NIL Deals Lack Equity for Women College Athletes

Since 2021, NIL deals compensate student-athletes. A new report highlights the differences in NIL opportunities between men and women athletes.
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  • Just 34% of collectives create name, image, and likeness deals for women college athletes, a new report found.
  • Fifty-one years after the passage of Title IX, women continue to fight for equal opportunities.
  • NIL deals are not yet equitable, compensating women less than men.
  • In the top 100 biggest NIL deals, just nine women are included.

The women who take part in sports, author included, find great joy and purpose in their athletic endeavors. Fans who watch women's sports are invested in the success of the athletes they cheer for and the competition of it all.

But there is a gender gap that many of us are familiar with. College athletes, and those who support them, are beginning to see similar disparities in name, image, and likeness (NIL) deals. Women receive significantly less funding through this new avenue of compensation than do men.

In many ways, we are learning that investments in women's sports help schools as much as it does athletes. Financial contributions to women's sports help boost the monetary value of teams, increase viewership, and strengthen overall support. Investors are showing up for women's sports in big ways. But, there is still a long way to go.

What would happen if NIL deals for women expanded to catch up with the deals offered to men?

History of NIL Deals

Paid NIL opportunities began July 1, 2021, when college athletes were officially allowed to profit from their name, image, and likeness. Endorsement deals, social media opportunities, even making appearances and signing autographs are all covered under the new NIL laws.

"Through the first year and a half of the NIL era, women's sports holds six of the top 10 highest-earning sports by NIL compensation," stated Opendorse President Adi Kunalic. Opendorse, a company that supports student-athletes with marketing and endorsement deals, also reports on the success of NIL opportunities.

We learned from Opendorse's 2023 report that men college athletes receive 66% of deals from NIL collectives. That means just 34% of women sports athletes are paid through college NIL deals.

NIL collectives, groups of donors who compensate athletes with funding and endorsements, account for almost half of all student-athlete payments. Collectives like Dexcom U support women athletes with diabetes, while larger collectives like Spyre Sports compensate athletes of all genders across all sports.

Women student-athletes are profitable. Despite this profitability, very few collectives specifically target women athletes. Some schools, like the University of Utah, create their own collectives for women student-athletes. Utah's Who Rocks the House collective funds women athletes directly, without management or processing fees.

In 2023, 51 years after the passage of Title IX, women continue to fight for equal representation, opportunity, and pay. College NIL deals have the opportunity to increase women's access to paid opportunities at the collegiate level.

Why Equity Matters in NIL Deals

We all remember the 2021 outing of March Madness' disparities between men's and women's resources. Student-athletes showed the world the massive lack of gender equity in college basketball. Thankfully, the NCAA is making progress, and equity is improving.

Representation and equity matters. As in other areas of life, equal and positive treatment of people makes a difference in outcomes. There is evidence of this in education, politics, and workplaces. Equity and representation for women in college sports can also impact athletic growth, commonality, and progress.

Across NCAA sports teams, men account for the majority of student-athletes — above 50% in every division. The highest average team size, for men and women collectively, is football with 127.5 student-athletes per team, according to Opendorse. When we focus just on women, that number shrinks to 46.8 student-athletes per team.

Opendorse's 2023 insights report states that NIL deals for men's football make up nearly 50% of NIL funding. With more men student-athletes, we can expect a higher number of college NIL deals. However, the percentage of men student-athletes does not align with men receiving 66% of NIL opportunities.

"NIL is an outlet for student-athletes to tell their full story — more than the one seen on the court or field," the Opendorse report states. Telling more complete stories opens the door for new fans and investors to support women athletes.

Katie Hoffman, a former student-athlete and general counsel for Opendorse, says she "watched women's sports constantly get overlooked. From facilities to lack of broadcasting and poor tournament setups, women were always second class." Hoffman goes on, "With NIL, that has changed as corporate America has intentionally showcased women and the athleticism they possess."

Social Media and NIL Deals

According to a 2021 Pew Research study, social media use skyrocketed in recent years. Seventy-two percent of adults use at least one social media platform. More importantly, 78% of women and 66% of men use social media.

Social media posts are the most widely used NIL approach and account for the highest-paid college athletes, according to Opendorse's NIL review. Seventy-nine percent of NIL deals for women athletes come from brand endorsements — deals that often connect to a social media presence.

NIL collectives can capitalize on the higher percentage of women on social media sites by tapping into women athletes and their audiences. Social media exposure benefits brands and athletes alike.

Thousands of college student-athletes use companies like Opendorse to receive the best NIL deals and promote their personal brand. Fans and other supporters can pay athletes directly for autographs, signed photos, special appearances, and social media posts.

Some of the top NIL deals belong to prominent women athletes who are paid by big-name brands. With over 3.5 million social media followers, Olympic gold medalist Sunisa Lee benefits from multiple NIL deals.

Women athletes like Paige Bueckers, Flau'Jae Johnson, and Olivia Dunne have some of the best NIL deals in the country. Athletes with NIL deals use social media to increase their personal and professional exposure. Increasing their followers and fanbase can help student-athletes create career opportunities after college.

Next Steps for NIL Deals in Women's Sports

According to on3's NIL 100 rankings, the top 35 NIL deals among college athletes includes three women, the top 50 includes just six women, and we find only nine women in the top 100. We can only hope that by this time next year these numbers will have changed for the better.

It is critical for companies with influential branding power to use their monetary resources to endorse and pay women student-athletes. We have to move past the idea of equity and make real improvements in compensation deals and funding for all women athletes.