The Role of NIL in Empowering Women in College Sports

The history of female involvement in college sports has long been characterized by exclusion, both as athletes and as full participants with equal access to the advantages that athletics can provide. For many years, male athletes have received greater financial support, more media exposure, a stronger voice to develop their image, and a better platform to turn their athletic achievements into off-field opportunities.

With the developments of NIL for female athletes over the past couple of years, all of that has changed.

A Turning Point for Female Athletes’ NIL

With the NCAA’s decision to surrender control over athletes’ names, images, and likenesses (NIL) in 2020, women in college sports are taking advantage of these new rights and discovering new professional possibilities, giving them the chance to make a larger impact in their communities and the nation. While Title IX ensured women’s access to participate in sports, NIL may prove to be the turning point when women take the megaphone given to them as athletes and use it to bring about change and grow their sports. Women’s voices are now being heard like never before.

“Every woman in the NCAA now has a platform and the ability to share their story,” says Shannon Scovel, a University of Maryland doctoral candidate studying the representation of women in sports and digital media.

Brands Are Turning to Female Athletes Through NIL

Brands are taking note. In the most recent March Madness basketball season, four out of the top five NIL earners were women. As of May 2022, female basketball players ranked third in NIL earnings among all NCAA sports, followed only by football and men’s basketball players. Women’s volleyball, softball, and swimming and diving came next in the list of top earners, ranking ahead of baseball, the third-highest earning men’s sport.

Women’s NIL By The Numbers

  • 5.5% engagement rate for female athletes
  • 27M total engagement
  • 5.4M engagement across women’s basketball
  • 1M engagement across softball
  • 7x more engagement per deal than male athletes

Source: SponsorUnited

These numbers contrast sharply with the unequal treatment women athletes have received in college sports, where 80-90% of athletic departments fail to comply with Title IX, the 1972 civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in schools or educational programs receiving federal funding. According to the NCAA’s most recent financial reporting, Division I women’s athletic programs at Football Bowl Subdivision schools receive only 18% of total operating expenses, 29% of total recruiting dollars, and 41% of total scholarship allocations, resulting in a yearly shortfall of $973 million in scholarships and $163 million in recruiting money for female athletes.

Traditional media coverage of women’s sports is similarly biased. Despite a decrease in overt sexism and denigration of female athletes over time, gender studies scholars Cheryl Cooky, Michael Messner, and Michela Musto have found that the coverage remains “lackluster and uninspired.” In 2019, women’s sports accounted for just 5.1% of overall sports coverage on SportsCenter and in the Los Angeles television market, a slight increase from 5% in 1989.

According to Scovel, “The underrepresentation of women in traditional media leads to the public and businesses underestimating and undervaluing women.”

How NIL Has the Opportunity to Turn the Tide

NIL legislation has helped to close this gap by creating new opportunities for female athletes to earn money and recognition. For example, female athletes have been able to use their NIL rights to secure endorsement deals and sponsorships that were previously unavailable to them. This has helped to increase their visibility and create new opportunities for female athletes to earn money through their athletic abilities. Additionally, the NIL laws have allowed female athletes to use their platform to advocate for important issues and to create new opportunities for female athletes to achieve their goals and dreams.

NIL is providing a way for women to bypass the traditional obstacles to exposure and its benefits. This is true for high-profile college athletes with large social media followings, like University of Miami’s twin basketball players Haley and Hanna Cavinder, and Louisiana State University gymnast Olivia Dunne. But it is also true for less well-known athletes, such as Aquinas College volleyball player Chloe Mitchell, who has gained TikTok fame and NIL deals for her creative DIY home renovation content, allowing her to buy a computer and car, pay off her student loans.

Here are some more female athlete NIL success stories:

  • Duke track & field star Emily Cole has become one of the most influential athletes in the NIL space—despite not playing a revenue sport. Cole has done deals with Invesco QQQ, H&R Block, Family Dollar, and more. In light of of all of her NIL success, she also wrote and published a book (The Players’ Plate) all about sports nutrition.
  • The Cavinder twins have dominated the headlines as of late, but there’s another set of twins making the most of NIL: the Nourse twins. Audrey and Nicole Nourse play beach volleyball at USC and are looking to three-peat this year. From a special Title IX 50th Anniversary campaign with Sprouts to their own short documentary, they’ve made a splash in the NIL world.
  • UGA softball athlete Jaiden Fields is another star making huge strides through NIL. The younger sister of Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields was just recently announced as one of the WWE’s “Next In Line” athletes, a class of NCAA champions and talented players across multiple sports.

What’s something all of these female sports stars have in common? They’ve all made deals through Icon Source.

The Future of Womens Sports is Bright with NIL

Paid endorsements have the potential to greatly impact the careers and financial stability of female college athletes. It is crucial for these female athletes to carefully consider the opportunities presented to them and weigh the benefits against any potential drawbacks. The importance of supporting and valuing female athletes cannot be overstated, and NIL endorsements can certainly play a role in achieving gender equality in sports. The future of female athletics is bright, and it is our hope that more and more female athletes will be able to receive the recognition and financial benefits they deserve through paid endorsements.In the meantime, we’ll continue to support and uplift female athletes through NIL as they strive for excellence on and off the field. Check out our marketplace where athletes and brands connect to make NIL partnerships a reality.

Chase Garrett

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