Two Years of NIL: Top 10 Stand-Out Deals
June 29, 2023
College sports have opened the eyes of many over the last two years, and for good reason. From March Madness Cinderellas Fairleigh Dickinson & St. Peter’s (Yeah Jersey!) taking out Big Ten and SEC powers Purdue and Kentucky respectively, to Caitlin Clark turning heads in the 2023 Women’s NCAA Tournament, fans and alumni have experienced both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
Thanks to the governing bodies from each of the three NCAA divisions however, there have been many winners in collegiate sports: The schools, the networks, its advertisers, and most significantly, the athletes.
This July marked the two-year anniversary of NCAA student-athletes being eligible to be compensated for their Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL). In year one alone, approximately $917 million was earned by college athletes; and Front Office Sports reports that total revenue could reach as much as $1.4 billion this year.
Through the Consumer Lifestyle and Sports group’s recent work with client partner the LEAD1 Association, (Lead1 represents the athletics directors of the 131 member universities of the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), our team has closely monitored many of the NIL agreements between brands and collegiate athletes from the outset.
The NIL era has created headlines during its two-plus years of existence. Our team reflects on our most memorable deals:
This past season, Massachusetts forward Sam Breen became the first player since Xavier’s Amber Harris (2009-2010 & 2010-2011) to win consecutive Atlantic 10 Women’s Basketball Player of the Year honors. The four-time all-conference performer’s love for basketball is about as strong as it is for her dog, Turbo. Sam and Turbo’s “fur-iendship” resulted in a partnership with The Massachusetts Collective, a donor-driven NIL comprised of UMass basketball fans and businesses in the community. The partnership saw the creation of a line of basketball-shaped dog treats named “Turbo’s Treats” with proceeds benefiting the Dakin Humane Society, located in Springfield.
Regarded as one of the more unique NIL deals to date, former Kentucky LB Josh Paschal had social media buzzing with this 1:51 commercial spot, highlighting his NIL agreement with Steckler Pediatric Dentistry based in Lexington, Ky. In the spot, Paschal reinforced to parents and children the importance of proper dental hygiene by playing the role of “The Defender of Decay.” The clever spot brought back fond memories of NBA legend Dikembe Mutombo’s 2013 commercial for Geico, and Reebok’s series “Terry Tate: Office Linebacker.” Coincidentally, the character of Terry Tate was played by former Morgan State All-American football player Lester Speight, who did not have the chance to earn money from his NIL until the conclusion of his college career, when he went on to sign a USFL contract and subsequently pursue his acting career. “The Defender of Decay” took his passion for oral hygiene to the NFL after being selected in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions. Paschal contributed two sacks in his rookie season in helping Detroit win eight out of its last 10 games.
From Olympian and coaching legend Dan Gable, to a combined 31 national championships for the Iowa Hawkeyes and Iowa State Cyclones since 1965, wrestling has long been synonymous with the state of Iowa. Instead of tapping one of the more recognized male athletes within these respective programs, such as three-time NCAA champion Spencer Lee of the Hawkeyes, UFC went outside the box with its first NIL ambassador by inking Bella Mir, the daughter of legendary UFC champion Frank Mir. Bella is already following in her father’s footsteps, as the 20 year-old former four-time Nevada state high school wrestling champion has captured multiple Brazilian jiu-jitsu tournaments and is already 3-0 as an MMA fighter. Mir is expected to be a key member of the Iowa Hawkeyes women’s wrestling team when the program officially becomes a Division I NCAA varsity sport in the 2023-24 academic year. Of note, Iowa announced that it would be adding women’s wrestling as an intercollegiate program back in 2021, becoming the first NCAA Power Five school to add women’s wrestling.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 37.3 million Americans (11.3% of the US population) have diabetes. Dexcom, a pioneer in continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) since 1999, launched Dexcom U, the first NIL agreement whose mission is to celebrate college athletes who have diabetes and inspire fans with diabetes to strive for and achieve their own athletic goals. Dexcom partnered with 14 collegiate athletes currently living with diabetes, including Ali Watson (Diving – Duke), and Carly Graham (Volleyball – Rice).
Pitt Panthers Defensive End and Haiti native Deslin Alexandre created the 5th Down Campaign through his partnership with the Pittsburgh Kid’s Foundation to raise money to support kids in his hometown of Cap-Haitien, where he spent part of his childhood, and where many of his family currently reside. Alexandre named the 5th Down Campaign after wearing No. 5 during his college career, which was capped off with him being named the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year. Alexandre, who signed with the Jets as a free agent on April 29, has raised close to $55,000 for the 5th Down Campaign.
How does an Omaha, Nebraska-based heating and cooling company gain national attention? By signing an NIL agreement with a Cornhusker WR named De’Coldest, of course! SOS Heating & Cooling’s partnership with De’Coldest Crawford is among the top NIL partnerships featuring brands piggybacking on an athlete’s name, which also includes Alabama’s Ga’Quincy “Kool-Aid” McKinstry and North Carolina’s Leaky Black. Crawford’s :30 spot has garnered more than six million views. Crawford, who was merely a freshman at the time he signed his NIL deal, announced in January he is transferring to Louisiana Tech.
It was fast break to fast food for LSU Lady Tigers starters Angel Reese, Alexis Morris and Flau’jae Johnson, as well as head coach Kim Mulkey. Less than 72 hours after helping to defeat Iowa for the program’s first national championship, the team’s top three scorers traded in their basketball uniforms for those of Raising Cane’s at a Baton Rouge-based location on Wednesday, April 5. The four served meals to celebratory fans both at the front counter and in the drive-thru.
Knights of the Raritan, an organization founded to empower Rutgers student-athletes to achieve success in and out of the classroom, partnered with EcoAthletes, a nonprofit organization that inspires athletes to “lead climate action” in activating what is believed to be the first ever climate change-focused- NIL deal. Rutgers athletes Kaitlyn Bertola (Gymnastics), Alex Carlson (Track and Field), Kelsey Klein (Lacrosse), Halé Oal (Swimming) and Natalie Schick (Swimming), will take part in appearances on or near the campus, as well as participate in podcasts and social media posts as part of the campaign.
Julius Pringles had some company on the cover of the famed Pringles potato chip cans this past March to celebrate the 2023 NCAA Men’s Tournament. Known for their terrific on-court play, as well as their dapper mustaches, Gonzaga’s Drew Timme, Virginia’s Ben Vander Plas, and Duke’s Dariq Whitehead each graced the side of the legendary cylinder-shaped cans as part of the brand’s “March Mustache Collection.” Fans were asked to display their mustaches (real or fake) via Instagram, using the hashtag #PringlesMarchMustacheEntry, for the opportunity of capturing the can collection.
While a wedding is meant to be one of, if not the happiest day in the lives of any couple, it can also become one of the priciest. Between the venue, photographer, caterer, entertainment and floral arrangement, the price of that magical day does prove to be costly. Oklahoma defensive lineman Ethan Downs can breathe a little sigh of relief now on his upcoming wedding day, thanks to a partnership with Precious Hunnie Beez Florals. The agreement will see the company provide the floral arrangement at Downs’ upcoming wedding, with Downs featured in advertisements and social media posts. Coincidentally, Downs’ wedding to his fiancé Caroline Whitefield is set for Saturday, July 1, the two-year anniversary of NIL.
Hall-of-Fame Wide Receiver Jerry Rice is regarded by some as the greatest player in NFL history. His skillset and knack for finding the endzone helped lead the 49ers to three Super Bowl titles in the 1980s. Who better to follow in Rice’s legendary footsteps than his own son Brenden, a WR at USC. While Brendan may not be playing professionally on Sundays as of yet, the younger Rice recently signed an NIL agreement with Breathe Right, the same nasal strip brand worn and endorsed by his father when he was catching passes from Joe Montana and Steve Young in the 49ers glory years.
The 2023 season has been a memorable one for Nebraska Cornhuskers’ women’s volleyball star Lexi Rodriguez. After Rodriguez and her teammates made national headlines playing Omaha in front of more than 92,000 at Memorial Stadium back on August 30, the two-time All-American helped lead the top-ranked Cornhuskers to a 28-1 record. Rodriguez’s on-court excellence helped her make history, becoming the first female athlete to sign an NIL deal with Panini North America.
While the Ohio State football team made headlines throughout the Fall in their quest for a spot in the College Football Playoffs, quietly the Women’s basketball team has started their season with a 5-1 start and a #16 ranking. Returning ten players from their Elite 8 team from a year ago, the team announced it secured a season-long NIL agreement with Elk + Elk, an Ohio-based personal injury law firm. The agreement is the first for the Ohio State athletic program.
These unforgettable moments are just the beginning. As marketers who are also passionate sports fans and athletes ourselves, the CLS team is anticipating many more unique NIL deals in the coming year. Will a member of a band strike an NIL deal? Will a breathtaking play result in an NIL endorsement for a student-athlete? If this coming year is anything like the previous two, then expect the unexpected.