Can wrestlers make money with NIL?

Summer is slow in the DIII wrestling world, so this post will focus mostly on Division I athletes. Several states have laws allowing college athletes to profit from their name, image, and likeness (NIL) going into effect July 1st. The NCAA Division I Council is meeting today and surely has NIL on its agenda. This is the makeup of the council. Seven members work at schools with wrestling, and one is the commissioner of a conference that sponsors wrestling.

NIL is coming to the NCAA either through rule changes or legislation. Most of the attention has been focused on famous players in football and basketball. Almost every article mentions either Trevor Lawrence or Zion Williamson as athletes who could have profited handsomely from this opportunity. The highest profile athletes are not the only ones who can benefit here. The money might be less, but it still spends. The table below lists the approximate number of Instagram and Twitter followers for selected NCAA wrestlers with large followings.

Spencer Lee111K37.6K
Roman Bravo-Young123K22K
Nick Lee8.3K526
Austin O’Connor5.9K
David Carr69K7.7K
Shane Griffith17K1.7K
Carter Starocci22K2.7K
Aaron Brooks17K
AJ Ferrari57K11.4K
Gable Steveson245K30K
Daton Fix61K14.5K
Yianni Diakhomihalis100K28.4K
Jaydin Eierman19K6K
Sammy Sasso15K5.1K
Mason Parris15K4.3K

There are certainly some others that could be on this list. They may lack the following of Trevor Lawrence (979K on Instagram) or Justin Fields (883K followers), but many are greater than Jocelyn Alo (33K on Instagram), the national softball player of the year (and former wrestler) who just spent two weeks on ESPN for the Women’s College World Series. No wrestler is getting rich off of sponsored Instagram posts, but if you are an advertiser of a product that appeals to fans of Gable Steveson, there is value in getting that message out to his nearly 250,000 followers.

Calculating the value of a sponsored post is tough, and the market may change significantly once college athletes are involve, but there are calculators out there (like this one) that make estimates.

If Steveson even made a quarter of that estimate, it is $500 he did not have before. Other top wrestlers like Roman Bravo-Young ($1.2K – $1.6K for one post), Spencer Lee ($1.1K – $1.5K), Yianni Diakhomihalis ($982 – $1.4K), and David Carr ($735 – $1K) are also in a position to cash in. Consider the case of Chloe V. Mitchell, an NAIA volleyball player who gaine 2.6 million followers on TikTok after creating a series of videos of the process of renovating a shed during quarantine. She is able to cash in on her fame, since the NAIA beat the rest of the country in allowing athletes to profit from NIL.

Wrestlers who want to make money through sponsored posts will need to cultivate their social media following and make an effort to engage with fans. The most successful post regularly and have content that matches up with their personal brands. Winning helps, but it is not sufficient, as should be obvious from the chart above.

The timing may be uncertain, but college athletes gaining the ability to profit from their own NIL is on the way. The market will go through some growing pains before settling into a price and earnings structure, but current and future athletes will be able to earn money in ways they had not before.