Potential Earnings of the Top 25 College Basketball Players on Social Media

Top 25 College Basketball Players by Social Media Earnings Potential

Before July 2021, NCAA athletes were prohibited from receiving endorsement deals, brand sponsorships, or any compensation for the use of their name, image, and likeness for commercial purposes.

The recently implemented laws permitting student athletes to earn money from promoting their own brands mark a significant shift in the NCAA’s trajectory.

You might also be interested in: Top 25 Arizona college athletes who have the potential for high sponsorship earnings.

Supporters of the change argue that student athletes, frequently from underprivileged backgrounds, are not adequately compensated for their efforts that generate billions of dollars for universities, the NCAA, and advertisers.

Critics contend that preserving the concept of amateurism is essential for maintaining the integrity of college sports, and that banning sponsorships is vital to guarantee that less mainstream sports receive adequate funding.

The future implications of the recent ruling on college sports remain unclear, but student athletes are already capitalizing on their NIL rights by becoming influencers in the present.

We analyzed the total social media followers of the top male and female college basketball players across the country to assess their potential earnings from Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) rights. Using a rate of $0.80 per follower annually, we have compiled a list of the top 25 NCAA basketball players with the most lucrative sponsorship opportunities.

Key findings

  • The collective social media following of the top 25 college basketball players in the country could bring in an estimated $10.5 million annually through NIL deals. This figure is just under 1% of the NCAA’s reported revenue in 2019.
  • Three college basketball players ranked in the top 25 have strong fan bases that have the potential to generate more than $1 million in brand sponsorship revenue: Shareef O’Neal representing LSU, Adrian Nunez from Michigan, and Paige Bueckers from UConn.
  • Twelve of the top 25 potential earners in college basketball are women, with UConn’s Bueckers at the forefront among female players.
  • LSU’s O’Neal, ranked as the top player on our list, has a sizable fan base that could potentially bring in $3.5 million annually. This amount is more than a third of the total revenue generated by LSU’s basketball program, where he previously competed.

The social media followings of these 25 players have the potential to generate a median income of $124K annually.

Below is a list of the 25 college basketball stars in the country with the most followers on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok. Their follower counts range from 80k to 4.4 million. Among the list, there are 12 women and 13 men.

Several of the top 10 are already making money.

O’Neal, the son of NBA icon Shaquille O’Neal, is the NCAA basketball player with the highest level of popularity nationwide. Playing for the LSU Tigers, he has not only inherited his father’s fame and athletic abilities but also has a social media following over 1.5 million larger than the second-ranked player.

Since the ban on NIL endorsements was lifted, O’Neal has been actively promoting paid appearances and business opportunities such as panel discussions, NFTs, and energy drinks. With a significant following that has earned him over $3.5 million, O’Neal stands to make almost a third of the revenue generated by LSU basketball each year.

Nunez, hailing from Michigan, holds the title of the NCAA’s second most-followed basketball player, boasting a massive following of over 2.7 million across various social media platforms. She has secured lucrative brand deals with Coach and a local gym in Ann Arbor. Meanwhile, Bueckers, representing UConn, follows closely behind as the third most-followed basketball player and the top woman on the list, commanding a dedicated following of 1.3 million. Recognized for her exceptional basketball prowess since her high school days, Bueckers is in the process of trademarking her personal brand name, “Paige Buckets,” in preparation for a future line of athletic apparel.

At number four on the list is Hailey Van Lith, a player for the Louisville Cardinals. With a whopping 762k followers, she has made history by becoming one of the first student athletes to sign with Octagon, a sports agency specializing in representing NIL clients.

Chet Holmgren, the fifth-ranked NCAA basketball player from Gonzaga, boasts 434k followers on social media. Despite the absence of major endorsement deals, the 7-foot-tall freshman has launched a YouTube channel featuring top-notch videos. This strategic move suggests he is preparing for potential sponsorship opportunities down the line.

Jaden Owens, the standout player for the Baylor Bears, is the sixth most followed basketball player in the NCAA with 412k followers. While she has not yet announced any endorsements, she has begun subtly tagging the brands of her clothing in Instagram posts, suggesting potential partnerships may be on the horizon.

Haley and Hanna Cavinder, known as the Cavinder twins, rank as the 7th and 8th most popular NCAA basketball players on social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok, boasting a combined following of almost 650k. Representing the Fresno State Bulldogs, they made headlines by becoming the first college athletes to land a significant sponsorship deal following the lift of the NIL ban on July 1, 2021. Boost Mobile quickly signed a marketing agreement with the talented duo shortly after the ban was lifted.

Scottie Pippen Jr., the son of a basketball icon, ranks 9th among NCAA basketball players in terms of followers, boasting a total of 410k. Additionally, the standout player from Vanderbilt University has recently been appointed as an ambassador for Raising Cane’s.

South Carolina’s Zia Cooke is among the top 10 NCAA basketball players with the highest earning potential. In just one month since the new NIL legislation was implemented, Cooke leveraged her 213k social media following to endorse Bojangles.

The majority of revenue generated by March Madness comes from advertising.

The NCAA relies on advertising dollars for its success and expansion.

The NCAA March Madness men’s basketball tournament generates sufficient revenue annually to completely support all sports within the NCAA organization. In 2019, March Madness generated $1.05 billion, representing more than 90% of the organization’s total yearly revenue of $1.12 billion.

The broadcasting rights acquired by CBS Sports and Turner generate $800 million, contributing to a total sum. These companies benefit from lucrative ad deals totaling nearly $1.2 billion as a result of the tournament. March Madness draws a substantial audience, with 16.9 million viewers tuning in to watch at least one game during the 2021 Final Four. This audience surpasses that of the NBA Finals by approximately 400,000 viewers.

Will student athletes absorb existing advertising budgets, or will they generate a new market?

Student athletes have the opportunity to earn money through their Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL), but it remains uncertain if advertisers will prioritize this new influencer marketing opportunity over traditional channels.

There is no doubt that advertising has changed drastically in the past few years. In the past, television advertising was the main marketing tool for many years. However, in 2019, there was a notable shift as budgets for digital advertising, such as social media marketing and influencer marketing, surpassed spending on all other traditional advertising channels for the first time.

The potential increase or reallocation of advertising funds carries a substantial financial impact. Our research indicates that the top 25 college basketball players have the potential to earn a combined total of $10.5 million, representing around 1% of the NCAA’s total revenue for 2019. It is important to note that this estimation does not account for other basketball players or the most prominent athletes in various other sports.


In September 2021, we stumbled upon the Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter profiles of the top male and female basketball players in the NCAA. These profiles were chosen from lists of the most promising athletes for the upcoming season and those with the biggest social media followings.

Only college students in their first through fourth year during the Fall 2021 and Spring 2022 seasons were considered.

The social media metrics included in this report were collected as of September 2021. If a player’s social media account on a particular platform was not found or set to private, a count of 0 was assigned for that platform.

The revenue potential was calculated by multiplying the combined number of followers on Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter by $0.80 per follower annually.

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