Toward Gender Parity?

One of the predictions earlier this year, when collegiate athletes gained the ability to commercially exploit their names, images, and likenesses (NIL), was that the change would ultimately give female athletes as many opportunities as their male counterparts to generate revenue, something that hasn’t been true in professional sports to date.

While it is still early days, female student-athletes are making a mark in the world of NIL deals. They are joining male athletes in bringing in small amounts of money from activities such as appearances at and endorsements of shops near campus, signing autographs, mentioning brands on their social media feeds, coaching, inspirational speeches, and other of the relatively small agreements that are likely to represent the bulk of NIL activity for most students. More importantly from the standpoint of gender parity, some of the top names are also embarking on high-profile deals with big-name partners.

Some examples of athletes whose new partnerships involve licensed products—or hold the possibility of merchandise down the road, since apparel endorsement deals in particular often head in that direction—include:

  • Azzi Fudd, a basketball player at the University of Connecticut, who signed with Stephen Curry’s SC30 Inc. brand in a broad NIL deal that ultimately could include licensing and collaboration arrangements with some of the brands that work with Curry and his company. SC30 encompasses all of Curry’s off-court businesses.
  • Lexi Sun, a volleyball player at the University of Nebraska, who has a partnership with luxury jewelry and home retailer Borsheims, for which she created a signature jewelry assortment. She also teamed with REN Athletics, a maker of casualwear staffed by former volleyball players, which offers limited-edition t-shirts and sweatshirts she designed under the banner of the Sunny Collection.
  • Olivia Dunne, a Louisiana State University gymnast, who has deals with activewear brand Vuori and American Eagle, as well as PlantFuel, a marketer of plant-based wellness products. Some experts have predicted Dunne, credited with being the most followed student-athlete on social media, could generate revenues of $1 million through NIL agreements.
  • Jada Williams, who partnered with basketball brand Spalding in a multi-year partnership to promote both sportswear and equipment. The basketball player signed the deal when she was only age 16, after committing to but not yet playing for UCLA.
  • Jamie Ortega, University of North Carolina lacrosse star, who signed with Epoch, a marketer of tech-infused lacrosse apparel and equipment. In addition to serving as a brand ambassador for the company, which has been sponsoring her UNC team for several years, she is also designing her own clothing line.
  • Sedona Prince, basketball player with the University of Oregon, who paired with Uninterrupted (part of LeBron James’ and Maverick Carter’s SpringHill Company of brands), along with Champs Sports and Eastbay, for a YouTube series and apparel line inspired by Uninterrupted’s “More Than an Athlete” messaging. The clothing assortment, which launched this month, includes both lifestyle and performance items.
  • Reilyn Turner, a soccer forward at UCLA, who signed an endorsement deal with Nike. The company recently took over from Under Armour as the official outfitter of the school’s women’s soccer program, among other UCLA sports teams. The agreement with Turner, announced this week, is Nike’s first in the NIL space.

While female student-athletes have likely not yet achieved true parity with males due to NIL, results so far illustrate their collective potential to bring in revenue. According to Opendorse, one of the platforms that helps match collegiate athletes with brand partners, women’s basketball alone accounted for almost a quarter of total NIL compensation it has tracked through its system to date, second only to football among collegiate sports. And, as the list above suggests, many of the individual agreements involving female student-athletes are significant in scope and earning potential.

Raugust Communications’ last e-newsletter for 2021 goes out next Tuesday, December 21. The Licensing Topic of the Month will focus on the multitude of issues facing the licensing business during this year’s holiday season, making sales forecasting difficult. And the Datapoint research spotlight will examine the players involved in sneaker collaborations. If you are not yet a subscriber to this free publication, you can sign up here.

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