UConn’s Paige Bueckers has not played a lot of basketball in the last 17 months. Yet despite her injuries, she is still making moves on the NIL market.
In September, Bueckers signed an NIL deal with Nike. And on Tuesday, she announced a $50,000 donation to a local Connecticut food pantry in partnership with one of her other NIL sponsors.
“I didn’t know I could have this impact,” she told CT Insider. “NIL was new for me and for everybody when it came in super-fast. So, to see all the things that I can do to help give back is crazy. I just didn’t really know I could do all this stuff, especially as a freshman in college when NIL became possible. To be able to partner with these organizations and brands and for us to collaborate ideas, it’s pretty cool to see.”
Her teammate Azzi Fudd also has used her NIL dollars to give back, as she hosted a youth basketball camp Sunday. The two also have used their deals to support their teammates, gifting them Bose headphones to sneakers.
“The willingness of athletes to kind of give back has been eye-opening,” said Sam Weber, head of marketing for NIL marketplace Opendorse. “… I think the stigma is that you know, these 18, 19, 20-year-old kids are going to get a big check in the mail. They’re going to buy shoes and lease cars and live large. And there’s a tiny, tiny percentage of that that’s happening. … A lot of these athletes are figuring out better ways to invest, to give back to their communities, all of that.”
Bueckers’ continued success with NIL deals also proves her enduring star power, even through injuries. While she missed the entire 2022-23 season with an ACL injury, she has an NIL valuation of $641,000, according to On3, which ranks in the top 75 across all of college sports.
“If you’re a women’s basketball player who has been in the public spotlight since they were in high school, you’ve been building fans who follow you across various channels for three, four or fifive years,” Weber said. “They’re invested in your journey because you’ve shared that journey with them over the years. And so, when you’re out for a season, or in some cases, even more than a season, then that doesn’t mean they forget about you. They’re still following along.
“They still care about what’s next. … That connection doesn’t die or go away when they’re injured, and that’s why Paige’s audience is every bit as valuable today as before she hurt her knee.”