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Women Run the NIL Shoe Deal Game This March Madness

Last Updated: April 1, 2024
As NIL becomes the new norm, the women of college basketball have become coveted partners for sneaker brands. Boardroom dives into the business of these partnerships.

As March Madness kicks off, a season-long trend is now proving to be truer than ever — women run NIL shoe deals. After beginning the season with nine women signed to an official NIL shoe deal, that number has ballooned to include 15 athletes across a batch of nine brands.

Each company has been steadily featuring the collective of accolade-laden ladies throughout a variety of both national and global marketing campaigns. The players can be seen pitching sneakers, lifestyle apparel, training initiatives, and engaging in community giveback activations — all before technically turning pro.

Just last week, MiLaysia Fulwiley signed on with Curry Brand. She’s expected to headline several of the brand’s upcoming sneakers at Under Armour-sponsored South Carolina, where the freelancing flashy freshman guard has been a highlight mainstay for the undefeated #1 seeded squad. 

“I think her style of play is changing the women’s game on the fly. It’s super unique and creative,” Stephen Curry told Boardroom. “We are thrilled to welcome her into the family.”

MiLaysia Fulwiley attended Curry Camp in 2022; now she’s signed on with Curry Brand. (Photo courtesy of Curry Brand)

Adidas landed UConn star Aaliyah Edwards and Texas A&M’s Janiah Barker in the past month, bringing their total female NIL signings to three, along with LSU’s Hailey Van Lith. 

Since the newly approved NIL rules went into effect during the summer of 2021, the trend started to emerge last fall heading into this past season, as women at the college level have become the leading faces of brands.

Currently, just three male collegiate players are signed to an NIL shoe deal. Adidas inked Louisville guard Skyy Clark this past December, while Nike went into the season with two NIL shoe deals already in place, both with family hoop ties. Kentucky guard DJ Wagner’s pro pops, Dajuan, also played for Coach Cal some 20 years ago, while USC guard Bronny James is, of course, the son of Nike lifer LeBron James.


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In many cases, the women marked a brand’s very first NIL signing of this new era. That was the case when UCLA guard Kiki Rice signed with Jordan and when Azzi Fudd signed an all-inclusive NIL partnership with Stephen Curry’s umbrella company Thirty Ink and by extension, his Curry Brand athletic apparel imprint.

Out in Iowa, Caitlin Clark has led the way in what it means to put your state on the map while also regularly appearing in seasonal Swoosh campaigns for products like its Tech Fleece apparel.

Just after she broke the women’s all-time scoring record, Nike dropped a seven-story tall banner in Iowa City of her 35-foot 3-point record-setting heave. The following week, when she broke “Pistol” Pete Maravich’s scoring tally to become the all-time scoring leader in men’s or women’s Division 1 basketball, there was a new banner billboard just across the street.

Nike launched two Caitlin Clark banners in Iowa City after she set the NCAA scoring record. (Photo courtesy of Nike)

When New Balance signed Stanford star center Cameron Brink to a NIL deal, she became the first woman signed to the brand’s basketball category in company history.

“I think that really shows that in college women’s basketball, we have personalities, and people are invested in us,” Brink told Boardroom. “We can tell a story with our play, but we are also team players, the face of our universities, and we give back to our communities. That’s what these shoe brands have seen in us.”

Reebok signed LSU star Angel Reese, in the first move made by its newly appointed President of Reebok Basketball, Shaquille O’Neal.

“There is no one making a bigger impact on the game right now than Angel Reese,” Shaq said during the announcement.

LSU freshman Mikaylah Williams has signed with Jordan Brand. (Photo courtesy of Jordan Brand)

After signing Kiki Rice as its first collegiate NIL athlete, Jordan Brand today announced its newest NIL ambassador, LSU’s freshman scoring phenom Mikaylah Williams.

“Signing with the Jordan Brand is an incredible opportunity and a blessing,” said Williams, who is 18 years-old. “Because it allows me to inspire young girls and contribute to the growth of women’s basketball.”

A 6-foot pure scorer who erupted for 42 points in just her fourth college game, she represents the modern era of where women’s hoops is heading, as the excitement and interest in the game continues to explode.

“I’m able to do it all,” she described. “I can shoot from the 3 and the midrange. I can get to the basket. Play defense and rebound. Versatility is the biggest thing of my game.” 

The Deals:

Caitlin Clark – Iowa
Paige Bueckers – UConn
Juju Watkins – USC
Kiki Rice – UCLA  
Mikaylah Williams – LSU

Angel Reese – LSU
Flau’jae Johnson – LSU  

Hailey Van Lith – LSU 
Aaliyah Edwards – UConn
Janiah Barker – Texas A&M  

Cameron Brink – Stanford 
Azzi Fudd – UConn
MiLaysia Fulwiley – South Carolina  

Caroline Ducharme – UConn  

Jacy Sheldon – Ohio State

Even upstart basketball brands like Moolah Kicks and Crossover Culture landed their own headlining NIL ambassadors. UConn’s Caroline Ducharme signed on with Moolah to push their latest NeoVolt Pro model and Ohio State standout point guard Jacy Sheldon is the lone woman signed to Crossover Culture, ahead of their latest collection launching at Dick’s Sporting Goods in April.

When each company has unveiled its new featured faces over the past year, they highlighted messaging and talking points like “growing the game” and “inspiring the next generation of young girls.”

The impact has been immediate, as the halo of deals has raised the awareness level and star power of the top college players to a broader and growing basketball fanbase.

“I keep seeing videos of people saying, ‘I can name five women’s basketball players in college, but not men,’” said Brink. “I just think that’s so funny and such a crazy shift.”

While more than half of the players hold school-conflicting deals – like all three of Reese, Flau’jae Johnson, and Van Lith at Nike-sponsored LSU – there is a case to be made that the players are actually more noticeable as endorsers, given their ability to be more active across social media and the brand holding the incentive to highlight them more often in campaigns and social posts to establish the partnership. 

The brand-aligning NIL players at UConn, USC, and UCLA have largely worn school player-exclusive sneakers or older Kobe models that fans simply don’t have access to either – perhaps a miss to more fully activate the on-court potential of the partnership with sneakers fans can readily purchase.  

Photo courtesy of New Balance

While she wears white Nike shoes in her Stanford games, one of the more active brand partners so far has been Cameron Brink. After starring in last summer’s national “We Got Now” commercial, she fronted New Balance’s “Unity for Sport” women’s campaign. 

Brink has also held youth basketball camps with New Balance for young girls in her hometown of Portland, representing how brands look to activate their partnerships on both a local, national, and ultimately global level. The company also dropped a towering billboard in downtown Portland, which her parents drove by and posted on social media the very day it went up.

“I was emotional, seeing my parents drive up and standing in front of [the billboard] with my grandma,” reflects Brink. “I have that photo on my lock screen. It’s super important to me.”

USC’s freshman phenom Juju Watkins, already signed to Nike, could be the breakout star of March Madness. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As the tournament kicks off this week, brand headliners across three of the top-seeded squads in Iowa’s Clark, South Carolina’s Fulwiley, and USC’s Juju Watkins will all be looking to make their mark in March Madness.

Through the 15 NIL shoe deals landed across the college landscape, the leading women of the NCAA are already leaving their imprint on the athletic industry, establishing a new generation of female dominance in the endorsement space that I don’t see shifting any time soon.

It’s a shift that the players involved with pushing have also taken notice of. With more marketing and more resources from brands across the ecosystem to truly invest in and support women as the future faces of their companies, there’s a newfound tier of aspiration and hope that this class of players is providing for the next generation.

“Being a little girl, you can know that today, the women’s game is growing,” said Mikaylah Williams. “Women didn’t have [signature] shoes, and now, the women’s game is growing. We have signature shoes and the NBA players are wearing them and pushing the shoes too. It’s a good feeling, just knowing that I get to come up behind that and help expand the women’s game.”

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Nick DePaula

Nick DePaula covers the footwear industry and endorsement deals surrounding the sporting landscape, with an emphasis on athlete and executive interviews. The Sacramento, California, native has been based in Portland, Oregon, for the last decade, a main hub of sneaker company headquarters. He’ll often argue that How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days is actually an underrated movie, largely because it’s the only time his Sacramento Kings have made the NBA Finals.

About The Author
Nick DePaula
Nick DePaula
Nick DePaula covers the footwear industry and endorsement deals surrounding the sporting landscape, with an emphasis on athlete and executive interviews. The Sacramento, California, native has been based in Portland, Oregon, for the last decade, a main hub of sneaker company headquarters. He’ll often argue that How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days is actually an underrated movie, largely because it’s the only time his Sacramento Kings have made the NBA Finals.