University of Connecticut guard Azzi Fudd, the No. 1-ranked incoming freshman, hasn’t even played in a college game yet and has already signed two major Name, Image and Likeness deals (on top of appearing in a commercial for TikTok).
Last month, Fudd became one of two college athletes to join Chipotle as an ambassador for Chipotle’s “Real Food for Real Athletes” platform, and on Wednesday, she not only became an ambassador but also an equity partner for sports drink BioSteel.
“I’m so excited to join the BioSteel team,” Fudd told Yahoo Sports. “I’m really picky about the drinks I have and how I stay hydrated and BioSteel is just something I’ve liked for a long time. When they reached out, I thought the opportunity was really cool and something I wanted to be involved with.”
This partnership is one of the first of its kind at the collegiate level. As an equity partner, Fudd will receive shares of the company. Other BioSteel equity partners include Patrick Mahomes, Luka Dončić, Christen Press, Ezekiel Elliott, DeAndre Hopkins and Jalen Ramsey.
“With Azzi, after following her over the years, after seeing her work ethic, her story with her parents, through the rehab [with her knee injury], it seemed like a great fit," BioSteel CEO John Celenza told Yahoo Sports over the phone. “I got to speak with [Azzi] and her parents and understand their vision, and it really linked up with ours and all our other athletes and what we really believe in."
Celenza did not disclose the financial details of Fudd’s deal with BioSteel.
“It’s really cool, especially having athletes across different sports represent the brand,” Fudd said. “For someone like me who has always just been focused on basketball and watching the pros on the basketball side, to see other athletes at the top of their game affiliated with BioSteel is really cool.”
How college athletes are cashing in on new NIL rule
The new name, image and likeness rule was approved by the NCAA on Jan. 30, with the rule going into effect on July 1, allowing athletes to profit from deals with third-party companies. This is uncharted territory for several college athletes (and a few high-profile high school athletes) and many are taking advantage of the new opportunity.
Some of the most visible lucrative deals include: Alabama sophomore quarterback Bryce Young signed close to a million dollars in endorsement deals. One of the most famous high school basketball players in the country, Mikey Williams, signed a multimillion-dollar shoe deal with Puma. Tennessee State basketball freshman Hercy Miller, the son of Master P, signed a $2 million endorsement deal with technology company Web Apps America.
For Fudd and her teammates, the next four years is the prime time to cash in.
“These are the kind of things and opportunities, which is sad when you really think about it, that we won’t get to have as much when we go pro,” Fudd said. “We are in our prime right now.”
UConn sophomore Paige Bueckers became the first freshman in women’s college basketball history to win the Wooden Award and won every award she was eligible for last season, including AP Player of the Year and Naismith College Player of the Year. Bueckers hired an agent in August and trademarked “Paige Buckets,” which she intends to use for a clothing line. Another UConn player who signed a deal is senior Olivia Nelson-Ododa, who partnered with fitness apparel company Fabletics.
“I think having the new NIL rule is an amazing opportunity, and I’m still kind of wrapping my head around everything that’s been happening for me,” Fudd added. “And not just me, but for my teammates and for everyone else that’s getting deals.”
UConn women's basketball players signing major deals
Geno Auriemma has been the head coach at UConn for 36 years, and this is the first time he’s had to deal with his high-profile players balancing not only school and basketball but now different marketing opportunities that come their way.
“He’s been really supportive of the new NIL thing for all of us and he gets it,” Fudd said. “I’ve gone in and talked to him about my deals and the people I’ve been talking to, and he thinks it’s all great just as long as it doesn’t affect what’s going on on the court.”
“The policy is very clear: I’m not involved. I’m not telling you don’t sign with this person, make sure you sign with that person,” Auriemma said this summer, via The UConn Blog's Daniel Connolly. “I just made a simple request: Before you get into any agreement, you probably should run it by me or compliance just to make sure that what you are signing is copacetic with what [is allowed].”
The Huskies are ranked No. 2 entering the season, behind South Carolina. Their first game is Sunday against Arkansas, and many have high expectations for Fudd and Bueckers the next three years. Both players were the No. 1-ranked players coming out of high school, are best friends and have been waiting to play together at the highest collegiate level for a long time.
“I’m super excited to hit the court with Paige,” Fudd said with a smile. “I’ve used that word so many times, and I think it’s downplaying it at this point. I’m really looking forward to winning and having fun and just enjoy every game and every step that we have together.”
As the new NIL rule starts to take off, perhaps we’ll begin to see fans pack the Harry A. Gampel Pavilion wearing AZ 35 sweatshirts (Fudd’s own apparel line) and “Paige Buckets” T-shirts once her clothing line launches. It's been a long time coming, but college athletes are finally taking advantage of their marketability and have complete control of their off-the-court initiatives.
Fudd has a full four years at UConn and could potentially make a few million dollars before she ever steps foot on a WNBA court, something that wasn't possible a year ago.