Commissioner Cathy Engelbert Sees NIL As ‘Huge Positive’ For WNBA 

  • Engelbert says NIL-boosted college players help attract broadcast and corporate partners to the WNBA.
  • The commissioner reiterated to FOS that college players can carry their NIL deals into the WNBA.
NIL college stars help attract broadcast, corporate partners to the WNBA, Engelbert says.
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
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Commissioner Cathy Engelbert told Front Office Sports in an interview that NIL has been a “huge positive” for the WNBA and women’s sports. 

“I think it’s actually a huge positive for the women athletes and the women’s game,” Engelbert said. “This is a huge positive for us. I may not have predicted it that way three, four years ago, but they’re getting huge followership and marketing. It’s attracting broadcast partners and corporate partners to us when [college players] come into our league. So I think it’s a huge plus.”

While LSU gymnast Olivia Dunne ranks first among On3’s women’s NIL earnings list, college basketball players account for ten of the top-15 spots. “If you look at the Elite Eight teams last year, the men versus the women, four out of the top five NIL earners were women basketball players,” Engelbert added.

Earlier this month, WNBA legend Sheryl Swoopes said she was disappointed with instances where college players make more money in NIL deals than they would as a salaried WNBA player. “I think it’s sad when college players are making more money than a professional WNBA player; it doesn’t make sense to me,” Swoopes said. 

But Engelbert asserts that college players could maintain their NIL deals at they enter the WNBA, particularly if they’re aligned with the WNBA’s national partners, such as Nike, Adidas, Under Armour, Gatorade, CarMax, Ruffles, State Farm, Michelob Ultra, Body Armor, DoorDash, and PlayStation, among others. Aliyah Boston, the first overall pick in the 2023 WNBA Draft, signed a multi-year deal earlier this month with Adidas. 

“No one calls it NIL when they get to the pros, they call it a marketing partnership,” Engelbert said. “The player NIL can carry over with them into their WNBA professional careers, specifically if it’s with a national brand—it’s a marketing partnership with that player. And there’s less restrictions once you get into the pro leagues than college.” 

Engelbert specifically highlighted several WNBA players who have appeared in television commercials during recent NBA Playoff broadcasts—including Arike Ogunbowale for State Farm alongside Mark Cuban, CarMax’s ad with Candace Parker and Steph Curry, Nneka Ogwumike for Michelob Ultra alongside Jimmy Butler, as well as A’ja Wilson for Ruffles alongside Charles Barkley and other NBA stars.  

“I’m so amazed when I’m watching at how much our players are being marketed, and that’s our equivalent of NIL. And the more they come in [from college] with followership and brands that know them, the better they’re going to do in the WNBA from that perspective,” the commissioner said.

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