Paige Bueckers and Azzi Fudd are former No. 1 prospects in their respective recruiting classes. Before they even set foot on campus at Connecticut, they were names in the basketball sphere. Bueckers was on the cover of Sports Illustrated and Slam in a matter of months before enrolling at UConn. Fudd received her first scholarship offer in sixth grade.
Name, image and likeness has only rapidly developed the stars’ brand maturation process. Monetizing their publicity rights while playing for one of college athletics’ most recognizable programs has played a role, too.
Playing professionally does not appear to be a pressing matter. They’re aligning with companies that in the past wouldn’t have been able to start a conversation until they reached the WNBA.
Bose has been eager to partner with both, signing them to multiyear deals. Instead of launching solo campaigns with Bueckers and Fudd, the audio equipment company paired them together in a series of TikTok videos.
“Look at the level of growth that you’re seeing in women’s sports, certainly the participation side, but on the spectator side and then the fandom side,” Jack Daley, Bose’s head of global media and partnerships, told On3. “We knew that this was an area that we wanted to invest in broadly. We’re looking to attract female consumers, younger consumers to our brands.
“So looking at NIL, partnering with athletes that are just very aspirational with both genders but with a big focus on Gen Z females makes the female women’s basketball athlete valuable for a brand like ours.”
While Bueckers and Fudd are longtime friends and teammates, Bose took extra steps to reach the full exposure of the partnerships. Bueckers is repped by Wasserman; Fudd is part of Steph Curry’s SC30 Inc. Each agreement went through their separate agencies, but the idea was posed of securing the use of UConn’s marks in the marketing initiative.
Power of harnessing UConn’s marks in TikTok
Before Jason Butikofer arrived at UConn this past summer, he obviously knew about the success of Huskies women’s basketball. Since coach Geno Auriemma arrived 1985, the program has won 11 national titles, gone to 22 Final Fours and tallied six perfect seasons. Now working as the chief operating officer, he is responsible for interacting with Learfield’s UConn Sports Properties, which manages the use of the athletic department’s sponsorships and IP.
It was a no-brainer when Bose approached, Butikofer said. The two parties held a few Zoom calls before agreeing to allow Bueckers and Fudd to wear their jerseys in a string of TikToks. It wasn’t just that, though. UConn granted its IP use to Bose, opening up a new avenue of possibilities. For example, the athletes would be able to show off anything Huskies-related inside the facility.
“I think it speaks volumes to their strategy,” Butikofer told On3 recently. “They obviously identified that both Paige and Azzi are, not only in the women’s basketball vertical but nationally, two of the most prominent athletes.”
Dating to September, Fudd began promoting Bose on her social media channels. By the end of November, they were using UConn’s IP in the promotional material.
The content has performed well, too. A video posted near the end of January prominently featuring Bueckers and Fudd in UConn gear has been viewed more than 9.3 million times and has garnered more than 190,000 likes. The TikTok was filmed inside the Huskies’ practice facility with the school’s logo at halfcourt.
Daley said when it comes to actually creating the content, the instructions are not as spoon fed as some might imagine. Bose always enters an agreement with a handful of ways it would like to sponsor the athlete or musician. There is never a set narrative, though, as the influencer gets the opportunity to weigh in.
“It just brings greater authenticity to what we’re doing,” he said. “It means that we can use the school’s marks, so they’re wearing their uniforms and some of the content. We were able to shoot on UConn’s campus – even from where the content is shot, whether it’s in the gym or out on the campus, they’re in their natural environment.
“I also think that regardless of how well-known a talent is, when you show them in the context that they’re most known for, they will be more recognizable to consumers. … I think it certainly helps, which then has a very real downstream effect to media effectiveness.”
What Bose looks for in a return on investment
While Bueckers and Fudd may be the faces of Bose’s marketing strategy at the college level, it isn’t limited to the women’s basketball stars. Since November, the brand has signed deals with Oregon quarterback Bo Nix, Michigan quarterback JJ McCarthy, LSU women’s basketball star Angel Reese and Houston guard Marcus Sasser, the top player on a No. 1 seed.
Daley considers those to be more one-off deals. The UConn athletes will continue to post content throughout the next month and after that. Combined, the duo has upward of 2.2 million social media followers. And they’ll each be returning to college for at least another season.
On the court, neither have had the ideal season. Bueckers missed the season recovering from a torn ACL. Fudd has been working through a right knee injury that has forced her to take some time off. She has played in 12 games and returned for the Big East tournament. She’s expected to be in the starting lineup for UConn’s first-round NCAA tournament game Friday afternoon.
“A lot of the work – whether it’s athletes or musicians that we partner with – is about driving brand relevancy,” Daley said. “It’s about content creation and leveraging our media to put that branded content in front of the right consumers. You’re looking to drive brand relevancy, which is harder to measure and a slower-moving metric over time. But what we look at in the immediate is, well, how’s the content performing? How are the consumers that we’re putting this in front of us responding?”
So far, the return has made the investment worthwhile. Daley said Bose continues to ramp up its activity in NIL. Part of the focus moving forward will be to evaluate where an athlete is in their career.
Restrictions vary on the high school and college level, but talking to a projected future NBA first-round pick if he lives in a state that allows NIL will be considered. Long-term deals also will be considered if a college football player, for example, is primed for a breakout season.
Daley said TikTok will continue to be the focus when it comes to determining where athletes will promote the brand. The platform is unlike many of the other popular social media channels, he said, solely because of how a piece of content that works on Instagram may never take off on TikTok.
“Regardless of ranking them, the fact of the matter is TikTok is absolutely at the table with Meta and YouTube,” he said. “So when we’re planning for the year – I oversee our media spend – the immediate dollars that we’re looking to spend on the content, the athletes we’re signing like that is a primary platform for us. Two years ago, I would have referred to it as an emerging platform.”