Top Student-Athlete NIL Earners: Which Players Make The Most Bread?

In 2021 the Supreme Court’s decision in NCAA v. Alston paved the way for collegiate athletes to begin receiving compensation for their name, image, and likeness (NIL). Since then, the biggest stars in the biggest sports and the athletes with the largest social media influence at the collegiate level have been earning well.

Which athletes earn the most? What sports are most commonly represented? Who is No. 1?

Top 10 In NIL Valuation

According to the media site On3 which tracks NIL deals and monitors college sports, the top 10 NIL earners by valuation are: Bronny James ($5.9M), Shedeur Sanders ($4.6M), Livvy Dunne ($3.2M), Arch Manning ($2.8M), Caleb Williams ($2.8M), Travis Hunter ($2.2M), Angel Reese ($1.7M), Bo Nix ($1.5M), J.J. McCarthy ($1.4M) and Spencer Rattler ($1.4M).

On3 uses three factors when determining NIL valuation. Performance, which is exactly what it sounds like. How does an athlete perform on their field of competition. Influence is directly tied to social media follower numbers and engagement. Exposure is connected to what level the athlete is (high school or college) and where they play their sport and the significance of that school’s program.

Given those factors it’s not surprising that the top-10 is dominated by college football athletes. Seven out of 10 play the sport and all seven play for Power 5 schools.

College basketball has two players in the top 10 in LSU’s Angel Reese and USC’s Bronny James. Reese scores high in all three valuation metrics. She is an All-American playing for the defending national champions and she boasts the thir-most social media followers in the top 10.

The Power Of Social Media

Bronny James is a special case. He is the first-born son of the one of the world’s most famous athletes and arguably the greatest basketball player of all-time. He’s been famous since birth and while he hasn’t played a college basketball game for USC yet, but his influence and exposure are unmatched.

Arch Manning is another special case. The Texas freshman QB is part of the Manning family. His grandfather Archie played QB at Ole Miss and in the NFL for the New Orleans Saints. His uncles Peyton and Eli are both Super Bowl champion QBs. Arch hasn’t taken a snap yet at Texas, but the family lineage and his elite play in high school has him high on the valuation list.

The other unique athlete in the top-10 is LSU gymnast Olivia ““Livvy” Dunne. Gymnastics is not a revenue-generating sport and Dunne isn’t an All-American or the best performer on her team. But she is the most followed female collegiate athlete on social media. She has over 12 million followers across the various platforms.

Bronny and Livvy are in a class by themselves when it comes to influence. They are the only two in the tens of millions when it comes to social media following. 13.5 and 12.1 million respectively.

Reese, Sanders, and Hunter are the only other athletes with millions of social media followers at 5, 2.4 and 2 million respectively.

Sanders and Hunter both play college football for Colorado and head coach Deion “PrimeTime” Sanders. Coach Prime’s star power has boosted the visibility and exposure of the Colorado program, allowing more eyes on his son Shedeur and two-way star Hunter. Both players also score high in the performance categories.

In terms of brands that are paying money for these young athletes, there are many familiar names like Nike, Gatorade, Beats by Dre, Bose, JanSport, McDonald’s, Outback Steakhouse, and KFC.

The players who have the best balance in terms of performance, influence and exposure are Reese, Hunter, and Sanders.

Bronny and Livvy are outliers in influence and Nix, McCarthy and Rattler rate high on performance and exposure, but low in influence.

It pays to be good, but it really pays to be famous.

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