Sponsor Insights

Female Athletes Dominate NIL Engagement

The evolution of “name, image, and likeness” (NIL) deals in college sports has been fast and furious since the NCAA implemented a policy in July 2021 allowing incoming and current student-athletes to earn money from endorsements. Women athletes’ dominance in audience engagement within this emerging landscape warrants a closer look, and may well compel brands that traditionally gravitate toward men’s sports to revisit their marketing strategies. 

Over the last year-plus, more than 730 brands have partnered with men in college sports–more than twice the 350+ brands that have inked deals with women. But despite female athletes’ relative lack of representation so far in the collegiate NIL space, they generate 4x the total audience engagement of male athletes, and 7x more engagement per deal. 

While men have inked over 1,000 total deals with 2,000 total social media posts–compared to the 550+ deals and 1,100 posts for women–female athletes tally a total engagement score of over 27M, versus 6.5M for male athletes. Women’s posts engage followers at nearly 8x the rate of men’s posts (48K vs. 6.3K), while their percentage of engaged followers also trumps men’s, at 5.5% vs. 4.6%, respectively. 

Women are also leading the way within each sport. While NIL deals in women’s basketball lag men’s basketball by more than 100, women’s total audience engagement numbers 5.4M, compared to 3.8M for men. Meanwhile, women’s softball athletes’ engagement on social media totals 1M–nearly 10x that of male baseball players–while their average engagement per post is 5x higher.

Olivia (Livvy) Dunne, a prolific TikToker and top gymnast at LSU, is one of the most popular athletes racking up NIL deals at the collegiate level. At 6M and counting, her staggering TikTok following exceeds that of all US college and professional athletes; Dunne currently partners with 13 brands on the app, with an average engagement of 634,683 per brand. Her total social media following of more than 8M has grown 56% in the last year, with an incredible engagement rate of nearly 9%. 

Twins Hanna and Haley Cavinder, who play basketball for the University of Miami Hurricanes after transferring from Fresno State, are also scoring big in the NIL game. They’ve promoted 15 brands on their shared TikTok page for a total engagement of 1.4M, with each branded post averaging nearly 100K engagements. In December  2021, the WWE signed 15 college athletes to a partnership starring the twins.

Apparel & Accessories Leads In NIL Deals

More than 1,000 brands have partnered with collegiate athletes in NIL deals over the last 15 months, and that number continues to be on the rise.

Through August 2022, 1,637 NIL partnerships have been inked across college sports, which collectively include 3,381 social posts. Engagement across all deals stood at 34M– averaging 20,839 per deal–while average engagement per post numbered 7,069, with 5.14% of followers engaging.

Here’s a breakdown of the top 5 industry categories in the NIL space by number of deals, with a quick look at their respective leading players.

Apparel & Accessories

  • The Players Trunk : 60% of the brand’s overall NIL partnerships are with men’s college basketball athletes. 
  • Adidas: The brand has NIL deals with athletes in 8 sports, while 51% of its NIL partnerships are with female athletes (21% women’s soccer; 15% softball; 15% women’s volleyball). 
  • American Eagle Outfitters: 46% of American Eagle Outfitters’ NIL partnerships are with college football athletes–30% of whom play for Ohio State. LSU gymnast Olivia Dunne’s 9 American Eagle Outfitters posts have racked up a total engagement of 2,333,957 so far. 

 

Technology

  • Players’ Lounge: 91% of the gaming brand’s overall partnerships are with college athletes, of which 79% are football players.  
  • Epic Games: College football players comprise 54% of the brand’s NIL partnerships are with football athletes. While female basketball players only account for 13% of its deals, University of Oregon’s Sedona Prince tops Epic’s partner list for highest total social engagement (25,489) and average engagement per post (12,745). 
  • Mercury NFT: 68% of the brand’s overall partnerships are with college athletes:  62% in men’s Basketball and 6% in football. 

 

Quick Serve Restaurants (QSR)

  • Raising Cane’s: While 42% of the chicken finger specialist’s NIL partnerships are with football athletes, the brand is the only QSR that has a partnership with a (female) wrestler–Marlee Smith (Arizona State). Football player Stetson Bennet boasts the brand’s highest total and average engagement, at 46,964 and 23,482, respectively. 
  • Krystal: 59% of the Georgia-based burger maker’s overall partnerships are with college athletes (37% football; 12% men’s basketball; 10% women’s basketball). Georgia women’s soccer player Abby Boyan is its one NIL deal outside of football and basketball. 
  • Bojangles: 27% of the chicken-and-biscuit brand’s NIL partnerships are with female athletes (23% women’s basketball; 5% softball), while 52% are with football players. 

 

Financial 

  • FTX: 65% of the brand’s NIL partnerships are with football players, while 23% of FTX’s overall partnerships are with college athletes (17% football; 6% men’s basketball). Sacramento State men’s basketball player Deshaun Highler totaled 19 posts for FTX, with a total engagement of 33,233. 
  • H&R Block: 94% of the tax prep company’s partnerships are with female athletes. South Carolina women’s basketball player Zia Cooke leads its list of athlete endorsers: 5 of her posts for the brand scored total engagement of 200,248 followers. 
  • Current: 53% of the fintech brand’s NIL partnerships are with football players. Nebraska Women’s volleyball standout Lexi Rodriguez and Arizona State women’s wrestler Marlee Smith boast Current’s top two total engagements on social, at 8,628 and 1,858, respectively. 

 

Non-Alcoholic Beverages

  • UPTIME Energy: 44% of the brand’s overall partnerships are with college softball players. It’s 1 of 6 brands (along with Magic Spoon, Champs Sports, DoorDash, DSW, and Met-Rx) to have a partnership with a men’s soccer athlete–Jared Panson of Brandeis University–and 1 of 2 non-alcoholic beverage brands (along with Rowdy Energy) to partner with a lacrosse athlete.  
  • Simple Truth: 55% of its overall partnerships are with men’s basketball players.  
  • Six Star Pro Nutrition: 24% of the brand’s total partnerships are with college basketball athletes (16% men’s; 8% women’s). It’s the only non-alcoholic beverage partnered with a (female) golfer: Stanford University’s Rachel Heck.   

 

The top 5 brands by number of deals in the NIL space are:

  1. Hooters: 40% of the brand’s overall partnerships are with college football players. One of its notable NIL deals outside the sport is with University of Arkansas golfer John Daly II, son of professional golfer John Daly.
  2. Players’ Lounge (see above)
  3. FTX (see above)
  4. Raising Cane’s (see above)
  5. Degree: The deodorant brand has deals with athletes across 11 college sports; 24% of its NIL partnerships are with female athletes.  

Across NIL Partnerships, Social Media Reigns Supreme

While many brands are singling out top players to partner with, some are casting a wider net–like Hooters, which in August signed 51 offensive linemen from 10 top college football programs.

And although brands are integrating college athletes into their marketing in various ways, social media remains the top go-to tactic for them all–utilized in over 90% of NIL partnerships.

Following is a snapshot of social engagement garnered by these deals (which average 2 posts per partnership) across college sports through August 2022. Top deals are ranked by average engagement per post, with a minimum of 3 posts. 

College Football

A perennial fan favorite, college football’s NIL deals number 598 and include 1,235 posts. Total engagement across all posts was 2.7M, averaging 4,564 per deal, while average engagement per post was 1,618, with 4.17% of followers engaging. 

Top deals:

  1. Braden Galloway (Athletic Brewing Company): 22,875 
  2. Shedeur Sanders (Beats by Dre): 11,244
  3. Bryce Young (Cash App): 8,490
  4. Bryce Young (Logans Roadhouse): 6,870
  5. Bryce Young (Subway): 5,873 

Gymnastics

Despite having just 52 deals with a collective 88 posts, women’s gymnastics trumps all other college sports by social engagement, with a whopping 19M across all posts, averaging 224,327 per deal. Average engagement per post was 74,776, with 5.48% of followers engaging. 

Top deals:

  1. Olivia (Livvy) Dunne (Vuori Clothing): 401,619
  2. Olivia (Livvy) Dunne (American Eagle Outfitters): 259,329
  3. Olivia (Livvy) Dunne (Bartleby Technologies): 126,714
  4. Jordan Chiles (GK Elite): 7,323
  5. Elena Arenas (Starface World): 3,688

Men’s Basketball

With a total of 328 deals spanning 635 posts, men’s basketball–another high-profile fan favorite–boasts total social engagement of 3.8M, averaging 11,710 per deal. Per-post engagement averaged 4,198, with 4.54% of followers engaging. 

Top deals:

  1. Adrien Nunez (Celcius): 31,376
  2. Shareef O’Neal (Savage x Fenty): 29,448
  3. Deshaun Highler (The GLD Shop): 18,880
  4. Deshaun Highler (VKTRY Gear): 12,778
  5. Jimmy Sotos (Celcius): 8,244

Women’s Basketball

At 5.4M, women’s college basketball’s total social engagement is second only to women’s gymnastics–averaging 23,163 per deal, with 234 total deals spanning 430 posts. Average engagement per post was 8,828, with 4.51% of followers engaging. 

Top deals:

  1. Hanna Cavinder (PSD Underwear): 138,537
  2. Casey Ferguson (Wingstop): 76,540
  3. Jada Williams (GymShark): 49,610
  4. Zia Cooke (H&R Block): 40,050
  5. Jada Williams (Spalding): 20,764

Baseball

Though baseball’s storied standing as one of America’s all-time favorite sports is undeniable, its following at the college level–on social media, at least–pales in comparison to others’. With 52 deals encompassing 92 posts, total engagement was just 161,000, averaging 3,100 per deal. That said, its social followers–though few in number–are devoted: per-post engagement averaged 1,119, with a whopping 9.79% of followers engaging. 

Top deals:

  1. Tim Elko (Raising Cane’s): 5,381
  2. Landon Sims (J. Parkerson Jewelers): 1,753
  3. Cayden Wallace (Academy Sports + Outdoors): 1,507
  4. Taylor Young (Gordon McKernan Injury Attorneys): 542
  5. Steele Netterville (Gordon McKernan Injury Attorneys): 356

Softball

With 83 deals encompassing 159 posts, softball’s total engagement was 1M, averaging 12,427 per deal. Average engagement per post was 4,352, with 5.17% of followers engaging. 

Top deals:

  1. Lauren Burke (REVOLVE (Eminent): 12,736
  2. Montana Fouts (H&R Block): 5,614
  3. Jayda Coleman (Win Reality): 2,133
  4. Baylee Klingler (Outback Steakhouse): 1,176
  5. Kaley Mudge (Garnet & Gold): 1,058

From Title IX to NIL Deals, Change is Good For Women In Sports

We are quickly approaching 50 years since Title IX forever changed the game for girls and women in sports. Not only that, but next month marks 1 year for NIL endorsement deals for NCAA. While women in college sports have made strides on the field, they have also had success off with brands seeking their partnership and chance to leverage their social following.

Lauren Burke of the Longhorns might have lost the World Series title, but she’s a winner in terms of number of deals. Burke has 16 deals which leverage her 94KK social following.  

Which brands have tagged the Softball star as a new partner?

7-Eleven, CASETify, Mercari & Brumate are a few of the brands leveraging Burke’s social following. Across her social posts each brand has an average engagement of nearly 50K which accounts for over 5% of her total audience. Lauren has 20 branded posts overall which brings the total engagement over 750K.

Female athletes in other college sports have also been able to successfully create partnerships with brands. Hanna Cavinder a Fresno State basketball player, Jordan Chiles a UCLA Gymnast & Brooke Roberts who plays soccer for Arkansa all have 10 or more endorsements. Not a bad stat to have in under a year! Cavinder & Roberts each have over 2M social followers, though Cavinder doubles Roberts following with 4.4M. With such a large following, Cavinder’s brands see an average engagement of nearly 100K. With TikTok being her most used social platform (making up 4M of her total following), 17 of her 22 brand deals have been tagged on TikTok. 

Within the women’s college sports landscape, WingStop, H&R Block, Degree, UPTIME Energy & Outback Steakhouse are the top five brands signing female college athletes to deals with each brand having over nine deals. Social Media is the top asset utilized in these deals as 85% of the time the athletes are tagging their brand partners in social media.

Four Brands Fill Out Their Brackets Better Than You

State Farm, Nissan, GEICO, and Continental Tire are still alive in the Final Four. These four brands have a sponsorship deal with all of the remaining teams.

Insurance, Auto and Finance have the most assets, this is twice as much as the next category, Healthcare. There are nine insurance brands with deals ties to the remaining four teams, deals in this category are led by State Farm and GEICO. The leading category, Auto, has 10 brands with deals. This category is lead by Continental Tire which has the most total deals.

The four remaining teams, on average, have 28 sponsorship deals per team. Leading the group is the Kansas Jayhawks with 31 deals, followed closely by Villanova with 30. Going head to head in the Final Four are long time rivals Duke and North Carolina. Duke beats UNC in regards to total sponsorships with 28 deals compared to UNC’s 23. The average amongst the rest of the NCAA Schools & Conferences is nine. There are over 2,400 brands buying sponsorships within college basketball across 280+ different schools/conferences. State Farm not only is top for the Final Four, but also across all teams, while GEICO and Nissan each make the top five.

Categories Continue to Expand Portfolios With NCAA Deals

Ranked by total sponsorship deals, banking and restaurants/event space lead categories in deals with NCAA Schools & Conferences. These top two categories are the only two categories to have over 500 deals within the NCAA, while banking brands are the clear leaders having over 40% more sponsorship deals than any other category. 

The retail category expanded their portfolio with over 100 new deals within the NCAA this year, more new deals than any other category.

PNC Bank led the banking category in total sponsorship deals, followed by US Bank and Wells Fargo. These brands dominated this category each sponsoring almost 50% more NCAA Schools & Conferences than any other brand.. 

The restaurants / event spaces category was led by Buffalo Wild Wings who was the only brand in the category to have sponsorship deals with 20+ schools. First Watch was the biggest emerging brand in the restaurants/event spaces category signing sponsorship deals with 7 schools in 2021. Currently, 45% of all of First Watch’s sponsorships are with NCAA schools/conferences, including the Kentucky Wildcats and UCF Knights.

 

Female College Athletes | Endorsements

It’s National Girls & Women in Sports Day and we are highlighting female college athletes who are leading the way in NIL endorsement deals.

Notably, the WWE has signed the Cavinder twins after the two broke into the industry July 1st signing duel NIL deals with Boost Mobile. Boost Mobile and the WWE touted their new endorsers with billboards in New York’s famous Times Square. Hayley Cavinder edges out her sister Hanna, having one more deal for a total of 10.

Similar to college football athletes, Raising Cane’s also targeted woman college athletes being the second most active brand signing NIL deals with woman in college athletics. Degree is currently the top brand in the space having social posts incorporated into all of their deals, while 80% of all NIL deals include social posts according to SponsorUnited’a data.

On average, every female in college sports with 1  endorsement deal actually has at least 2 deals. Over 100 brands have entered the space in the 6+ months that College NIL deals have been legal. There is still tons of opportunity for partnership growth tied to female college athletes as there’s over 475 brands with Men’s college athletics deals.

College Football Championship | Instant Replay