Breaking Down the Trends and Stats to Know From SponsorUnited’s NIL Report

Last Updated on April 12, 2023

NIL is a continuously growing space for both businesses and college athletes. But though this space is growing, it is still small enough for meaningful reflection. One group, SponsorUnited, gave plenty to reflect about with the numbers in their 22-23 NIL Marketing Partnership Report.

One line in the report in particular sums up the past year in NIL well: “College athletes are taking the media world by storm, with a 146% increase in NIL deals and nearly 2,000 deals last year across 16 sports–a surge driven by football, women’s sports, and innovative marketing strategies. As these athletes’ newfound clout and visibility give them unprecedented leverage with universities and attract new audiences, NIL partnerships are helping to make athlete branding more powerful than ever, and shaping the future of college sports.”

Who is SponsorUnited?

SponsorUnited started in 2018 and has since been providing real-time trends and on-demand research for both the sports and entertainment industries. In its report, SponsorUnited writes that “with over 10M data points, 1.1M deals, 250K brands and properties across sports, media, music and entertainment, our SaaS database enables brands, agencies and properties to partner more effectively.” 

Why is this data so important?

In any industry, numbers are what move people to and away from an industry. Data in the NIL space has been critical to the success of female athletes getting more NIL opportunities and leveling the playing field for general support for women’s sports:

While college football players dominated the NIL ranks last year with 60% of new deals, women’s sports arguably offer the most long-term potential in this nascent industry, as illustrated by women’s basketball. NIL deals for women’s college basketball athletes grew 186%, in step with expanding viewership: last year’s women’s championship game drew 4.85 million viewers on ESPN and its platforms, while the entire tournament averaged 634,000 viewers per game – a 16% increase from the previous year. Meanwhile, ABC’s decision to air the NCAA women’s basketball title game for the first time on April 2 reflects major networks’ acknowledgement of the sport’s ability to attract fans and generate revenue.

Slide 4 of the Report

What else did SponsorUnited find?

The first major finding the report covered was the increase in NIL deals in college football.

“These athletes’ 174% growth in deals highlights their burgeoning appeal to brands keen to connect with younger audiences by leveraging the expanding influence of these rising stars,” the report says. “Image posts–Instagram’s and Twitter’s most utilized assets by NIL athletes–increased sharply among college football players, more than doubling from 445 to 942 in 2022, while their TikTok branded posts more than tripled from 37 to 120.” If it is not clear the power of social media – those at the top are raising their own bar to success.”

If it wasn’t enough that certain sports are using social media more, social media usage in the NIL space has increased across some platforms more than others.

“Instagram branded posts are the most popular asset used by college athletes to promote their NIL deals, increasing from 41.6% to 47.8% in 2022,” the report says. “TikTok sponsored posts grew from 9.9% to 12.4%, underscoring the platform’s rising profile.”

How else is NIL and social media impacting college sports?

Why is it important to look at social media statistics in this digital age?

According to the SponsorUnited report, “Female athletes accounted for nearly half of the top 50 NIL athletes by total social media engagement, despite comprising less than 30% of all athletes in our research pool. Their bona fide social media clout speaks to these women’s tremendous potential as prime partners for savvy brands seeking strategic impact in the fledgling NIL universe.”

In addition, the report also said, “Women athletes are also eclipsing their male counterparts on social media – another key indicator of their marketing power.”

In doing so, female athletes are using social media to break the NIL and college athletic glass ceiling. 

Female athletes are also taking full advantage of the NIL space doing what most women love – wearing cute clothes, and the numbers are showing it.

“In the Apparel & Accessories category, women’s percentage of apparel deals relative to other categories was 40% higher than men’s, suggesting serious future potential for NIL partnerships between these athletes and fashion and lifestyle brands,” the report writes.

Additional interesting data from the report

Here are a few standout rankings from the report:

Most Active Brands (Male & Female) – Ranked based on number of deals throughout 22-23 season (slide 14):

  1. The Players Lounge 
  2. Hooters 
  3. LifeWallet 
  4. Dunkin 
  5. Krystal 
  6. Urban Outfitters 
  7. Raising Cane’s 
  8. Outback Steakhouse 
  9. Degree
  10. Adidas 

Most NIL Deals based on Sport (slide 16):

  1. College Football 
  2. College Men’s Basketball 
  3. College Women’s Basketball 
  4. College Softball 
  5. College Baseball 
  6. College Women’s Gymnastics 
  7. College Track & Field 
  8. High School Athletes 
  9. College Women’s Volleyball 
  10. College Women’s Soccer 

Sports with the most most deals per athlete (slide 16):

  1. College Women’s Gymnastics 
  2. College Women’s Basketball 
  3. College Track & Field 
  4. College Softball College Football 

Total Engagement (Male and Female) – in-season for each respective support (slide 20):

  1. Lauren Burke – Texas/Softball
  2. Jon Seaton – Elon U/Football 
  3. Livvy Dunne – LSU/Gymnastics 
  4. Hansel Enmanuel – Northwestern State/Basketball 
  5. Shedeur Sanders – Colorado/Football 
  6. Paige Bueckers – UConn/Basketball 
  7. Masai Russell – Kentucky/Track & Field
  8. Tori Ortiz – Oklahoma State/ XC & Track 
  9. Travis Hunter – Colorado/Football 
  10. Suni Lee – Auburn/Gymnastics 

Where do we go from here?

This report speaks for itself in explaining a key insight of NIL so far: when brands support and raise women up, they raise everyone up.

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