April 4

The Top NIL Earners In College Sports Right Now

Athletes, Finance, NIL, Sports

The NIL era is upon us, and that means more and more high school and college athletes can start to earn money from their likeness and online presence. Let's look at some of the top NIL earners in college sports right now. 

Why Should We Care About The Top NIL Earners?

Admittedly, just looking at the top NIL earners in college sports isn't a good way to really understand the potential for what the name, image, and likeness rules mean for student athlete creators. It's a fairly deep look at just how lucrative the space can be for the top athletes — but it doesn't really represent the wide range of possibilities for everybody from Division 3 athletes in more "niche" sports to incoming college freshman to the top national recruits. 

However, looking at the way these student athletes have leveraged their success (and personalities) to start generating serious financial security is inspiring. It also shows how important legacy and name recognition can be for brands and schools looking to attract talent. 

So let's take a look at some of the top NIL earners so far, according to Business Insider. And then let's see if we can make a few deductions based on the current trends. Also note that these valuations are both a combination of their brand deals and how much a collective may have offered to bring and keep the athlete at the school. Also, as with most public valuations, don't expect these to be 100 percent accurate. They're estimations. 

No. 10 — University of Georgia quarterback Carson Beck

The junior has a current valuation of $1.5 million. Some companies he's worked with include EA Sports, Associated Credit Union, Leaf Trading Cards, and Zero FG Energy.

No. 9 — University of Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe

Milroe, a redshirt sophomore, comes in at $1.6 million, thanks to partnerships with companies like EA Sports, Six Star Pro Nutrition, and Beats by Dre.

No. 8 — Louisiana State University forward Angel Reese

The junior college basketball star has a valuation of $1.8 million thanks to deals with huge brands like McDonalds, Coach, Amazon, Reebok, Tampax, Airbnb, and Goldman Sachs. 

No. 7 — University of Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers

Ewers has an NIL valuation of $1.9 million, thanks in large part to a roster valuation of $1.2 million and deals with brands like EA Sports, C4Energy, and HEYDUDE Shoes. 

No. 6 — University of Colorado receiver and cornerback Travis Hunter

Hunter is a unique athlete in that he plays "both sides of the ball," giving him lots of screen time and mentions. His skill and novel situation has helped him rack up a valuation of $2.4 million, including deals with American Eagle, EA Sports, Cheez-It, and more. 

No. 5 — University of Texas quarterback Arch Manning

Even though he's currently the backup quarterback at Texas, Arch Manning has a $2.8 million valuation. That's largely due to his roster valuation, meaning the money he makes to stay at Texas, thanks to his promise as a top-rated recruit and legacy name. He also has a deal with trading card company Panini America. 

No. 4 — University of Iowa point guard Caitlin Clark

Clark recently became the NCAA's all-time leading scorer in basketball, but her spot as a top NIL earner began years ago. Thanks to her on-court dominance, Clark has deals with companies like Gatorade, Buick, Nike, State Farm, and Xfinity, leading to a valuation of $3.1 million. 

No. 3 — Louisiana State University gymnast Livvy Dunne

Dunne isn't just a great gymnast — she's also one of the most-followed student athletes ever with a combined social media following of nearly 13 million. She's also the highest ranking female athlete when it comes to NIL earners, raking in more than $3.6 million and deals with companies like Vuori, American Eagle Outfitters, Motorola, Grubhub, and Nautica. 

No. 2 — University of Colorado quarterback Shedeur Sanders

Sanders' team didn't perform particularly well last season, but the talented quarterback still put up impressive numbers and earned a significant amount of conversation time thanks to being the son of NFL hall of famer (and Colorado coach) Deion Sanders. Shedeur has an NIL valuation of $4.1 million and has worked with brands like Mercedes-Benz, Oikos, and Urban Outfitters. 

No. 1 — University of Southern California point guard Bronny James

Though he has only played one year in college so far, Bronny James has an impressive NIL valuation of $4.9 million. While James is a talented athlete and top recruit in his own right, his success with brands also likely has plenty to do with being the son of LeBron James. Bronny has done deals with companies like PSD Underwear, Nike, and Android. 

What We Can Learn From The Top NIL Earner Numbers

So yeah, obviously, some impressive numbers for some student athletes who are still teenagers. And while it certainly doesn't take away from their own talents and performance, it's impossible not to note that three of the top five earners are athletes with famous athlete parents, but relatively little playing time. 

Which just goes to show you that when it comes to building a brand off your name, it has the potential to be generational. But it also shows that brands at the highest level are really interested in partnering with people who generate serious conversation. All of these athletes either have famous last names, massive online followings, or quite literally break the top records in their sport. 

And all of that will generate a conversation. 

It's also interesting to note that three schools each have a pair in the top 10. We're still really early in the NIL age, but there's no doubt that schools will be jockeying to position themselves as top financial opportunities for athletes the same way they formerly pitched things like a chance to be on prime time TV or win national titles. While schools may have been hesitant to embrace NIL in the past, now they realize how much it will be part of their overall brand. 

What We Definitely Should Not Take Away From This List

These numbers are by no means normal. And really, for a top 10 list, there's not that big of a discrepancy when it comes down to it. The bottom four are all separate by only a few hundred thousand dollars, which kind of underscores how new and fluid the space is. 

But more importantly, these top NIL earners don't really represent the average student athlete taking advantage of their own name, image, and likeness. In reality, thousands and thousands of student athletes who may never even end up on national television are doing smaller regional deals that help them build their own brand, gain experience with business, and pay some bills. 

And, as more objections to college and high school athletes earning money from their names get dismantled in court, this space will only continue to expand to things like esports and other college-affiliated activities. While NIL is clearly the most lucrative for traditional sports, the reality is now any college student can leverage their success to begin building a future for themselves — or at least just get some cool free stuff in exchange for an Instagram post or two. 






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