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Critics argued NCAA’s new endorsement rule would hurt female athletes—Paige Bueckers’ Gatorade deal proves otherwise

November 30, 2021, 1:55 PM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Goldman Sachs introduces pregnancy loss leave, Sweden gets its first female prime minister—again, and UConn’s Paige Bueckers inks a historic deal with Gatorade. Have a lovely Tuesday.

– Cashing in. When the NCAA was considering revamping rules that prohibited athletes from profiting from their image and likeness early this year, supporters of the status quo argued that the rules ensured a level playing field and that rolling back the restrictions would marginalize female athletes. Brands, they argued, would flock to male football and basketball stars, with big sponsorship deals bypassing women in college sports. 

Tell that to Paige Bueckers. 

The University of Connecticut basketball phenom on Monday became the first college athlete ever to sign a sponsorship deal with Gatorade, making her one of the biggest college stars so far to profit from the NCAA’s rule change this summer. The terms of Bueckers’ deal with the PepsiCo-owned beverage brand aren’t public, but it’s a multi-year partnership that will see the 20-year-old promote the sports drink on TV, in social media posts, and via product collaborations and events. She joins a roster of Gatorade-sponsored athletes that includes some of the top women in sports—Serena Williams, two-time WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne, and Olympic hurdler Sydney McLaughlin, who won two golds in Tokyo. 

Bueckers, of course, isn’t your average female college athlete. She was named AP National Player of the Year last year—the first freshman to ever win the honor—and she’s likely to be the top pick in the WNBA draft when she’s eligible in 2023. But her Gatorade coup supports the case made by some who backed the NCAA rule change; they argued that letting college athletes sign endorsement deals would benefit women in sports

With fewer professional leagues, lower salaries for those who do go pro, and scarce coaching gigs, women don’t encounter as many opportunities to make money from their athletic talent as their male counterparts; sponsorship deals opened a new avenue. And already, female athletes beyond the Bueckerses of the world are cashing in, using their social media followings, entrepreneurial savvy, and yes, looks, to earn income. 

The rule change is still new, but the coming months will test another theory of those who championed it: that female college athletes—free from NCAA restrictions—will promote women’s sports better than their schools, leagues, or governing organization ever did. 

Claire Zillman

The Broadsheet, Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women, is coauthored by Kristen Bellstrom, Emma Hinchliffe, and Claire Zillman. Today’s edition was curated by Emma Hinchliffe


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