Sign Me MABI? Women Athletes’ Brand Images in the NIL Era

Cara Hawkins-Jedlicka – Washington State University
Shannon Scovel – University of Maryland
Scott R. Jedlicka – Washington State University

Recent state-level legislation and NCAA rule changes have created new opportunities for college athletes to be compensated (typically by private sector firms) for the use of their names, images and likenesses (NIL). In light of this recent development, this study uses qualitative content analysis to assess how elite women athletes competing in swimming and track and field construct and communicate their personal brands. Using a modified version of the Model of Athlete Brand Image (MABI), athlete branding elements were identified in social media content produced by champion athletes in these sports. The results indicate that most of the sampled athletes across both sports are comfortable with and capable of promoting their athletic identities, but relatively few have leveraged their status to develop more holistic personal brands that would be attractive to NIL sponsors. The study also identifies interesting between-sport disparities in athletes’ approach to personal branding. The findings suggest that while some athletes have proven adept at navigating the changing NIL landscape, more education and institutional support is needed to enable athletes in these and similar sports to adequately develop their brand identities and market themselves to potential NIL partners.