Kelley Lynch’s freshman year feels like a lifetime.
In the fall of 2019, Lynch, who earned High School National Player of the Year honors as a senior at East Coweta High in Newnan, Georgia, came to Seattle as perhaps the most prized high school softball prospect in the nation. Unsurprisingly, companies tried to capitalize on his significant social media following.
But NCAA law prohibited such associations.
“It’s not even like anyone was offering money, but people were like, ‘Hey, can we send you this product to post on your (Instagram) story?’ the future senior pitcher and first baseman said last week. “I would say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, but I can’t do that.’
“Looking back now, I’ve been lucky enough to work with Outback (Steakhouse) and even Coca-Cola, and it’s so surreal. It’s really cool for all college athletes, but especially women, to know how profitable we are now with social media, in this day and age. Just knowing that people see value in us is really great.”
It wasn’t always like this. Title IX, a federal law that guarantees equal opportunity for men and women in “any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance,” including athletics, was passed 50 years ago Thursday. And last July, the NCAA suspended name, image, and likeness-related amateurism rules across the country, allowing college athletes to benefit from sponsored posts or ads on social media, personal broadcast channels, lessons and training camps, speaking engagements, merchandising, autograph sales, endorsement deals. and more.
For Lynch and others like her, the NIL era had an immediate impact.
For others, however, it came too late.
“It’s tough,” NCAA all-time leading scorer Kelsey Plum, who led the UW to a Final Four and was selected with the first pick in the 2017 WNBA draft, said in an interview with The Times. last summer. “There were definitely times, especially in the last two years of my career, where we would pack road arenas, nationally televised games, people wearing my number in the stands on jerseys, but they couldn’t put my name on it. . it’s.
“I really tried to take it as a stage in your life. Now I have become a professional and I can earn money with what I do. But Seattle rent isn’t cheap. I was paying like $900 a month for a room and I’m trying to pay for wifi. I’m trying to pay for gas for my car. There were a few days where I would look at my bank account and say, ‘Dang.’ I think for sure, whether it was locally or nationally, I would have made good money. But here we are.
A year of data supports that assessment. According to NIL platform leader Opendorse, 15.7% of NIL’s total compensation from July 1, 2021 to May 31, 2022 was paid to women’s basketball players, ranking only behind soccer ( 49.9%) and men’s basketball (17%). Still, women’s hoops accounted for just 4.5% of total NIL deals, meaning the sport’s top stars have benefited disproportionately.
In March, Axios and Opendorse reported that each social media post by UConn standout Paige Bueckers was worth a whopping $62,900, followed by Louisville’s Hailey Van Lith ($44,200). Of the male and female Sweet Sixteen entrants, the next three highest earners — Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren ($10,400) and Drew Timme ($8,400) and Duke’s Paolo Banchero ($9,000) barely managed to compete.
Bueckers, of course, has become perhaps the biggest star of the NIL Era, signing deals with Gatorade, Cash App, StockX and Crocs. But the average compensation per Division I athlete is more modest, at $3,711, according to Opendorse.
Which, for a college athlete, still pays dividends.
Especially when you don’t have time for a job.
“We have players who could be at 20% (scholarship) or 70% (scholarship). So everyone has their own story,” Lynch said. “If you don’t get help from your family or something financial like that, it can be very difficult. Even if people just need to put food on the table, if they can’t do it due to their busy schedules, it really has completely changed the college experience.
“For me, I know that with NIL I can go shopping now. I don’t have to worry about stuff like that. It has been a real game changer for me, and I have seen it for many other athletes at different levels as well.”
Plum added: “In the summer, I was rushing. He was working camps and refereeing. I tried to do what I could to get that kind of cash together. But absolutely not (to the idea of working at a job). You are a full time student and a full time athlete, traveling on the road all the time. There is absolutely no way that I personally could have held a job. I know people do. I don’t know how people do it. There is no way.”
In a presentation to the University of Washington Board of Regents last month, athletic director Jen Cohen reported that at least one athlete from each UW sport (male and female) has benefited from NIL in some way. Lynch and UW softball All-American Baylee Klingler recently announced deals with Outback Steakhouse, while local sporting goods company Simply Seattle partnered with eight Husky softball players to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Title IX.
Vintage Brand, a company that creates personal brand merchandising for college athletes, also partnered with University of Washington freshman hoops guard Jayda Noble this spring.
“We looked at the landscape and thought (women’s basketball) was really the sweet spot for NIL,” said former UW baseball player and Vintage Brand co-founder Chad Hartvigson. “We think those athletes are underserved, for example, but they are very marketable. The athletes there are much more understanding of social media than their counterparts on the soccer side. They are more active in it. They know how to portray themselves. They do a really good job of making great videos and putting out really great content that people aspire to see.
“We thought, ‘Man, these athletes have a huge following.’ A lot of this has to do with social reach. It’s not about who’s the best player on the team. It’s about who can really market themselves and build their brand and show their dynamic personality.”
On that note, posting content on social media has accounted for 67.6% of all NIL activity and 34.2% of all compensation, the most in both categories, according to Opendorse. Lynch, for her part, credits a UW NIL course for educating her on the tax ramifications of NIL deals and how best to build a presentable brand.
“From a marketing standpoint, I really need to step back and write down my core values and who I am as a person,” he said. “How can I show that through my social networks? Because I think it’s very easy to be at the surface level on Instagram, and people don’t really know you. They only see the photos you post. I want people to know more about me, instead of just looking at the photos I post and liking them.
“You look at (former UW national champion pitcher and ESPN analyst) Danielle Lawrie. She has mothers who follow her. She’s not just softball. That’s what I think she’s really cool about. The world sees us primarily as softball players, but through NIL we can not only express our other interests, we can give back and help grow our sport. You look at all the camps that softball players have been able to host since NIL passed, and it’s just amazing that we’re able to give back to the game and do our part.”
Of course, when it comes to NIL, football is still the biggest possible fish. And because of that, male Division I athletes have earned 73.5% of total NIL compensation as of July 1, 2021, with females claiming 26.5%.
On the 50th anniversary of Title IX, more work is required. Women’s athletics, at all levels, can continue to grow.
But now, at least Lynch can post a product on Instagram.
“Working with (the UW NIL collective) Montlake Futures has been amazing, just doing the work of finding local brands and people who really want to support us and really care about college athletes in Seattle,” Lynch said. “I have felt so much love from our city and small businesses since NIL started. I feel really blessed to be at UW, because we have so many of these resources and so many people who want to help us get as much out of NIL as we can while we’re here.”
Added Plum, now a standout guard for the Las Vegas Aces: “For these student-athletes, being able to capitalize (NIL) is huge. We don’t have (professional contracts) billionaires like the guys, but this is a way to build your brand, build your business, and take steps to really elevate yourself throughout your college career. What a luxury. Absolutely, I think it helps female athletes a lot.”