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UConn WBB Weekly: As NIL era begins, Paige Bueckers is primed to reap the benefits

Bueckers’ brand on and off the court could lead to numerous lucrative sponsorships as new NIL laws take effect.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Final Four Semifinal-Arizona at Connecticut Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the UConn WBB Weekly, a recap of everything that happened in the world of UConn women’s basketball over the past week.

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From the UConn WBB Weekly:

“Even my first Olympics, I never thought one way or the other, you know?” Bird said. “I’m not bulls—ing you here, it’s like — I don’t even tell my parents when I get the call. I barely tell Megan (Rapinoe, her fiancée), when I get the call. I’m not that much different as a person as I am as a player. Not too many highs, not too many lows. I try to keep it even keel.”

From The UConn Blog:

Last week’s weekly:


As NIL era begins, Paige Bueckers is primed to reap the benefits

Starting July 1, NCAA athletes are allowed to profit off of their name, image and likeness — often referred to as NIL. Yesterday, the state of Connecticut signed its NIL law into action, essentially mandating all universities have some sort of NIL policy in place by September. UConn got ahead of the curve earlier on Wednesday, announcing that student athletes could sign NIL endorsement deals beginning July 12.

These two rulings, combined with the NCAA’s interim policy announced on Wednesday evening, means that come Thursday morning, collegiate athletes will have numerous options to make some extra cash. Some will be able to earn more than others.

While there are some caveats — UConn’s policy states that the school’s branding or imagery can’t be used in any NIL deals — we’re essentially entering a new world for college athlete sponsorships and other business partnerships.

For most athletes, it's expected that sponsored social media posts will be a new primary source. But between local and national sponsorships — commercials, car dealerships, restaurants, etc — the possibilities are endless. It's not crazy to think that some of college football’s brightest stars could be inking five- or six-figure deals. Heisman hopefuls with local and national appeal could stand to make even more.

As of right now, there’s one student athlete that has the potential to outearn them all; UConn’s Paige Bueckers.

Huskies fans are already familiar with what Bueckers brings on the court — the Minnesota native averaged over 20 points per game and claimed National Player of the Year honors as a freshman last season — but the brand she’s built off the court is arguably more impressive. Between Instagram (829,000 followers), Twitter (51,100), and Tik Tok (334,900), Bueckers boasts over 1.2 million followers and is already a national household name.

To put it in perspective, Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley, and UConn’s own James Bouknight — three projected lottery picks in the upcoming NBA draft — have less than 400,000 followers on Instagram combined.

In Connecticut, Bueckers will likely be bombarded by big local companies with deep pockets looking for her to promote their cars, restaurants, or products. That makes sense, of course — she’s the most popular player on the most popular team in the state. And while there’s certainly plenty of money to be made for Bueckers just within the Connecticut state lines, she already has a strong national following.

Before the NCAA Tournament started in March, Front Office Sports estimated that Bueckers could earn nearly $400,000 from her Instagram alone, and now Bueckers has amassed another 100,000 followers in that span. Andy Wittry, who writes the college athletics newsletter Out of Bounds on Substack, used a formula created by a consulting firm and got a higher estimate of $548,000.

Bueckers' massive Instagram following alone will be a major target for brands, but combined with her Twitter following, the rise of Tik Tok, and the global appeal of basketball, her NIL value is higher than just about any other athlete in college. Wittry even suggested it’s not out of the question that Bueckers could pull in earnings eclipsing the low seven-figure mark in 2021 alone.

Bueckers and her family are aware of the magnitude of this NIL decision and what it means for both her on and off-court career. Her mother Amy Fuller spoke about Bueckers’ unique position as one of the faces of college athletics and professional path that offers significantly less money than the NBA or NFL.

“Especially if she’s making money, I could see it being very, very hard for her to walk away that fifth year, knowing she could stay,” Fuller said to Wittry in an April edition of Out of Bounds. “It’s her last chance. She’s still making money, you can earn more degrees. I mean, you can’t go wrong with getting as much of an education – while it’s being paid for – as you can. I’d love to see her get three master’s [degrees] if she could. Because at some point, basketball’s going to end. At some point. For everybody. And so, I really think this would help a lot of those athletes stay and she’s included.”

When you combine Bueckers’ earning potential beginning today as a UConn athlete to what the WNBA offers, it’s easy to see where Fuller is coming from. Sabrina Ionescu, the No. 1 pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft, made just over $69,000 in her first season with the New York Liberty. Top players in the league — think Diana Taurasi or Elena Delle Donne — are able to earn over $500,000 under the league’s new collective bargaining agreement.

While that’s good money, and much more than the WNBA players made in prior years due to a historic collective bargaining agreement last year, it’s not out of the question to think that Bueckers could eclipse Ionescu’s rookie salary by the time her sophomore season tips off in October, maybe even sooner.

It’s much too early to tell how NIL laws will affect the decisions of elite WNBA prospects and fringe NBA/NFL prospects in the future, it certainly makes the decision to go pro a little more difficult. Why move on to the next level faster when there’s decent money to be made in college?

With UConn’s policy beginning July 12, Bueckers will have to wait a little less than two weeks before any potential deals become official and the cash starts flowing in. But given her immense following on social media and passion for UConn women’s hoops throughout the state, she’ll be in a good position to earn her true value in an open marketplace.

Best of social media

Overtime followed Paige Bueckers around for a day as she continues to rehab from her ankle surgery earlier this summer. A great insight into the type of training and rehab work Bueckers is doing to remain one of the best players in the country.

Maya Moore’s basketball career may be on hold as she accomplishes bigger things, but the awards keep coming in. She’s set to receive the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at this year’s ESPYs for her work to free Jonathan Irons, who was freed in March 2020 after being wrongly convicted of burglary and assault.

On Sunday, Diana Taurasi made her 2021 WNBA debut and became the first WNBA player to reach the 9,000 career point mark. She was also the first WNBA player to reach 7,000 and 8,000 career points and remains the league’s all-time leading scorer.