Bringing Purpose to Student-Athlete Partnerships


In 2021 the relationship between brands and student-athletes changed forever with the move to allow students to profit off of their name, image, and likeness (or NIL), in addition to making money from signing autographs, starting their own businesses, teaching camps or lessons, starring in advertising campaigns and posting sponsored social media content. Before this landmark decision, critics claimed for decades that compensating student-athletes would make it harder for them to focus on competition and schooling. Instead, athletes have found the new rules are not only lucrative but liberating. 


Now, on the first anniversary of this significant shift, Under Armour reflects on its successful roster of purpose-first, NIL partnerships and outlines its future goals for this new frontier of collegiate sports marketing.


In just one year of NIL partnerships, Under Armour has proudly partnered with nearly 100 collegiate athletes across 9 sports, at 10 schools, and across 7 conferences. A selection of other work highlights includes:


  • Building towards a more equitable sports landscape, with 58% of partnerships being with female collegiate athletes. In contrast, across all brands, only 41% of NIL deals are with women.
  • Working with Morgan State and Howard University to celebrate the first-ever HBCU Classic, which took place during the NBA All-Star Weekend.
  • Partnering with Sam Gordon to create two new UA Next women’s football camps geared towards high school-aged girls and sponsoring the country’s first all-girls tackle football league.
  • Launching the first-ever UA Next women’s basketball camp in Aliyah Boston’s hometown of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.
  • Collaborating on women’s footwear innovations, like the brand's first-ever pair of women’s football cleats, the UA Women’s Blur Cleat (with Sam Gordon), and the UA Breakthru 3 Women’s Basketball Shoe (with Aliyah Boston).
  • Executing a first-of-its-kind deal with the South Carolina Women's Basketball team, creating custom shirzees for Gamecock fans. 

“My life has been transformed since the NIL decision was made last year. I am incredibly thankful to work with inspiring brands like Under Armour to continue growing the sport of women’s basketball. I want to see brands and NIL deals push to have not just women’s basketball but all women’s sports be embraced, covered, and valued just as much as men’s. I hope to help achieve that change by continuing to dominate the court and using my voice to encourage the next generation to play.”

Aliyah Boston, 2022 NCAA Most Outstanding Player & Under Armour Athlete

To shed additional light on the brand’s work with NIL partners to date, Under Armour Sr. Director & Head of Americas Sports Marketing, Charece Williams Gee, provides an in-depth look via the Q&A below. 


What drives UA’s NIL strategy?


Purpose-first athlete amplification. UA helps collegiate athletes find their purpose, build their brand, and gain insight into the professional world of sports. 


What draws Under Armour to a collegiate athlete partner?


We seek partners who can collaborate to create programs that ladder back to the brand’s purpose-first mission. While elite athleticism is incredibly important, a large focus is on finding well-rounded partners who want to provide access to their respective sports for the next generation of athletes. 


What does UA’s NIL work look like?


Our brand engages in two different categories of NIL partnerships: brand ambassadorships and integrated partnerships. Brand ambassadorships are short-term. They help student-athletes build their brands off the court. Conversely, UA’s integrated partnerships, like those already announced with Sam Gordon and Aliyah Boston, as well as UA’s upcoming work with University of Maryland Wide Receiver Rakim Jarrett, are larger-scale and longer-term. They amplify these specific athletes’ passion points via collaborative programs. 


What sort of purpose-first work has UA been doing with its integrated partners?


  • In March 2022, UA entered a new phase of our commitment to American football by teaming up with female football pioneer Sam Gordon. The partnership has helped establish a pathway for aspiring female athletes of all ages. To learn more about UA’s work with Sam Gordon, read A New Force in American Football
  • Together with Aliyah Boston (this year's NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player), UA has increased international access to women’s basketball. For more on UA’s partnership with Aliyah Boston, check out the story Aliyah Boston Is Turning Her Success into Her Legacy
  • Paying homage to the brand’s roots, UA joining forces with Rakim Jarrett will help give youth athletes exposure to collegiate-level football facilities, resources, and training. 

“My partnership with Under Armour is one in which we have the same ideals and goals to move women in sports forward. We’re ready to make a difference. Starting with the camps and the cleats, this partnership is going to be a gamechanger for women in football. I feel inspired and ready for what’s next.”

Sam Gordon, American football athlete and women’s sport’s advocate

Why work with student-athletes?


Because they have infinite potential. While fewer than 2% of NCAA student-athletes become professional athletes, for Under Armour, a purpose-first commitment is not just about empowering individuals for their athletic accomplishments. Student-athletes see substantial success even outside of sports. Whereas collegiate athletes make up less than 3% of the US population, they account for 15 of the last 21 US Presidents, 52% of women in the C-suite, and a sizable percentage of Fortune 500 CEOs. These students’ hard work and dedication align with the spirit of Under Armour: to strive for more.


What’s next for UA’s NIL strategy?


Under Armour plans to increase the representation of HBCU student-athletes, become an industry leader in female student-athlete partnerships, and bring these partners closer to the business in a more official capacity. Under Armour’s NIL partnerships reflect our commitment to purpose-first work that positively impacts our communities, customers, and partners for generations to come. 

“I have such respect and appreciation for how Under Armour has invested in women's basketball as a sport overall and in our team specifically. Beyond the gear they provide and work with us to develop, the people at Under Armour have spent time lifting up the voices and narratives of women's basketball. There is tremendous value in that. As for the shirzees, the labor of love was beautiful to see because it just takes one person or small group of people to recognize that there's a market for something that highlights college women's basketball student-athletes.”

Dawn Staley, Head Coach, University of South Carolina Women’s Basketball

Aliyah Boston, University of South Carolina

Aliyah Boston, University of South Carolina

Rakim "Rak" Jarrett, University of Maryland

Rakim "Rak" Jarrett, University of Maryland

Sam Gordon, American Football Athlete and Women’s Sport’s Advocate

Sam Gordon, American Football Athlete and Women’s Sport’s Advocate