How Paige Bueckers' first NIL deal could shift standards for female athlete sponsorships

Paige Bueckers, the reigning Naismith Player of the Year, signed her first major name, image and likeness (NIL) deal on Wednesday in a move that could have a long-term impact on women athletes in the collegiate and professional ranks.

The Connecticut point guard signed a multiyear deal with StockX, a footwear and apparel marketplace platform. The deal was announced the same day teammate Azzi Fudd became an ambassador and equity partner with sports drink BioSteel, another early first in the NIL era.

Both players are trendsetters in the NIL space who will likely lead women athletes into larger sponsorship and partner opportunities. Bueckers' deal includes specifics to that end.

"My partnership with StockX is about equity and authenticity," Bueckers said, via ESPN's Nick DePaula. "It's about product I love and about shining a light on all the creatives that drive culture. I'm here to celebrate them and, together with StockX, invest in making sure women and women athletes are prioritized, elevated and recognized for their style and their leadership."

The company said the partnership "solidifies StockX’s commitment to support female athletes, generate excitement and awareness." A spokesperson told ESPN that Bueckers will become "the centerpiece" of their focus on women's sports and basketball.

Paige Bueckers signs first NIL deal

The deal includes exclusive products Bueckers will help design and could include the "Paige Buckets" nickname the Wasserman agency already trademarked for her. She'll have access to footwear and apparel to wear off-court and the company won't limit the brands that she wears.

Sponsorship deals are not done out of the kindness of a company's heart. There is a market to fill and attract, which StockX notes to ESPN by the stat that sales of women's exclusive sneakers "outpaced the overall market" by 80% in 2019.

Women are increasingly joining sneaker culture and purchasing high-value sneakers. And this happens despite a lack of women-inclusive sizing, design and marketing. StockX is filling that marketing gap by putting Bueckers, a household basketball name since her high school days in Minnesota, as its face.

She plays for the most well-known women's program on the planet, swept every player of the year award she was eligible for in her freshman season and holds cross-platform appeal. Bueckers has nearly 1 million followers on Instagram and 341,000 followers on TikTok.

It's unlikely every one of those is a basketball fan watching the Huskies in earnest every night. But it is fact that every one of them is a potential consumer of their product.

Impact on deals for WNBA players

Paige Bueckers
Paige Bueckers has the eyes of an entire nation, basketball fans or not, on her as a star athlete and outsized social media presence. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Bueckers, who turned 20 last month, said in the company's announcement video that she wants to make sure her values align with any brand she works with, and vice versa. (This is where the business model is moving in general.)

In her interviews with ESPN and StockX for the launch, she said she wants to make sure women athletes are prioritized. One stipulation in the deal underlines that. Per ESPN:

As part of the agreement, StockX will gather and provide extensive data and insights throughout the partnership to validate the notion that women athletes can generate interest and impact sales for global partners.

There are many data points that already show this, including merchandise sellouts of Sabrina Ionescu's collegiate jersey and overall WNBA gear. But opponents always seem to move the benchmarks on that success by saying things like there weren't a lot offered. And then there is the less provable argument that brands and businesses don't put enough focus and effort into deals for women's athletes and teams. Take, for example, the lack of marketing for the NCAA tournament and the lack of merch in all areas.

StockX is taking away that aspect and stockpiling data behind a move they've researched. Ideally, with more cold, hard proof in front of other businesses, more sponsorship deals will come for all female athletes at every level. WNBA players are often overlooked in marketing deals even if the match seems obvious.

Bueckers and Fudd are in the prime of their career for marketing deals on the women's side, but can use it to better the standards and expectations of them in the professional ranks.