Female Gymnasts Are Proving to be Particularly Successful in NIL

Last Updated on April 18, 2023

Livvy Dunne. Trinity Thomas. Derrian Gobourne. Jordan Chiles. Leah Clapper.

These women have more in common than competing at this year’s women’s gymnastics championships. They’re also some of the most successful female college athletes when it comes to maximizing their NIL opportunities.

From July 1, 2021 when NIL began through the first 12 months, female gymnasts were averaging $7,054 per deal according to INFLCR, eclipsing the average transaction value for all athletes of $1,815 and more than doubling the average value of football transactions ($3,396). Gymnasts have accounted for a whopping 44% of all transaction value among female athletes reporting through INFLCR.

Dunne is in a league of her own, making seven figures a year thanks to her 7.4 million followers on TikTok and 3.9 million on Instagram. Those numbers make her the most followed college athlete in the country, which has led to NIL deals with Vuori (which includes a national television commercial), American Eagle, Forever 21, Leaf Trading Cards and more.

Following her silver medal as part of Team USA at the 2020 Olympic Games, Chiles has signed with a laundry list of national brands that include Door Dash, Aeropostale, Cheetos, Levi’s, Amazon, Reebok, Urban Outfitters and more.

It’s not just these women who were national brands themselves prior to NIL who are raking in the NIL deals. Thomas, Gobourne, Clapper and dozens of other female college gymnasts are among the names most often associated with NIL success.

Why gymnasts are particularly successful with NIL

Michael Raymond is one of the leading agents in this space, especially when it comes to representing female collegiate gymnasts. Thomas and Gobourne are both clients, along with Aleah Finnegan and Sage Thompson, all of whom received team or individual berths for nationals.

Out of his approximately 20 NIL clients, Raymond says his top earners are women, with a handful of his female clients easily doing six figures of NIL annually.

“Gymnastics and track and field athletes have done a phenomenal job, which I think is really not talked about enough,” said Raymond. “Most companies have returned to do more deals with female athletes because of how great they are at content creation.”

Raymond remembers going to a meet between Florida and Auburn and hearing the sold-out crowd of nearly 10,000 fans shouting Trinity and Suni’s names and hundreds of little girls lining up for autographs well into the 11:00 hour that evening.

“I believe female gymnasts bring a special light and excitement to NIL and college athletics and it’s typically overlooked,” Raymond said. “It is a much more competitive sport than people think, and it’s a beauty to watch too.”

Gymnasts are bringing something special to NIL too.

“I think female athletes just do a better job showcasing their personalities and creating content on social media,” said Raymond. “We have had gymnasts outperform basketball and football athletes, and it’s because brands enjoy working with them due to the consistent high-quality content they produce that really showcases their personalities.”

Recent campaigns with gymnasts

Chiles, Gobourne and Thomas—along with Maya Green from national qualifier Cal—are all part of H&R Block’sSQ most recent NIL campaign, “A Fair Shot 2.0.”

“H&R Block’s campaign gives female athletes a well-deserved ’Fair Shot’ in the NIL space. Equitable campaigns have always been the basis of our PlayBooked model,” explained PlayBooked co-founder, Chloe V. Mitchell. “We make it our business to empower culturally diverse male and female athletes of all levels, sports, and schools. Numbers don’t lie – our aggregate campaign data shows females lead the way, having completed 53% of our total brand endorsements. We’re proud of that.”

No stranger to female empowerment, Mitchell made national headlines and sports history when she became the first collegiate athlete to monetize her name, image, likeness in October of 2020 when NAIA beat the NCAA to the punch in removing restrictions on NIL. Now she helps run PlayBooked with her co-founder father and a team of 14 out of Grand Rapids, MI. 

Thomas said it was a great experience working with PlayBooked and H&R Block because they’re both companies that prioritize female athletes.

“I’ve worked with PlayBooked on several other campaigns. It’s always an honor to be part of a female empowerment movement. This campaign is focused on giving female athletes of all levels, sports and schools “A Fair Shot” in the NIL space, and I love it.”

H&R Block says its favorability among college students grew 23 points after the brand’s NIL campaign last year, with 13% becoming more likely to consider using H&R Block. The brand also measured a 20 point increase in college students feeling strongly that H&R Block is trying hard to have a positive impact.

Trinity Thomas holding Gemini hair gel
Thomas has transformed her signature cobalt blue hair into a co-branded product deal | @GYMTRIN ON INSTAGRAM

In addition to H&R Block, Thomas also has a deal with Gemini Naturals for the signature cobalt blue color in her hair. The brand even sells a co-branded limited edition of the hair color gel she uses. Other deals have included working with Amazon and Quatro Gymnastics for leotards.

Raymond’s other clients who qualified for nationals—Finnegan and Thompson—have their own leotard deals with GK Elite Leotards. Gobourne has signed with WWE’s “Next in Line” program and previously made news when she launched her “Black Girl Magic” NFT collection.

“These women are fierce in every way,” said Mitchell. “Not only are they strong talented gymnasts, they are confident and skilled NIL professionals. Brands love them and eat up their immense marketability, and working with them is a pure pleasure.”

Taking NIL beyond graduation

This isn’t just a story about making a few bucks—or, in some cases, a truckload of cash—in college, however. NIL has added to the number of doors these women can choose to walk through after graduation.

“NIL has totally changed the trajectory of my career,” said Clapper. “NIL has given me the professional skills and confidence I need to jump into entrepreneurship after graduation. I’ve always wanted to pave my career path, and NIL provided the opportunity to test working for myself even before graduating.”

Leah Clapper with a laptop in front of palm trees
Leah Clapper founded NIL Island while still in school and plans to continue growing it after graduation | KRISTI DOSH

During her first masters program in mass communications—Clapper is now completing her second masters in entrepreneurship—she built her own business, NIL Island, to help athletes navigate NIL through free resources and an interactive community. What started as a class project is now a business she’s launched into the world and plans to continue working on beyond graduation.

Gobourne said NIL has allowed her to meet some amazing people along the way that she believes will positively impact her future.

“NIL has allowed me to connect with people that can be an asset to me after gymnastics. It has also allowed me to tap into spaces that I always dreamed of being in and allowed me to profit from them.”

Derrian’s mother has had an front row seat to how NIL has changed her daughter’s life.

“Derrian has been fortunate to work with so many amazing brands since the inception of NIL. It’s been so surreal,” said Tikisha Gobourne. “Derrian has always dreamed of working with big brands and being an influencer and with the rise of NIL it has afforded her that opportunity.”

The elder Goborne says she’s felt the impact of NIL as well.

“Prior to NIL Derrian had to be on a budget, but NIL has allowed her to not have to worry about finances while being a student athlete. It also took a lot of pressure off of me, because I no longer had to sacrifice as much to make sure she was taken care of while in college.”

Raymond sees plenty of opportunities for his clients even after some of them wrap up their collegiate careers this weekend.

“I think they will all be incredibly successful. It depends on the client but some will start training for the Olympics, some could become full-time influencers and creators, and some could pursue a career in whatever passion they have.”

Raymond thinks some of the ladies will stay connected to gymnastics through coaching, speaking to youth athletes or putting on camps. However, he also believes they can continue to generate income as content creators.

“I think that brands will want to work with them just as much as they did previously if they stay consistent. Obviously, they won’t be a part of some of the NIL-specific campaigns, but their brand is still there, their followers are still there, and their content ability is still there.

“I have seen tremendous success in my business with former athlete creators and I believe the influencer space is a billion-dollar industry. They will have opportunities in that market if they put in the effort. This is why I love NIL and what it means for student-athletes. Female athletes like [Duke track and field athlete] Emily Cole or Trinity Thomas will be able to be themselves as a career and make a tremendous impact as entrepreneurs and creators.”

We won’t have to wait long to find out what’s in store for some of these athletes after graduation. For Clapper, Gobourne and Thomas, this year’s national championship is the final chapter of their collegiate careers. But no doubt, we haven’t seen them last—or even the best—of them yet.

Read this piece on Forbes

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