Since 2021 McDonald’s, Microsoft, PepsiCo, Berkshire Hathaway, Amazon, Unilever, and other leading companies have done something that was never before possible: They have paid U.S. college athletes to act as product endorsers and influencers. Until a Supreme Court ruling that year, paying college athletes was forbidden under the rules of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). In the aftermath of the Court’s ruling, the NCAA adopted a policy that enabled more than 520,000 student athletes to monetize their names, images, and likenesses by signing what have become known as NIL deals. Although no definitive count exists of athletes who have signed such deals, 278 students (40% of varsity athletes) at Texas Tech had been sponsored as of 2022. In just a few years marketers have already spent more than $1 billion on such endorsements. For individual athletes these deals can be lucrative. Consider Paige Bueckers, a University of Connecticut basketball player, whom Gatorade chose as its first sponsored college athlete. Bueckers is expected to earn more than $1 million while playing college basketball.

A version of this article appeared in the May–June 2024 issue of Harvard Business Review.