Last season, then-Vanderbilt goalkeeper Sarah Fuller had a stint on the Commodores football team — and became the first woman to score in a Power 5 game.
The milestone earned her more than just a place in college football’s history books. It created significant potential for Fuller to profit off her name, image, and likeness. Her social media following skyrocketed and seemingly every major media outlet covered her story.
In the spotlight, Fuller promoted a nonprofit that received hundreds of emails offering donations. She was featured in a music video, and even recorded a video featured during President Joe Biden’s official inauguration celebration.
But she couldn’t make money from her celebrity. At the time, the NCAA still prohibited athletes from profiting off their NIL.
When that changed on July 1, Fuller was ready. Now, she confirms two theories about NIL: Athletes who get famous during marquee moments can capitalize on those highlights. And female athletes — whether they play women’s sports, or join men’s teams — have an undeniable opportunity to cash in.
In Fuller’s case, it also helped chart a whole new career path.
She’s already signed with Wasserman, one of the largest sports agencies in the world, and is lining up NIL opportunities. She’s even pivoted her graduate education to help her better understand the sports industry — while continuing to play soccer, of course.
Wasting No Time
Fuller currently boasts 146,000 Instagram followers and more than 71,000 on Twitter. She could make close to $160,000 annually on social media endorsements alone, according to a 2020 CBS Sports estimate. That potential came as no surprise to Fuller.
When her success on the Commodores football team propelled her into overnight fame, Fuller enlisted her dad to look for an agent.
“He looked up the ‘best agency for female soccer players’ and Wasserman came up,” Fuller told FOS. They reached out, and Fuller signed with the agency when NIL became official.
Wasserman helped her facilitate her first major NIL activity: A limited-edition clothing line. Fuller had wanted to create some sort of product back in December commemorating the moment. “We had tried, and [there was] red tape everywhere,” she said.
Around the time she attended the ESPYs in July, she dropped a line of T-shirts and hoodies that feature two designs celebrating her milestone, and range from $25-$46. One of them says “BE THE FIRST” in bold white letters above a cartoon of Fuller kicking.
While Fuller didn’t disclose the shop’s profits, she said it’s “doing good.” Her post about it on Instagram garnered more than 5,000 likes.
Fuller also has something else in the works. Though she couldn’t give any details, she said it’s related to “new technologies coming out and everything with different workout equipments.”
A Bigger Message
Fuller’s platform — and her NIL plans — aren’t just about making money, though.
When she kicked for Vanderbilt football, for example, she chose to highlight “Play Like a Girl,” an organization helping young girls take skills they learn from playing sports to develop careers in STEM, another male-dominated field. Now, she wants to continue using her platform to “promote and highlight women in sports,” she said.
She’s also been asked to speak about NIL opportunities. The advice she’s given? “I think it’s really important, and it would be very wise of brands and companies right now to really invest in these female athletes in college,” she said.
She mentioned how the Women’s College World Series outperformed the men’s College World Series — which averaged 445,000 more viewers. She also mentioned the growing popularity of women’s college basketball.
“I think I’m giving more of an insider view of why that’s important,” Fuller said.
A New Trajectory
Before graduating from Vanderbilt, Fuller planned to pursue a graduate degree in hospital administration. But after getting a taste of the sports business industry with her NIL potential, and gaining a newfound platform, “It just didn’t feel like it aligned. I didn’t feel like I could take advantage of the opportunities I was given with that degree,” Fuller said.
Fuller is now studying Sport Entertainment Management while playing keeper for the University of North Texas. “I think it’s great that I’m able to really understand kind of everything I’m going through from different perspectives.”
“I kind of feel like a case study,” she said with a laugh.
And Fuller already has an idea about what she wants to do with the degree. Her first goal, of course, is to play in the NWSL.
When it comes to investing in women’s sports, Fuller plans to spend her future following her own advice. “If [playing] ends up falling through, or is not a possibility, I’d really like to use my degree to bring an NWSL team to Nashville or to Dallas.”
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