The Cavinder twins, 'queens' of college sports endorsements, poised to make $1 million
Haley and Hanna Cavinder, twin basketball stars for Fresno State University, needed some extra time before they could talk about their latest endorsement deal.
It was the day after a road game at the United States Air Force Academy, and the business management majors had to finish an online class before discussing their 25% co-ownership and a board seat on Baseline Team, a startup.
The clothing line that sells unisex basketball shorts featuring some of the country's top basketball schools was the ninth business deal for them since July 1. That's when the NCAA – under immense legal pressure – changed its policy to allow college student-athletes to make money on endorsements.
Half of the deals for the Cavinders are long term or multiyear, and the 21-year-olds could hit $1 million in compensation by this summer, according to one of their agents.
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"As entrepreneurs, we are trying to learn every single day. And with Baseline, this is something Haley and I are super passionate about," said Hanna Cavinder, two minutes younger than Haley. "We just keep learning."
The twins gained notoriety through TikTok videos prior to being among the first to cash in when the NCAA, the governing body of college sports, changed its endorsement policy. The NCAA had long prohibited individual sponsorships on student-athletes and imposed penalties on those who violated the rules.
NCAA rules change
That changed when the NCAA created a name, image and likeness policy that let student-athletes make money in a variety of ways including signing autographs, making personal appearances, or using social media or other means to promote businesses, products, or services.
The policy changed after about two dozen states passed laws making it illegal for the NCAA to restrict the earnings of college athletes.
David Carter, an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California who has been in the sports business field for more than 25 years, said while the name, image and likeness policy provides new financial opportunities for student-athletes it also gives local, regional and national businesses more ways to advertise their products to fans of college sports.
Carter estimates that in just seven months thousands of student-athletes have inked name, image and likeness deals. Yet, there are few like the Cavinders, who have nearly 5 million followers on social media platforms.
While some of the deals for the Cavinders are worth five figures, the average payout to student-athletes is less than $1,000 – with some deals including trade outs like free food or services, experts say. And they add that the key to maximizing deals is to have a large following on social media.
Carter also said name, image and likeness deals could cause jealousy and problems in locker rooms, and athletes need to make sure they pay their taxes on endorsements.
Cavinders: 'Queens' of endorsements
The Cavinders, who are the leading scorers at Fresno State, gained national media attention the day the NCAA started the name, image and likeness policy when a billboard in New York's Times Square trumpeted their first partnership with Boost Mobile.
Since then there have been sponsorships with fantasy sports app Sleeper, apparel line PSD, Champs Sports and Eastbay, Zoa Energy Drink, Bullet Proof Coffee, Sofi and online discounter Student Beans.
"They are the queens of the NIL," said Darren Heitner, a Fort Lauderdale, Florida, attorney who represents the twins. "It's hard to find a flaw in terms of how they have created their respected brands."
Heitner declined to say how much the twins have made in their endorsements, but he said it would not shock him if they break $1 million by July 1, the one-year anniversary of the name, image and likeness policy.
Another sponsor is World Wrestling Entertainment Inc., a roughly $3.7 billion enterprise that wants to turn college athletes into superstars after elevating the careers of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Hulk Hogan.
The WWE, which trades on the New York Stock Exchange, in December brokered financial deals with 15 athletes, including the Cavinders, from 13 universities with payouts of up to six figures each. The WWE also provides the student-athletes with assistance with branding, media training, communications and appearances at live events. The athletes may even earn an opportunity to become professional wrestlers.
The Cavinders said WWE is among the fitness and health brands that they like to have in their portfolio, and they are looking forward to visiting the WWE training facility in Florida once the basketball season ends.
James Kimball, WWE senior vice president, global talent strategy & development, said the company started developing a name, image and likeness program shortly after the NCAA changed its rules.
Cavinders show talent on social media
"It has allowed us to engage in meaningful dialogue and recruiting activities with college athletes," Kimball said. "The long-term goal is awareness to the pathway to WWE."
Kimball said WWE hopes to have 50 college athletes signed to name, image and likeness deals by year-end.
He added the Cavinders do an incredible job of marketing themselves, and are young, gifted athletes with a knack for showcasing their talents on social media.
The twins, who are from Gilbert, Arizona, say they try to keep grounded in balancing school, basketball and endorsements by spending time with the right people, including their parents and three other sisters.
Haley Cavinder said they also try to be themselves on social media, and they hope they are role models to younger athletes, especially girls.
Dan Everett, whose South Carolina company ESM also represents the twins, said much of their success in landing sponsorships can be tied to their followers on TikTok (3.9 million), Instagram (761,000), YouTube (70,800) and Twitter (16,400).
Some of their videos have been watched more than 1 million times, and he said those followers compose a key youth demographic market for advertisers.
It also doesn't hurt that they are talented athletes for Fresno State's women's basketball team, where Haley was Mountain West Player of the Year last season while Hanna was on the all-conference team.
This season, the twins took two of the five spots for the pre-season All-Mountain West team.
TikTok is key for Cavinders
In Florida, Peter Schoenthal is chief executive of Athliance, a sports management and NCAA software company that works with 32 colleges on name, image and likeness issues.
Schoenthal said the new policy has helped athletes at all levels and female athletes with large social media followings such as the Cavinders and LSU gymnast Olivia “Livvy” Dunne (who claims to be the most followed NCAA athlete on social media with 5.1 million followers) leverage their popularity and do better financially than some male athletes.
"People thought NIL would just be for the quarterbacks, and it's not," Schoenthal said. "If you have over 35,000 followers on social media, you can take advantage of name, image and likeness."
Schoenthal said a college athlete with just 2,000 social media followers could get a name, image and likeness deal worth a few hundred dollars through a small business. He added that companies doing name, image and likeness deals also receive goodwill from the community for supporting the local college.
"You will be getting much more bang for the buck," Schoenthal said.
He said the biggest social media platforms for athletes to promote name, image and likeness deals are Twitter, TikTok and Instagram, but he said athletes also could use Twitch and get paid to play video games with a fan through its live streaming service or make money from doing a personal greeting on Cameo.
Most college athletes don't have millions of social media followers or multiple agents like the Cavinders, but they can get endorsement help in other ways.
Blake Lawrence. a former University of Nebraska linebacker, said more than 50,000 college athletes and 100 universities are getting name, image and likeness assistance by using an app through Opendorse, his company that for a decade has helped professional athletes with endorsements.
He said it was natural to design a name, image and likeness program to connect college players with fans, companies, university sponsors and donors who wanted to hire players.
"This is really about the athlete economy, There was such a large subset of athletes who had no opportunity to monetize their fame at the peak of their careers," Lawrence said.
At Opendorse, schools pay a subscription to monitor the transaction activities of their athletes while student-athletes use it for free. Companies that hire students pay a transaction fee.
Lawrence said while some athletes have done well financially, the average name, image and likeness compensation for all college athletes is $910, according to his company's data.
His company found that football (45.7%) is the top sport for name, image and likeness compensation, followed by women's basketball (26.2%) and men's basketball (18%) with 22 sports comprising the rest.
However, there are some drawbacks to name, image and likeness and not everyone is striking it rich, according to Carter, the USC professor and an adviser for Altius Sports, a name, image and likeness advisory and education firm.
"The only ones we are hearing about or the six- or seven-figure deals, which are hard to verify," Carter said. "There's a lot of speculation. There are a tremendous number of athletes getting deals, but most are really small."
Carter also said college coaches and agents may inflate the value of a name, image and likeness sponsorships in order to gain media attention.
"There's a honeymoon going on, but what happens when an athlete violates the NIL deal or forgets to pay taxes (on the sponsorship)," Carter said. "We are hearing about all the benefits and all the great stuff, but there will always be a wave of controversy and a lack of oversight."