March Madness: The NIL Showcase

March Madness NCAA Tournament

In the NCAA’s Name, Image, and Likeness era, March Madness presents the best opportunity for college basketball’s biggest stars to cash in. This year, some of the best players on the court are also the highest earners off of it, with NIL giving them the ability to profit off sponsorship deals and appearances.

No activity is more valuable to a college athlete than posting on social media. According to Opendorse, an athlete marketplace and NIL technology company, over 40% of total NIL compensation through January 2023 came from social posts as the largest single category. And outside of football, men’s and women’s college basketball rank as the top earning sports by NIL compensation.

For that reason, we’ve ranked some of the top college basketball players by social following, one of the strongest indicators of NIL value, to illustrate the earning potential for athletes in this NIL age. One of the main takeaways from our rankings is that, of the 15 most-followed athletes in college basketball this year, 10 are women. This trend follows a report from the 2021 NCAA Tournament which indicated that eight of the 10 athletes in the Elite Eight with the greatest earning power were women. The 2021 Opendorse study took into account both Twitter and Instagram followers and estimated annual earnings.

In last year’s Sweet 16, UConn’s Paige Bueckers and Louisville’s Hailey Van Lith had the highest social media earning potential among men’s and women’s players, according to Opendorse. One social media post from Bueckers was estimated to be worth $62,900, while one from Van Lith was valued at $44,200.

March Madness, college basketball’s single-elimination postseason tournament, is one of the biggest money drivers in sports with most of that being driven by the buzz around making March Madness Picks and, of course, the March Madness Bracket: Of the $1.16 billion the NCAA made in 2021, more than 85% of it came from March Madness. When athletes’ individual brands collide with the national exposure of the NCAA Tournament stage, the earning potential goes through the roof.

Which athletes in this year’s tournament (and outside of it) have the chance to make the most money?

Men’s Basketball

Player School/Team Instagram followers
Victor Wenbanyama Metropolitans 92 (LNB Pro A) 1,200,000
Shaqir O’Neal San Francisco 929,000
Amari Bailey UCLA 566,000
Emoni Bates Eastern Michigan 459,000
Jahvon Quinerly Alabama 399,000
Caleb Love North Carolina 325,000
Scoot Henderson NBA G League Ignite 183,000
Gradey Dick Kansas 152,000
Doug Edert Bryant 151,000
Armando Bacot North Carolina 148,000
Hercy Miller Louisville 142,000
Keyonte George Baylor 123,000
Amen Thompson City Reapers (Overtime Elite) 107,000
Drew Timme Gonzaga 89,600
Oscar Tshiebwe Kentucky 85,200
Dariq Whitehead Duke 84,900
Ausar Thompson City Reapers (Overtime Elite) 74,900

Women’s Basketball

Player School/Team Instagram followers
Paige Bueckers UConn 1,000,000
Flau’jae Johnson LSU 786,000
Hailey Van Lith Louisville 669,000
Hanna Cavinder Miami 495,000
Haley Cavinder Miami 491,000
Angel Reese LSU 376,000
Jaden Owens Baylor 251,000
Azzi Fudd UConn 231,000
Zia Cooke South Carolina 229,000
Cameron Brink Stanford 223,000
Caitlin Clark Iowa 170,000
Aliyah Boston South Carolina 112,000
Haley Jones Stanford 102,000

2023 most-followed college basketball players

Paige Bueckers – 1,000,000 IG followers

Shaqir O’Neal – 929,000

Flau’jae Johnson – 786,000

Hailey Van Lith – 669,000

Amari Bailey – 566,000

Hanna Cavinder – 495,000

Haley Cavinder – 491,000

Emoni Bates – 459,000

Jahvon Quinerly – 399,000

Angel Reese – 376,000

Caleb Love – 325,000

Jaden Owens – 251,000

Azzi Fudd – 231,000

Zia Cooke – 229,000

Cameron Brink – 223,000

Gradey Dick – 152,000

The list above excludes non-college athletes like Victor Wenbanyama and Scoot Henderson. While the NCAA continues to be the best pipeline to the WNBA, NBA prospects now have the option to play for professional and developmental leagues, such as Overtime Elite and the NBA G League. Wenbanyama, the consensus No. 1 prospect in the 2023 NBA Draft, plays for a professional team in his native France.

Additionally, six of the women’s basketball players with the biggest Instagram followings are a part of the 2024 and 2025 draft classes. Their freshman years coincided with NIL going into effect, allowing them to build and profit off of their individual brands at the start of their college careers. With their online popularity, these athletes have also been at the forefront of bringing more exposure to the women’s game and fostering gender equity between the men’s and women’s tournaments.

At Pickswise our expert College Basketball handicappers are on hand season-long with free expert College Basketball Picks and Best Bets, right through until our daily March Madness predictions.