It started with a synchronized dance to the "Chicken Wing Beat," the smooth dribbles of twins Hanna and Haley Cavinder hitting the pavement together as the beat drops. Nearly a full year later, the payday is here.
Boost Mobile announced its sponsorship Thursday of the Cavinder twins, star guards for the Fresno State women's basketball team, ushering in the new era of college sports and proving female athletes will benefit from the name, image and likeness (NIL) changes that go into effect Thursday.
“Today is a big step in empowering student athletes like us to take charge of our future and achieve fair recognition for the hard work we put in — both on and off the court," Haley Cavinder, a two-time Mountain West Player of the Year, said in a statement. "We are excited to partner with Boost in and for their support of this big milestone, not just for us, but for student athletes across the country — and for years to come.”
The choice to open its endorsement of college athletes with two women who aren't top prospects was a targeted one by the company.
Boost Mobile sponsors basketball TikTok stars
The wireless carrier made the announcement the morning NIL rules went into effect in states throughout the nation. The Division I board of directors on Wednesday voted on an interim measure to allow its athletes to earn income via the use of their name, image and likeness one day before the laws were solidified on the books. The approval now extends to all athletes in all states throughout Divisions I, II and III.
Boost Mobile is the first wireless provider to directly sponsor college athletes. The Cavinder twins have more than 3.3 million followers on TikTok. They fittingly celebrated the day with a TikTok set to "pay the telephone bills" lyrics.
"That was an ideal one for us to kind of launch and say, 'Hey, look, this isn’t just about blue-chip athletes coming in and sort of trying to get them before [they get to] the NBA or NFL,'" Boost Mobile CEO Stephen Stokols told Yahoo Sports via phone Thursday. "This is about all athletes. And every athlete in every sport in every type of school has an opportunity to really create value for themselves."
The twins have been the top target for the company in previous months as the NIL laws became reality, Stokols said. They have more than 400 more athletes on the list they began reaching out to Thursday morning, he said.
Boost Mobile will take a regional approach given it has stores in college towns throughout the nation and students see benefit in high-speed data and low-price plans. Places like a Syracuse, New York or Tucson, Arizona, where there is no professional team but a fervor for the college will see endorsement deals from businesses in the coming weeks.
"We want sort of local heroes, we want the female athlete that has kind of overcome, the female athlete that’s done a good job doing great things on social media, has a following, has relevance in her local community," Stokols said. "Or even a male athlete who, same thing, may not be a well-known name on the national stage but locally they walked on to the team, they’ve made a big play, whatever it might be."
They see that "overcome" mentality in the Cavinder twins.
Who are TikTok's Cavinder twins?
Hanna (17 PPG) and Haley Cavinder (19.1 PPG) completed their sophomore seasons with Fresno State this past March and ranked top-three in the Mountain West Conference in scoring. The 5-foot-6 guards led the Bulldogs to a potential NCAA tournament berth in 2020 before the event was canceled and made the WNIT in 2021.
They are talented and well known at Fresno State, but until last summer they weren't high-ranking WNBA prospects who could see big money from the NIL laws.
It was during the lull amid the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when the twins began to see their earning potential in social media followers. Following the "chicken wing" dance they credit as their breakthrough, they hit more than 11 million views on a "Suede Christmas Challenge" video.
Their joint TikTok account has amassed more than 3.3 million followers and their YouTube channel has 67,000 subscribers. Between that and their individual Twitter and Instagram accounts, they have more than 5 million followers combined.
"They’re killing it on the court and they have done a hell of a job creating a social media following and impact that resonates with us," Stokols said. "Their story resonates, they’ve got big reach, they’ve got a national audience that transcends just their own school alumni. So that was really impressive to us and we like their story. And on the same token, they like what we’re about."
Stokols said they have the same attributes as Boost Mobile: challengers and underdogs with a drive to disrupt and change the space.
“Our number one goal is to excel on the court, but off the court, we love to show our creative sides and grow our relationships with the TikTok community," Hanna Cavinder said in a statement. "Boost keeps us connected so that we can upload and share videos that have a little fun, and hopefully inspire the next generation of women to pursue their basketball dreams.”
The duo have said they looked forward to turning the sponsorship opportunities into a career.
How female athletes benefit in NIL rules
Much of the conversation around NIL has revolved around football and men's basketball players, but women and players from "non-revenue" sports arguably stand to benefit the most. An early morning sponsorship announcement shows that immediately.
"We’re looking at it from a different perspective," Stokols told Yahoo Sports. "Female athletes probably lack the opportunity to make tens of millions [in their careers], so their relevance for the next couple years is while they’re in college, while they're on the stage, in their different communities.
"We look at it as sort of the opportunity to empower athletes is really around a lot of these athletes who aren’t going to make money."
Blake Lawrence, CEO of marketing firm Opendorse, said in March the Cavinder twins "have almost as big of an influence in terms of value as Trevor Lawrence" because of their followers. It's estimated they could make hundreds of thousands annually as influencers. Lawrence said this week student athletes could make between $3-$4 per TikTok follower.
Stokols said he couldn't disclose the terms of the Cavinder twins' endorsement, but it will be a 12-month contract to get paid, and not receive only free service.
In March, Axios published data compiled by Opendorse that showed eight of the 10 most-followed players from the 16 women's and men's teams Elite Eight basketball teams were women.
UConn star freshman Paige Bueckers led the way with 730,000 combined Twitter and Instagram followers that translated to an estimated value of $382,000. Louisville freshman guard Hailey Van Lith stood to make the most at an estimated $965,000.
Any athlete with a large social media following can monetize their value now through sponsorships and ads. Basketball stars are only the tip of it as multiple gymnasts have gone viral in recent years and built strong social followings.
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