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LSU's 'unicorn' Angel Reese already evaluating slew of NIL opportunities

Nakos updated headshotby:Pete Nakos04/03/23


Before the NCAA tournament started, Angel Reese was a well-known brand.

The LSU women’s basketball player was already known for her unfiltered on-court demeanor. With eyelash extensions and long pink nails, opponents in the SEC quickly learned the forward didn’t shy from letting her mouth run.

On Sunday afternoon, the nation got a front-row seat to Reese’s game. The sophomore finished with a double-double. Plus, she copied Iowa star Caitlin Clark‘s “you can’t see me” celebration in the game’s closing seconds before pointing out her ring finger.

Her actions resulted in an uproar on social media, causing divisive strife among fans. Some called it straight trash talk, others disrespectful and classless. For Reese, she’s unapologetically a national champion. In an interview shortly after the game, she double-downed on her actions. She posted a picture of the celebration on Twitter later in the night, too.

“All year, I was critiqued about who I was,” Reese said postgame. “The narrative – I don’t fit the narrative. I don’t fit the box you all want me to be in. I’m too hood. I’m too ghetto. You told me that all year.”

She’s no longer just a women’s basketball player or an NIL star. The former Maryland transfer has seen her Instagram and TikTok followings nearly double in less than a week. Reese has gone from LSU sensation to social media influencer.

As of Monday afternoon, she has roughly 1.9 million combined followers. Her agent, Jeanine Ogbonnaya, told On3 in a phone interview the calls from brands have been rolling in since Sunday night.

“She’s not just a student-athlete anymore or a marketable women’s basketball player where we’re doing these one-off deals,” Ogbonnaya said. “I think at this point, she’s got the following to back it up where she can be doing long-term partnerships that truly align with her brand and her messaging, and finding those brands that align with that as well.

“I think this whole weekend, really, everyone took notice of her lashes and her lip gloss, how beautiful she is. The modeling, the fashion and the lifestyle space is definitely something that we’re really pushing toward.”

Possibility of shoe deal for Angel Reese

The power of social media doesn’t stop in her follower count, either. LSU chief brand officer Cody Worsham shared Monday that Reese has been mentioned 500,000 times on Twitter in the last four days.

Lost in the shuffle of winning a national title and going viral was what she brings to the court. A first-team All-American, she finished the season averaging a double-double. Reese also isn’t leaving LSU just yet. She’ll be back for at least another year before the WNBA Draft.

In between classes and LSU’s national championship parade, Reese and Ogbonnaya will evaluate what the right move is. According to Sponsor United, the LSU star already has 17 NIL partnerships, which is the most in college basketball. Those deals include major brands like Coach, McDonald’s and Wingstop.

One agreement she has not signed yet is a sneaker deal. Adidas, Nike and Under Armour have not shied away from inking deals with high school and college stars. Louisville‘s Hailey Van Lith has been a big name for adidas, while Clark signed with Nike back in October. South Carolina center Aliyah Boston inked a multi-year deal with Under Armour following the national championship last spring.

The Jordan Brand could also be an option.

Ogbonnaya said that is one of the opportunities being evaluated at the moment. But Reese won’t rush out a sneaker deal just to have one.

“Having a lot of conversations in that space,” she said. “You know, I think sneaker deals are obviously a very traditional category for athletes. She plays at a Nike school. But all things are on the table. I’d love to do something unique in the space because, like I said, it is so traditional and Angel — she’s a unicorn. So, I would love to do something different and fresh in the shoe space. That doesn’t mean a unique brand, it could be a traditional brand, but something that’s different and separates her from her peers.”

Another factor that is being closely looked at in endorsement deals is the terms. Reese is no longer looking to find the best one-time deal. The thinking has switched to a long-term approach, along with the possibilities of equity in a company.

Ogbonnaya did not disclose details, however, there is no pressure to sign agreements strictly for the compensation or product. The agent said she’s had to be realistic with a few companies, too. With nearly 2 million social media followers, Reese has a significantly larger off-court brand than most WNBA players.

“They’re brands that have been operating in the sports space already,” Ogbonnaya said of the market for Reese. “And it’s like, ‘Oh, well, you know, we worked with somebody last year from the WNBA, and this is what we paid her.’ And it’s, we’re not even having the same conversation. She is not just a basketball player at this point. She is so much more. And I think what’s amazing and it’s so awesome to see is that she’s truly become a role model for young girls.”

Bayou Barbie reaching out to Mattel

There’s little doubt that LSU fans love the forward. In just one season in Baton Rouge, Reese earned the nickname “Bayou Barbie.” The nickname is something she attached herself to, using it as a caption on social media posts.

Reese and her team made the decision to trademark the nickname, with the hope she could set up a website and sell merchandise. IP attorney Darren Heitner filed the application in early February and expects to hear back next year. The trademark process these days typically can take roughly 12 months, he said.

Because the Mattel toy company owns the trademark for “Barbie,” there have been questions about whether Reese’s request will receive pushback. There is no update yet on if or when the trademark could be approved.

But Ogbonnaya is not letting the opportunity sit by the wayside. She said Monday she has reached out to representatives of the company, asking about the opportunity to possibly partner. As a national champion and public figure, there could be interest in creating a barbie doll of Angel Reese.

“I mean, the iron is hot,” her agent said. “People are interested in women’s basketball right now like never before. And that’s incredible. And it’s because of the team. They have the players, they have the coach — just everything.”