A character sprints towards the camera along a walkway in an apartment complex, first in real time, then in slow motion before returning to real time. The woman is dressed in a tracksuit, she is fast and the spoken song played on the video reads “it’s me against me”.
More than 20,000 people viewed this Eastbay-sponsored TikTok post on Kentucky sprinter and hurdler Masai Russell’s account, and more than 2,000 engaged with him. It’s just one of many name, image and likeness offerings that have sent a good chunk of change in Russell’s direction since July.
She said she “loves the camera” and loves being able to “reap the rewards of what I love doing everyday off the track”.
Russell and a growing number of female college athletes are making a name for themselves on social media and taking advantage of the NCAA’s interim policy covering athlete compensation by offering a range of looks: serious business on the field, casual casual at home , Sexy, confident and elegant student. Whether their self-directed social media profiles are healthier or riskier, they embrace the power of their image, hoping it will bring attention not only to their sport and themselves, but also to financial independence after college. .
“We can’t play forever and we have to have something to lean on. The ball stops bouncing at some point,” North Carolina sophomore basketball player Deja Kelly told The Associated Press. She said she has six NIL deals, including Dunkin’ Donuts, Outback Steakhouse and a couple yet to be announced, and some of the deals have an equity partnership.
“…(I) this is a generational opportunity, it’s going to prepare me for life,” Kelly said. “If I were to stop playing basketball in five years, it would be fine because everything I put in place now and focus on now.”
West Coast Conference commissioner Gloria Nevarez said she believes the NIL agreements will soon matter less to an athlete’s alma mater because they build a brand that will last beyond the last year of eligibility.
“And I hope it’s not just the category of attractiveness,” Nevarez said, “but because I’m very good at sports or because I have a (clothing) line or programming. of code at a very high level that you’re going to start getting more of that engagement.
It’s hard to ignore the attractiveness factor for some female athletes who land big deals.
The Barstool Athletics Instagram page, which features its NIL athletes and has over 200,000 followers, featured posts with 46 women and 11 men in a recent month. Beautiful Ballers, a brand that aims to “inspire women to believe that being an athlete doesn’t diminish your beauty,” features female athletes for its 468,000 followers on Instagram, where it posts photos and videos of everything from athletes practicing their sport wearing barely there bikinis.
According to Athliance, image-based NIL offerings pave the way for college athletes, i.e. social media and photos, videos or films. About 36% of transactions reported to the NIL Opendorse platform from July 1 to December 31 were either for social media content posting or visual content creation.
LSU gymnast Livvy Dunne is one of the most recognizable college athletes on social media. She has 1.5 million followers on Instagram and 4.8 million followers on TikTok. She told the AP in a written response to questions that she had about 10 offers, most of them recurring, and said she was “a top-earning athlete in the NIL space.”
“When the rules changed there was a lot of hype about how big of an opportunity this could be for me and nothing lived up to those expectations,” she said.
In recent TikTok and Instagram ads, the 19-year-old wears a cropped white tank top and pops her hip to show how well American Eagle jeans look on her. She does modeling as part of her NIL contracts, though she mostly posts on social media.
“I try to use my social media to show different sides of my personality. It’s important to show that I’m more than my sport,” Dunne said. “I like to think my vibe is happy and confident. I’m really a normal student, so I’m comfortable showing myself studying without makeup, fully dressed and going out, or going back to the gym.
For people like Russell and Dunne, social media has long been woven into the fabric of building their brand. That hadn’t been the case for Bailey Moody, who plays wheelchair basketball for the University of Alabama and was a member of the bronze medal-winning U.S. Paralympic team.
“It’s a lot of work,” Moody said. “I give credit to all the people who are influencers – like the big influencers on social media – because it’s time consuming. You have to make your post look good and get followers, and the way from which you get subscribers posts videos and all those things.
Moody’s main NIL contract – with Degree deodorant’s Breaking Limits campaign – went through Team USA. She makes videos and posts graphics, captions and hashtags, mostly on Instagram. She’s thrilled that Degree is pushing adaptive athletics, which “deserves to have these offerings”, but said becoming a brand is a balancing act.
“(I’m) still constantly stuck between how much I post and how little I post,” she said. “I want to be as authentic as possible, but I also know that I’m building a brand for myself…generally, I’ll lean more towards the authentic side of who I am, and then people can take it or leave it.”
Russell’s “20 or more” NIL deals include Walgreens, Hulu and WWE. Most of her NIL activities have taken place on social media, which has led her to want “more visibility” and to explore “who I am outside of pictures”.
“Instagram is getting a bit old for me, and I think my followers are getting a bit used to it because…paid partnership posts don’t usually work as well as genuine posts,” said Russell, who also has his own merchandise. “So I just want to be seen somewhere other than Instagram.”
All-American who helped set a school record in the 4×400-meter relay and competed in the Olympic team trials, Russell has her sights set on the future – real estate investing – so she’s saving what she gets from NIL, which she says is in the six-digit range.
“I don’t want to say I was 21 and making this amount of money, and now I’m 30 and have nothing,” she said, “so I try to play very smart and play the right way so that I am quite well off in my later years.
That’s exactly what Ketra Armstrong, professor of sports management and director of the Center for Race and Ethnicity in Sport at the University of Michigan, hopes NIL will do for female athletes.
“Social media … elevated their entrepreneurial spirit,” Armstrong said. “The DIY things that some women are doing, the modeling that some of them were doing on the side to prepare for life after sports – all of those things are not just the sidekicks they used to think of anymore, but now it’s the cash cow!… It’s a way for them to become financially independent, using their skills and talents.
Kelly, who leads the Tar Heels this season with 15.8 ppg, is partnering with well-known brands and settling in, but she’s also clear about what she wants her image and likeness to advance: “Empowering Women”, “Empowering Black Athletes” and “Giving Back to My Community”.
“I’m not trying to change myself just to get a certain deal,” Kelly said. “If they don’t want to take me for who I am, then it wasn’t meant to be.”
— Erica Hunzinger, Associated Press sports reporter