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Caitlin Clark’s one shining moment solidifies spot as one of NIL’s biggest winners

Jeremy Crabtreeby:Jeremy Crabtree03/28/23

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Every March, a hero emerges in the NCAA tournament and takes a stranglehold on the national storyline. But you’d have to go back several generations – to the days of Candice Wiggins, Diana Taurasi and Sheryl Swoopes – to find a women’s player who has captured the nation’s attention like Iowa superstar Caitlin Clark has over the past two weeks.

But unlike the stars of yore, Clark has a platform through NIL to capitalize on the national stage and moment in the sun.

Yes, Clark already was one of the biggest stars in college basketball with her Stephen Curry-esque shooting range and video game-like statistics. Yes, she’s also one NIL’s biggest success stories with a long line of deals, including partnering with Buick, Nike, H&R Block, Hy-Vee and many others.

But after Clark recorded the first 40-point triple-double in NCAA tournament history to lead the Hawkeyes to their first Final Four since 1993, NIL experts say she’s firmly established herself as one of the biggest brands in college athletics – regardless of sport.

“There is no question that Caitlin Clark has been the brightest star of March Madness,” Michael Ehrlich, head of athlete engagement for MarketPryce, told On3. “Her on-court play is in a league of its own. But it’s been that way since her freshman year. The enormous stage of the tournament and Iowa’s Final Four run has deservingly taken her dominant game, personality, swagger and social media following mainstream.”

She had 41 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds against Louisville; coupled with a surge of more than 60,000 followers over the past week on social media, Clark’s On3 NIL Valuation soared 20% from last week. We also saw further strength in her brand Monday with news that Nike is expected to soon launch Clark’s name and number tees and sweatshirts.

The power of Clark’s NIL doesn’t stop there. Monday morning, she released multiple skills camp dates for this summer in West Des Moines and Iowa City. The six camps sold out in hours.

Caitlin Clark ‘absolutely boosted her value’

The ultimate signature performance by a junior who already has had a career chock-full of signature performances has made her the story of the NCAA tournament. And observers don’t see a limit to her NIL opportunities.

Michael Raymond with Raymond Representation – a full-service sports and talent agency that specializes in NIL and influencer management – said Clark’s NCAA tournament moment has “absolutely boosted her value both on and off the court.”

“March Madness is a time where tons of brands spend sponsorships dollars, and I am sure she just elevated to the top of everyone’s list,” Raymond, who does not represent Clark, told On3. “With an incredible social media following, great personality and a dominant game on the court, I would say she’s in the elite of the elite. As a pro, I expect nothing to change. Her brand is incredible and still just touching the surface.”

Christopher Aumueller – the CEO of FanWord, a company that helps student-athletes build, promote and monetize their personal brands – said Clark always has had a strong brand and that she has done a great job capitalizing on it. But her tournament performances – particularly the historic one against Louisville – catapulted her brand value to new heights.

“Performance has always had a strong impact on an athlete’s brand,” Aumueller told On3. “But on top of that, Caitlin also has a personality that just resonates with a ton of people. She is the real deal, and I’m 100% sure we are going to see some unique NIL activations with Caitlin soon.”

Ehrlich went even further.

“She should be at the top of any brand’s potential athlete partner wish list,” Ehrlich said. “I am curious to see how her NIL portfolio evolves after the season, especially if she’s able to lead Iowa to a national championship. Win or lose in the Final Four, Clark has made her mark on the college sports landscape overall, and with more eligibility available, she’s positioned for continued NIL success for as long as she decides to stay at Iowa.”

How does Clark define her NIL brand?

Clark has been vocal throughout the season and during Iowa’s NCAA tournament run about the power of NIL. Clark, a former five-star recruit from West Des Moines Dowling Catholic, created the perfect NIL storm between her success on the court, home-state hero vibe and Hawkeyes fans.

“I’m a hometown person,” Clark told the Corridor Business Journal before the start of the season. “That’s why I came here. I love this state. I live 2 hours away from here. I’ve done a lot of stuff to give back in this area. I want to be able to say that I inspire little boys and little girls. At the end of the day, that’s way more important than banners and trophies that I can collect. Inspiring others, giving back to my community, and being able to put joy in people’s lives are just some of the biggest things for me.”

Clark said she’s been careful to not sign on to every opportunity that comes her way.

“I’ve been super-selective,’’ Clark told reporters after agreeing to her NIL deal with Hy-Vee. “Obviously, I don’t have the time to do many things. I always try to partner with bigger companies that are usually long-term deals. They align with my values and who I am as a person. Those are the main things I look at.

“It’s been interesting, NIL. I think it’s been a really good thing and something kids should have had for a really long time. It’s been cool to see what a lot of different Iowa athletes have been able to do.’’

And after Clark’s one shining moment, fans and NIL observers are excited to see what’s next for March’s biggest superstar.

“Whatever is next, it’s going to be huge,” Aumueller said.