggests this could be the case. However, early data on NIL deals also indicates that on-court excellence does not always correlate with NIL opportunities.

Louisville v Connecticut
According to data from HypeAuditor, UConn’s Paige Bueckers has secured the most lucrative NIL sponsorships.
Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Can “One Shining Moment” become one shining sponsorship? Or maybe, more than one shining sponsorship?

With the first NCAA tournament since the implementation of NIL regulations now well underway, it is worth thinking about how tournament successes could lead to NIL opportunities. Will a star turn translate into a deal or two with a national brand for a previously unheralded athlete? Will a signature March moment from an already well-known college star allow her to secure several lucrative sponsorships?

Data collected by HypeAuditor provides a perspective of the promising — and less than promising — NIL possibilities for women’s college hoopers who might make a name for themselves this March.

Analyzing NIL data from college basketball’s biggest stars

HypeAuditor analyzed the NIL deals and Instagram profiles of 10 of the most prominent women’s and men’s college basketball players. The 10 women hoopers were UConn’s Paige Bueckers, Louisville’s Hailey Van Lith, Baylor’s Jaden Owens, Oregon’s Sedona Prince, South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston and Zia Cooke, Stanford’s Haley Jones and Cameron Brink, Iowa’s Caitlin Clark and Kentucky’s Rhyne Howard.

The 10 male hoopers included projected top NBA draft picks in Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren, Auburn’s Jabari Smith and Duke’s Paolo Banchero.

Because of the small sample size, as well as the popularity of the players’ included in the sample, the data might not be translatable to the larger population of college basketball players. However, the data set still provides important insights into issues of gender equity between women’s and men’s college basketball players, as well as issues of racial equity among women’s basketball players.

Although the data presents some encouraging trends, suggesting that women’s college basketball stars should raise their NIL expectations, it also reveals how biases of gender and race still limit the earning power of some of the best women’s college basketball players.

Some promising signs of gender equity with NIL deals

According to HypeAuditor’s data, men’s college basketball’s biggest stars claim more Instagram followers than their counterparts in the women’s game. Yet, over the past year, young women hoopers have grown their followers by approximately 76,200, compared to a follower growth of 51,400 for men college hoopers. Furthermore, women’s college basketball stars lap the fellows when it comes to engagement rate, with women averaging a 22.4 percent engagement rate on Instagram compared to 8.5 percent for men.

This combination of growth and engagement — the metrics that companies presumably prioritize when deciding which athletes to sponsor — suggest that women should receive stronger compensation than men. This, somewhat, has been the case.

HypeAuditor’s data set includes Shareef O’Neal, the eldest son of Shaquille O’Neal, who, despite averaging less than 10 minutes per game for LSU, is compensated an estimated $6,200 per post for his four sponsorships, a number that is a significant outlier and heavily skews the data. Excluding the son of Shaq, the collection of nine prominent men’s college basketball players receive approximately $545.55 per post.

The 10 best women’s college basketball players are paid an average of $804 per post, suggesting their success in fostering engagement has resulted in fair compensation. Additionally, Bueckers, Van Lith and Prince all receive a per post compensation in the four figures, outpacing their non-O’Neal male counterparts.

Yet, this trio averages more than $1,000 per post more than the other seven women included in the sample. Among the remaining seven, the compensation rate per post is approximately $286, indicating that issues of gender equity have not been eliminated.

Why Paige, HVL and Sedona have found NIL success

What explains the outlier earning power of Bueckers, Van Lith and Prince?

Bueckers’ NIL prowess is not surprising. The age of NIL deals arrived right after her fantastic freshman season, when her prep promise immediately translated for the blue-chip UConn Huskies. At the time HypeAuditor collected their data, she claimed 965,380 followers. Bueckers’ position has allowed her to be selective with the sponsorship opportunities she accepts, as she only has partnered with Gatorade, StockX and CashApp.

Prince, of course, made a name for herself last March, when her TikTok of the “weight room” in the women’s NCAA tournament bubble went viral and sparked deserved condemnations of the NCAA. Having successfully associated herself with efforts for equality and justice, Prince, with 255,642 followers, has partnered with brands seeking to tap into this image, with three of her nine deals with TIAA, ParityNow and Uninterrupted.

Van Lith’s stature might be a bit surprising. Yes, the Louisville sophomore is an exciting and popular player. But, so are the other seven. According to HypeAuditor, Van Lith has, by far, the highest percentage of male followers, with 83 percent of her 685,765 followers being male. 64.5 percent of these men are from the ever-desirable 18-34 year old male demographic. As such, she has secured sponsorships from companies seeking to reach young men, such as Dick’s Sporting Goods, Twitch, adidas and Ready Nutrition, among others.

Van Lith’s case exposes some of the deeper gender dynamics of NIL deals.

The ability of women basketball players to receive richer NIL sponsorship might be dependent on their ability to attract the eyeballs of men, particularly younger men. Furthermore, it cannot be ignored that Van Lith is a conventionally-attractive blonde white woman.

Persisting issues of racial inequity with NIL deals

Like Van Lith, Bueckers and Prince also are white women. Although it is encouraging that Prince’s sexual orientation has not appeared to detract from her NIL viability, that white players clearly have outpaced Black players in NIL earnings is concerning.

HypeAuditor’s data set includes five white women and five Black women. The estimated post price for the five white women is $1,332; for the five Black women, it is $276.

Follower count numbers could be used to explain away this disparity, as the compensation per post secured by these athletes strongly correlates with their number of followers. For instance, the Black players with the greatest number of followers, Jaden Owens with 271,481 followers and Zia Cooke with 210,300 followers, each earn an average of more than $500 per post. Owens’ nine sponsors include Reebok and Vital Proteins, while Dick’s Sporting Goods, WSlam, H&R Block and DoorDash highlight Cooke’s NIL portfolio.

Yet, that most Black players trail their white counterparts when it comes to follower counts points to the socially-embedded racial prejudices that have lead to an un-level NIL playing field.

Of the 10 players HypeAuditor analyzed, the player who should sweep national player of the year honors (Aliyah Boston), the reigning Final Four Most Outstanding Player (Haley Jones) and the presumptive No. 1 pick in the 2022 WNBA Draft (Rhyne Howard) have the fewest number of followers and, in turn, receive the lowest compensation per post.

It is hard not to conclude that some of the game’s best players are not getting the biggest bucks because they are Black.

Those looking to push back on this evidence of racial disparity could argue that the data set is non-representative, being so small and featuring only some of the most prominent players. It is possible that, among the broader population of women basketball players, the racial disparity is less severe. Yet, that white women are the most successful of this selective star-level subset of players is indicative of entrenched social biases that, in all likelihood, span across the women’s college basketball NIL landscape.

What’s the takeaway?

So, can “One Shining Moment” become several shiny sponsorships?

Yes and no.

The data collected by HypeAuditor suggests that brands have recognized the effectiveness of partnering with women’s college hoopers with star potential, as these young women have proven they both grow and engage with their follower bases. The data shows that companies looking to establish successful partnerships with college athletes should continue to turn to women’s college basketball players.

But the data also indicates that a certain off-court appeal, as much, if not more than, on-court success, determines a player’s perceived sponsorship viability.

In short, for some athletes, “One Shining Moment” might not be enough to the secure the NIL sponsorships she deserves.