Early NIL Success: Women’s Sports Can No Longer Be Sidelined
In wake of the Alston v NCAA decision, July 1, 2021 will be remembered as one of the most significant dates in the history of collegiate athletics. The unanimous opinion written by Justice Neil Gorsuch upheld a district court’s ruling paving the way for student-athletes to be compensated for their name, image, and likeness (NIL). Now, over a year into life with NIL, many examples show that NIL compensation reflects the attention of athletes who play on the most viewed stages in college athletics. For women’s sports in particular, NIL compensation could bring much-needed attention to their game – something that has been lacking ever since collegiate sports began to be broadcasted.
Despite this gap in TV time between men’s and women’s collegiate sports, female athletes are finding surprising success in securing profitable NIL deals. This could potentially create an incentive for networks to showcase notable female athletes and close the significant broadcasting discrepancy.
In the first year of NIL, football players (not surprisingly) came out the as the biggest winners. College football players grabbed 49.6% of the estimated $917+ million to have come in through NIL compensation. This is synonymous with the fact that college football has also secured the largest broadcasting deals. Recently, the Big Ten agreed to a $7 billion dollar contract to air its games across Fox, CBS, and NBC every week. The exposure of football players across major networks on a weekly basis has proven to be an attractive investment for companies looking to sponsor high-profile athletes through NIL compensation.
However, after football, women’s sports make up the majority of the remaining NIL deals at 52.8% of the overall compensation combined. Additionally, six out of the ten remaining sports with the highest NIL compensation are women’s sports. Women’s basketball, volleyball, and softball took the 3rd, 4th, and 5th place behind football and men’s basketball. This financial success came despite the dismal media coverage of women’s sports.
A 2019 study by the University of Southern California found that women's sports only made up 5% of the overall TV time on sports news and highlight shows, specifically ESPN’s SportsCenter. Likewise, women’s sports were only mentioned in 9% of online newsletter content and 10% of Twitter posts by these same networks.
Because women’s sports have not traditionally been a marketing tool in terms of TV time for companies looking to sponsor through NIL, female athletes have had to get more creative. About two-thirds of all NIL activities now involve posting on social media, and women are taking full advantage of it. Excluding football, NIL-sponsored female athletes have a social media engagement rate almost 20% greater than male athletes with regard to posts for their deals. More brands are seeking to sponsor female athletes in an effort to reach a bigger audience. Hence, focusing on the athletes with the most engaging social media presence offers an opportunity to do so.
In NCAA basketball specifically, women’s basketball only falls behind the men in NIL compensation by 6%, with women’s basketball actually passing the men for a short period earlier this year. At the peak of March Madness, UConn’s Paige Bueckers and Louisville’s Hailey Van Lith had the highest earnings of any NCAA basketball player, making $62,900 and $44,200 per post respectively. The University of Miami’s Canvider twins are another example who have each secured over $1 million dollars in NIL deals and have a combined seven million followers across multiple social media platforms. In a July 2022 interview, the twins spoke to the way that NIL has the potential to grow women’s sports. Haley Canvider stated, “I just think female athletes have a lot of social media following and presence and I think brands like that.”
With one full year of NIL deals in the books, it will be interesting to see if any of the success women are finding in NIL compensation will translate into fan and network attention for NCAA women’s sports next season.
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