College Basketball Players Cash In With March Madness NIL Deals

Both men and women athletes are using the NCAA basketball tournament's national stage to make money on their name, image, and likeness.

Updated May 6, 2022

College Basketball Players Cash In With March Madness NIL Deals
College Sports Opinion & Analysis
Photo by Icon Sportswire / Contributor / Icon Sportswire / Getty Images

  • This is the first NCAA basketball tournament in which athletes can make money from their name, image, and likeness.
  • This is also the first tournament in which March Madness branding applies to the women's tournament.
  • Both men's and women's basketball ranked in the top three sports for NIL compensation.

The NCAA isn't the only one collecting large sums of money during this year's March Madness, because for the first time ever both men and women athletes are using the tournament's national stage to cash in on their name, image, and likeness.

While millions in NIL deals were signed by college basketball players before the tournament began, every minute of March Madness provides new, unpredictable marketing opportunities for players and companies alike. Make a big basket, help your team win, become a hero, and then cash in.

That's what happened to University of Wisconsin guard Chucky Hepburn, who hit a three-point shot on March 1 to help his team clinch a share of the Big Ten title and punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament. The Players Trunk apparel company capitalized on the thrill of the shot, inking a deal with Hepburn to launch a "Chucky Special" clothing line.

"That's what excites us most about March Madness, knowing that there' so many more of these opportunities that are going to be coming at our doorstep," The Players Trunk co-founder Hunter Pomerantz told Yahoo Finance. "It's just how we continue to be first at them, and continue to capitalize and monetize for these athletes."

Buzzer beaters and bracket-busting upsets aside, plenty of players cashed in in advance of the tournament with national and local advertisers eager to take a chance that the player they sponsor will have that "One Shining Moment."

Members of the top-ranked Gonzaga University and Duke University's men's basketball teams have been among the most active in signing NIL deals. Drew Timme, Gonzaga's 6-foot-10 mustachioed forward, has linked up with the Dollar Shave Club to serve as the company's first "chin-fluencer."

Timme's Zags teammate Chet Holmgren has a deal with Yahoo Sports to promote its basketball challenge bracket. The 7-foot-tall freshman center who could jump to the NBA next year also has deals with Topps trading cards and headphone company Bose. He also has a unique contract with Candy Sweet Futures for a collection of NFTs, or non-fungible tokens.

Bose, meanwhile, also has signed University of South Carolina star forward Aliyah Boston and Duke forward Wendell Moore. Additionally, Moore is promoting Bojangles fried chicken.

Boston's South Carolina teammate Zia Cooke and Iowa University's Caitlin Clark are the big names for a new initiative by H&R Block called "A Fair Shot," which will provide $1 million in sponsorships and support for women college athletes. Meanwhile, 6-foot-4 forward Cameron Brink, who plays for defending national champion Stanford University, has lined up a deal with Great Clips for a March Madness promotion. That goes along with Brink's other NIL deals, such as one with Portland Gear.

Not to be outdone, Wingstop Inc., a chicken wings restaurant chain, has partnered with 11 women who play the wing position. Players who have signed with the company include Angel Reese from the University of Maryland, Dyaisha Fair from the University at Buffalo, NaLyssa Smith from Baylor University, and Sonia Citron from the University of Notre Dame.

"We're excited to support women's athletics and continue our engagement in other ways within the space," Wingstop's chief growth officer Marisa Carona told the Nation's Restaurant News.

The March Madness deals aren't just for star players. Sheets & Giggles, a bedding company, has reached deals with five women and five men players who are the "most rested," meaning they have played the fewest minutes for their teams this season.

University of Michigan guard Adrien Nuñez is another role player who is striking it rich. Although he averages just a little over three minutes a game, he has deals with Amazon, Coach, and Spotify. The reason for his success? Nuñez boasts more than 3 million followers on TikTok.

@adrien_nunez

YESSIRRR

♬ original sound - Adrien Nunez

And not to be outdone, star quarterback Caleb Williams, who recently transferred to the University of Southern California, got into the March Madness spirit by giving Beats headphones to the USC men's and women's basketball teams. Beats is just one of the companies with whom Williams has signed a NIL agreement.

The fact that basketball players are making so many deals is not surprising. Ever since the NCAA gave the OK for athletes to sign marketing deals, there has been a flurry of activity with basketball players among the most coveted athletes. According to Opendorse, an athlete-focused NIL consultancy, both men's and women's basketball ranked in the top three sports for NIL compensation. Women's players earned 18.5% of total compensation awarded college athletes, while men's players earned 15%. Division I athletes made an average of $561, according to Opendorse.

"It has completely changed college sport," Thilo Kunkel, director of the Sport Industry Research Center at Temple University, told NPR. "It has provided opportunities for student-athletes to really make some money along the way, and it's also sparked a lot of awareness around student-athletes [about] what it means to build your personal brand and what it means to monetize that personal brand."

March Madness is the NCAA's chief source of revenue and was expanded this year to include the women's Division I basketball tournament for the first time ever. The contract for the television rights to the men's Division I basketball tournament with CBS and Turner paid the NCAA $850 million in 2021 and is scheduled to pay $870 million in 2022.

The contract for the women's tournament was sold in 2011 under a $500 million deal to ESPN that expires at the end of the 2023-2024 season. But with the expansion of the women's tournament and its inclusion under the March Madness brand, the next television contract will likely be worth many more millions of dollars.

March Madness is also a marketing gold mine for advertisers. Last year's men's championship game drew 16.9 million viewers with advertisers spending $910 million. This year's women's tournament has sold out all of its advertising space, with ad space going to 14 sponsors and 22 advertisers, according to ESPN.