World Wrestling Entertainment has entered the name, image and likeness arena, signing deals with 16 NCAA athletes from various sports.
The global grappling franchise plans to use its NIL program to stock its roster with talent.
“The WWE NIL program has the potential to be transformational to our business,” Paul Levesque, WWE executive vice president of global talent strategy and development, said in a news release. “By creating partnerships with elite athletes at all levels across a wide variety of college sports, we will dramatically expand our pool of talent and create a system that readies NCAA competitors for WWE once their collegiate careers come to a close.”
NIL, which only became permissible in June, allows NCAA athletes to cash in on their names, images and likenesses, a move previously prohibited under NCAA rules. Athletes signed by the WWE compete in wrestling, football, basketball and track and field. According to the WWE website, all signed athletes will have access to its training center as well as other resources.
As part of their deals, these signees will promote WWE on social media, ESPN reported. The news release adds that “upon completion of the NIL program,” some may earn WWE contracts.
The first WWE signing was Gable Steveson, an Olympic gold medal–winning wrestler and a 2021 NCAA wrestling champion at the University of Minnesota, where he continues to compete this season. Steveson was signed in September, prior to the formal announcement of WWE’s NIL program. Among the other 15 signees announced Wednesday are Haley Cavinder and Hanna Cavinder, basketball players at California State University, Fresno, with a combined social media following in the millions.
WWE has long tapped former college athletes to fill out its roster, including former NCAA wrestling champion Brock Lesnar, who competed at the University of Minnesota, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, a former football player at the University of Miami, among others.