Caitlin Clark has easily been one of the top stories of this year’s NCAA March Madness basketball tournaments.
Clark led the University of Iowa women’s team to its first Final Four appearance in 30 years before losing to LSU in the championship game. During Iowa’s March run, Clark had a game with 41 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds, the first 40-point triple double in women’s or men’s March Madness history (a triple double is when a player records double-digit totals in at least three of the major statistical categories, such as points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks). She scored 40 in back-to-back games.
With her exceptional performances on the court — along with the viral smack talk of which she was on both the giving and receiving ends — Clark, a junior from the Des Moines area, dramatically increased her profile and, arguably, that of the women’s tourney.
Smack was not in short supply, as has been widely observed. As time ticked down in LSU’s championship win on Sunday, Tigers star Angel Reese executed a you-can’t-see-me gesture — a gesticulation Clark had herself engaged in earlier in the tournament.
While Reese’s celebratory move has sparked a Twitter debate about whether it was classless, as one high-profile account swiftly opined, Clark said she didn’t even notice. “All you can do is hold your head high, be proud of what you did, and all the credit in the world to LSU,” she said. “They were tremendous. They deserve it. They had a tremendous season.”
Still, Clark’s performance this season was one for the books, and it’s already led to some big payoffs, and paychecks.
For one, Clark, 21, now has 484,000 Instagram followers (up from 151,000 six months ago), and posted sponsored content in conjunction with such brands as Buick and Bose during Iowa’s title pursuit.
Clark and other college athletes have been able profit off their names, images and likenesses — known collectively as NIL — since 2021, when the NCAA changed course on its longtime definitions of amateur status and eligibility.
From the archives: Women could make more money than men on NIL deals
Her sponsored Instagram posts are not the only way Clark is financially leveraging her meteoric rise. In the past, she has agreed to sponsorship deals with West Des Moines, Iowa–based and female-founded apparel company the Vinyl Shop, a Midwestern supermarket chain called Hy-Vee, H&R Block
and Goldman Sachs
ESPN reported that Clark made at least $1 million from her NIL deals prior to signing with Nike last October.
“There is no question that Caitlin Clark has been the brightest star of March Madness,” Michael Ehrlich, head of athlete engagement at influencer marketing platform MarketPryce, told On3 last week. “She should be at the top of any brand’s potential athlete-partner wish list.”
Women’s basketball ranks behind only football and men’s basketball in total NIL compensation, according to data from Opendorse, a technology company that connects athletes with brands.
“I’ve been superselective,’’ Clark has said about choosing which NIL deals to commit to. “Obviously, I don’t have the time to do many things. I always try to partner with bigger companies that are usually long-term deals. They align with my values and who I am as a person.”
Clark’s triple-double game against Louisville drew 2.5 million viewers on ESPN, outpacing every NBA game shown on the channel this season. The closest NBA viewership number for ESPN this season was 2.14 million when the New York Knicks played in Boston against the Celtics on March 5, according to ShowBuzzDaily.com.
“I dreamed of this moment as a little girl, to take a team to the Final Four and be in these moments and have confetti fall down on me,” Clark said after her Hawkeyes reached the Final Four.
Clark’s accolades include being a two-time All-American, a three-time gold medalist in international competitions and the 2023 Naismith Women’s Player of the Year.
Not everybody is loving the new NIL rules in college athletics. During a congressional hearing last week, a subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce heard testimony from college administrators, a current college softball player, and a university president about problems emerging from today’s NIL approach.
“The current NIL chaos means student-athletes are left to fend for themselves,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican from Washington state. “And those at the top of their game must figure out how to maneuver through a multiple of agents, collectives and high-dollar contract offers, all while maintaining their academic and athletic commitments.”