Sports cards provide NIL money for men’s, women’s basketball athletes

Freshman guard Miro Little (middle, 1) played 10 or more minutes in three of four games from Feb. 10 to Feb. 20 in the absence of redshirt guard Langston Love (ankle injury). Photo courtesy of Baylor Athletics

By Foster Nicholas | Sports Writer

As players and schools continue to search for profitable ways to navigate the ever-changing world of Name, Image and Likeness, the sports card boom has proved to help benefit athletes. On Feb. 14, Baylor men’s and women’s basketball partnered with ONIT Athlete to bring licensed sports cards to the community.

ONIT added trading cards and wall clings that allow student-athletes to benefit from their signatures and photos, with 60% of the revenue going directly back to the student-athletes. In the fall, the company reported making over $1.6 million in NIL royalty payments to student-athletes across the nation. The sales were mostly earned from football products, but after the success, ONIT introduced men’s basketball, women’s volleyball and women’s soccer cards early in 2024.

“Our goal is working with over 10,000 athletes in 2024 and paying more than $7 million in NIL payments to collegiate student-athletes,” co-founder Sheridan Hodson said in a statement.

Baylor is one of 33 schools to partner with ONIT to create NIL license collectibles that give back to student-athletes. Other schools include Gonzaga, Alabama, TCU, Texas, Oklahoma, Washington and Oregon.

For some players, the opportunity with ONIT was the first time players saw themselves appear on sports cards. But for Baylor men’s basketball freshman guard Miro Little, the first time came just months before.

Little’s first card was released on Jan. 19 in 2023-24 Bowman Chrome University Basketball — a set that features officially licensed cards of some of the best collegiate players before they reach the next level. Little’s 1st bowman, a card that is extremely valuable in the sports card community because it signifies his first pro card with a stamp in the top right corner, was produced in this product alongside those of other NCAA stars, including USC freshman guards Isaiah Collier and Bronny James as well as LSU junior forward Angel Reese.

“Since I was a kid, I used to have a lot of sports cards and liked collecting,” Little said. “It was mainly football stuff — soccer stuff back in Europe — but now actually seeing myself on one is a great feeling.”

While Fanatics, the card producer, has yet to officially announce print runs, Little signed 840 variation cards of different rarities and over 2,000 base autographs. The photo features the guard dribbling a basketball with a photoshopped Baylor jersey that has the No. 10 — his Finland number instead of his Baylor number (No. 1) — but Little remembered the exact photo that was being used.

“I feel like the numbers are off,” Little quipped. “It’s my national team picture with one of my Finland jerseys on. Next time, we’ll hopefully get the number right, but the card goes hard.”

Little has since been featured in another Fanatics set, 2023-24 Bowman Best University Basketball, which was released on March 13. The guard is pictured wearing the No. 1 on his base card with a slightly improved photoshop credit.

While Little and senior forward Jalen Bridges, who was in the 2022-23 Bowman University sets, already had the opportunity to be on a licensed card, other Baylor student-athletes such as senior guard RayJ Dennis, redshirt sophomore guard Langston Love and senior guard Sarah Andrews are seeing themselves profit off their NIL on sports cards for the first time. Though the opportunity is exciting in itself, the student-athletes are making 60% or more of the company profits, per ONIT, and are looking to add more programs and products to help engage with fans and players.

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