Basketball players like Paige Bueckers and Angel Reese, and gymnasts like Olivia Dunne and Suni Lee, have changed the preconceived notion that women athletes are not marketable.
Historically, women’s sports have been overlooked in a lot of areas, but the new rule gives the right for collegiate athletes to control and profit from their Name, Image and Likeness. NIL deals present a chance for players to show their marketability.
As a female college athlete, I see NIL deals providing a platform for women athletes to gain recognition for their hard work, value and contribution to their sport. As NIL deals challenge traditional norms and wield the power to monetize athletes’ personal brands, it creates a pivotal moment in unfamiliar territory throughout collegiate sports.
In the realm of collegiate sports, the shift has led to a new era that merges amateurism and financial empowerment for college athletes. From the perspective of a female athlete in Division II, the feeling of being left behind and overlooked is prevalent. Since Bueckers, Dunne, Lee and Reese all attend large Division I schools, it has provided them with lucrative opportunities for sponsorships, only further exaggerating the undeniable gap I would have to overcome as a D2 athlete. As D2 athletes, we contend with several factors limiting our opportunities to capitalize on our personal brands. We are nearly invisible to sponsors and struggle with visibility and recognition in our own communities, let alone outside of them.
Fellow teammate and computer science student, Breanne Ha expresses her insight regarding the challenges we face as basketball players at CPP.
“I wish we had more guidance and expertise leading us through this new process,” said Ha. “Social media is flooded with LSU and Angel Reese showing off her NILs.”
On one hand, witnessing fellow female athletes at the D1 level successfully marketing and growing their brands is inspiring and motivating to me. However, reality hits and I realize the disparities between myself and them. Being in a small community like Pomona, next to the large community of Los Angeles, visibility is even more limited. The larger market will secure deals with USC and UCLA athletes, while Pomona is not willing to establish its own sponsorships.
As I step onto the basketball court for games, I see the number of attendees in the crowds—or lack thereof, which exposes how small of a fanbase we have. Then as I look up into the bleachers, I can see only one camera for the broadcast viewers watching at home, which are mainly family and friends, once again highlighting the lack of visibility and media coverage. Sponsors seek athletes with broad visibility and marketability so smaller schools like ours do not attract their attention.
Cal Poly Pomona could do a better job of promoting its athletic programs. Invite middle and high school students in the surrounding areas to our games, run promotions, hire NIL specialists to help our athletes navigate the new system and get out into the community more so that businesses might someday be interested in promoting the athletes. D2 athletes tend to look at localized businesses for sponsorships, but even that is not happening, so obviously manifesting the lucrative deals and financial rewards D1 athletes can access nationally or globally is a pipe dream.
Women’s soccer player, Bridget Carbonneau who is currently working toward a master’s degree in business administration, provides her viewpoint on engaging sponsors.
“Even the athletics department could get in touch with potentially some brands that are looking to partner with smaller schools and certain athletes,” said Carbonneau. “I think that would be huge. That would also bring a lot of publicity to our athletics department like in general.”
Around the country, D2 athletes have made profits from NIL deals.
According to frontofficesports.com, “Most schools ‘weren’t prepared’ for the idea that ‘their kids were actually marketable… In D-II alone, athletes from 101 schools have reported activity to Opendorse. In D-II, women’s sports athletes made more than men’s sports athletes.”
The disparity between D1 and D2 opportunities should not be so pronounced. I think D1 schools simply work harder on behalf of their athletes. They have dedicated resources to promote their programs and athletes, which in turn creates a loyal fanbase. When you already have community buy-in, the sponsors are already aware of your brand. The Cal Poly Pomona administration, athletic department, coaches and team sponsors would help its athletes by encouraging attendance and building excitement around its athletic programs. Run Midnight Madness, bring in youth athletic groups for a discounted price or for free and advertise on and off campus in community news circulations and in various businesses around town. Post schedules at Innovation Brew Works and have professors announce game day at the beginning or end of classes.
There are numerous ways to improve visibility, but it needs to start with the school backing its athletic programs and dedicating the resources needed to promote its athletes.