Iowa basketball star Caitlin Clark, who’s never had a full-time job, is worth over $3 million—and she’s changing the financial playbook for college athletes

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Even if the Iowa Hawkeyes don’t win the women’s March Madness title this weekend, star guard Caitlin Clark has already cemented her legacy as one of the most prolific athletes in women’s college basketball history. Clark, the 2024 national player of the year, has scored more points than any other Division I basketball player ever—men’s or women’s.

Clark is also making history off the court in one key way: She’s a pioneering example for so-called name, image and likeness (NIL) deals, having already banked over $3 million. Clark has been one of the first to cash in on brand sponsorships in the years immediately after these types of deals were legalized by the NCAA. 

Clark is setting an example for other athletes looking to profit from their national popularity—and as she prepares to go pro starting in May, she’s positioned to make even more.

Clark, who turned 22 in January, burst onto the college-sports scene at the perfect time to take advantage of new rules governing college athletes’ NIL rights. In July 2021, the NCAA adopted new policies permitting athletes to make money from sponsorship deals and brand partnerships, overturning decades-long rules strictly prohibiting athletes from signing these types of deals.

The NCAA’s reversal was mandated by the Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously in the 2021 case NCAA v. Alston that the organization was unfair in preventing amateur college athletes from generating income based on their persona. 

College athletes didn’t waste any time snapping up NIL deals, but few have been more successful than Clark. According to NIL database On3, Clark has already made $3.1 million from NIL, the fourth-most of any college athlete. (The only athletes earning more are LeBron James’ son Bronny, Deion Sanders’ son Shadueur, and LSU gymnast and social media influencer Livvy Dunne.)

Clark, who grew up in Iowa, signed her first deal with midwestern supermarket chain Hy-Vee in January 2022, which used her photo and name for a branded cereal, “Caitlin’s Crunch Time.” Since then, Clark has inked major deals with nationally recognized brands ranging from insurance to footwear: with Nike in October 2022, with State Farm a year later, and with Gatorade last December, to name three. Clark has appeared in national TV ads and on billboards, and has quickly become one of the most recognizable faces in college sports.

Clark announced she would be entering the WNBA draft last month. She’s widely expected to be selected first overall, by the Indiana Fever. In terms of salary, her WNBA paycheck will barely make a dent in her net wealth: First-year WNBA players earn around $76,000 a year. Clark will likely earn a greater windfall from marketing agreements with the WNBA: “Caitlin Clark stands to make a half million dollars or more in WNBA earnings this coming season, in addition to what she will receive through endorsements and other partnerships, which has been reported to already exceed $3 million,” a WNBA spokesperson told ESPN.

Clark’s ceiling could be even higher than that. Candace Parker is currently the highest-earning WNBA player, according to Forbes: The Las Vegas Aces forward brought in $5.5 million last year on sponsorship deals with brands including Adidas and CarMax, as well as a $200,000 salary. 

The WNBA wasn’t the only offer on the table. Clark has yet to definitively respond to a reported $5 million offer to join the Big3 basketball league, a 3-on-3 league co-founded by rapper and actor Ice Cube. Although it would be technically possible for Clark to play in both the WNBA and Big3, she’s not expected to accept the offer.

Clark and Iowa return to NCAA action this Friday, when they’ll face off against the University of Connecticut in the national semifinal at 9:30 EST.

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