Female College Athletes Strategic Targets For NIL Sponsorships

Women’s sports are entering a new era of growth in which audiences are demanding greater broadcasting time for women’s sporting events. Consequently, more women’s sports teams are attracting sponsorships. That means that female college athletes should expect to be targeted for Name Image Likeness sponsorships in greater numbers. 

Sponsors are discovering the unique benefits they can accrue from partnering with women’s teams, too. Although men’s teams still have larger audiences, sponsors of women’s teams see higher ROIs than men’s. Sponsors see higher sales, greater brand recognition, and more positive perceptions from fans.

Now that college athletes can profit from NIL deals, female athletes should take note. They’re going to become increasingly strategic targets for sponsors who want to reap the benefits of women’s sports sponsorships. This will create new opportunities and pose new risks for young athletes looking to profit from their social media followings, sports performances, and personal brands. 

How Women’s Sponsorships Can Outperform Men’s Sponsorships

There’s a difference between a fan feeling emotional during a game and identifying with a team or an athlete. Denver Broncos fans will cheer for the Las Vegas Raiders when the Raiders have a chance to beat the Kansas City Chiefs. But that doesn’t mean that a Broncos fan feels connected to the Raiders or to any of their players. The difference between temporary interest and lasting connection is critical to the success of women’s sponsors.  

“As a result of that higher level of emotional connection with women’s teams,” True North Research Director Chris Hobden said. “We find that women’s teams have higher levels of first-time usage for sponsors, higher levels of consideration of sponsors, and are more likely to buy [from sponsors] more often than fans of men’s teams.”

So, fans of women’s teams are more likely to buy from women’s teams’ sponsors. That’s a significant perk for sponsors who want to convert marketing expenses into sales revenue.

“About 10% more people are likely to buy from the women’s [team] than [the men’s],” Hobden said. 

Even though the audience for women’s sports is smaller, its fanbase feels more connected to its teams. This leads to greater interest in team sponsors and more sales.     

Strategic Tradeoffs In Men’s And Women’s Sponsorships 

Sponsors still have to make a strategic decision when deciding whether to sponsor a men’s or women’s sports team. 

“The only caveat to that is that men’s teams have a bigger base,” Hobden said. “So in terms of raw numbers, you would go with men’s teams, but you’re going to be spending more to get that sale. Whereas with women’s teams, you’re going into that smaller base, but you’re more likely to get a result.”

Men’s teams still have a major advantage in broadcasting. For example, a Deloitte report found that across 250,000 sports articles, women’s tennis Grand Slam events “received 41% less [media] coverage” despite comparable or higher ratings than men’s teams. So, women’s sports get less coverage even though they are as thrilling as men’s sports. 

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in interest in women’s sports by audiences,” Arizona State University marketing professor Joseph Bertoletti said. “And usually audience-driven metrics tend to push the opportunity for additional exposure.”  

As broadcasters catch up to audience preferences, female college athletes are positioned to benefit from increased sponsor interest, too. 

Women’s NIL Sponsorships In College Athletics    

Women’s college athletics programs will benefit from sponsors’ increased interest in women’s sports, too. However, not all athletes are equally attractive to sponsors. The best candidates for NIL sponsorships know how to leverage social media.

“We’ve seen it with many of the initial deals that have happened,” Bertoletti said. “But the Cavinder twins from Fresno State, their deal with Boost Mobile is a great example. Each one of them [the twins] has over 325,000 followers. I think that helped them connect with Boost Mobile to get a pretty significant deal.” 

However, it’s not enough for college athletes to have large social media followings. To attract sponsors, college athletes must make connections with fans through social media to feel more like real people than brands. Those emotional connections elevate an athlete’s potential to be a profitable sponsorship partner. According to True North Research, female athletes may be more likely to bring an engaged social media following to the table.  

“Women, generally speaking, are better at connecting through it [social media],” Hobden said. “Women seem to be more natural in that space just in terms of engagement generally speaking. And that applies to social media really as much as it does to real life.” 

Offline Engagement   

Hobden is referring to two patterns that True North Research has found in the engagement fans feel with women’s sports. First, the women’s teams and players that True North Research studied were better at engaging sports fans from early ages than men’s teams. Hobden offered an anecdotal example that illustrates what he’s found in the data. 

He told the story of a friend’s daughter who tried playing netball but wasn’t interested in it at first. However, a player from one of Australia’s major netball teams, the Vixens, attended her practice match. After meeting a professional netball player, that young girl was hooked on netball. 

“She is actually now a representative for her age group,” Hobden said. “So, going from completely not interested to just listening to the players and having that opportunity to talk and engage with them, that’s what I think women’s [teams] tend[s] to do better than the men’s teams.” 

College athletes with large social media followings can do youth outreach, too. That will increase athletes’ relationships with their social media following at a grassroots level. That could lead to sales from parents or teens that an athlete interacts with in real life. Real-world outreach should be part of an athlete’s strategy for building a brand that’s attractive to sponsors.     

Online Engagement   

True North Research also found that women tend to be better at engaging fans through social media than men. The reasons for that are more speculative. It could be that female athletes often have to sell themselves in multiple ways to reach a broader audience than their male counterparts. Simone Biles known as a star gymnast, a mental health advocate, and an advocate for sexual assault victims is the clearest example of this pressure. 

However, it could also be that teenage girls who grew up on Instagram became adults who understand the power of the platform. Teenage girls face pressures to focus on their images in a way that men don’t. So, girls who grow into athletes could inadvertently develop critical social media skills as a result of these pressures. 

Whatever the reasons, female college athletes seeking NIL sponsorships should not only grow their social media followings but also build relationships with followers. That will make athletes more marketable to sponsors and increase the chances of an athlete’s followers purchasing sponsored products if an athlete lands a deal.  

NIL Sponsorships And Women’s Sports 

Women’s sports have a long way to go to gain parity with men’s sports. Audiences are increasingly engaged with women’s sports, and sponsorships follow. As that exposure leads to new sponsorships, women’s athletics from the professional to amateur level could benefit.

“There’s so much opportunity—an untapped opportunity—in that influencer space from a sports perspective,” Hobden said.  

NIL sponsorship deals are exciting career opportunities for students. Female college stars, in particular, should prepare for a boost in sponsorship deals during their athletic careers, whether they play only in college or advance to a professional league. Interested athletes should cultivate large and engaged social media followings to make themselves better targets for sponsorships. The future is bright for student-athletes who are willing to put the work in to attract sponsors and capitalize on the favorable trends emerging in women’s sports. 

About the Author

Christopher Gerlacher

Christopher Gerlacher is a writer tucked into the foothills of Colorado Springs, Colorado.