TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Because of name, image and likeness policies adopted by the NCAA, college athletes have been able to monetize on those three things since July 1.
One of the most common outlets for athletes to connect with is Cameo, a video service where fans can purchase a personalized message from celebrities and athletes. And the top collegiate athlete monetizing their NIL on Cameo wasn't an Alabama football player or Duke basketball player like you might think.
Well, it might not be a big surprise if you're an Alabama softball fan.
"One of the cool things was Cameo came out with their top 10 college athletes, and No. 1 by a long shot was Montana Fouts, and then the next nine were male basketball and football players," said Alabama softball head coach Patrick Murphy.
That's right. Crimson Tide pitcher Montana Fouts is the most popular collegiate athlete on the entire platform over any other female or male athletes. Some of those names behind her on the list were Davion Mintz from Kentucky basketball and Spencer Rattler from Oklahoma football. (If you're interested, a personal use video from Fouts is $55 and a business video is $385 on Cameo.)
While the star pitcher undoubtedly has a lot of fans, she's not the only popular player from the Alabama softball program.
There's a sign along the Brickyard fence at Rhoads Stadium that reads "The Best Softball Fans in the Country," and that isn't just a claim that Alabama softball throws out there. It's backed up with facts.
Before every home game in Tuscaloosa, the PA announcer welcomes fans to the largest on-campus softball facility in the country, and Alabama leads the country in attendance numbers year after year.
With nearly 145,000 followers on Twitter and another 165,000 on Instagram, Alabama softball is the second most followed athletic team on social media on campus behind only Alabama football. In the collegiate softball world, the Crimson Tide only slightly trails Oklahoma in social media followers.
Because of the new NIL policies, softball players like Fouts and Kaylee Tow can capitalize on that popularity.
"I think it's terrific, especially for female athletes who have gotten the short end of the stick with that in the past, but I think now companies, businesses, people see that they're very marketable, and they're very popular," Murphy said.
A quick scan of the social media accounts for Alabama softball players will find NIL deals ranging from Cameo to jewelry to personally branded merchandise to partnerships with local stores and restaurants.
Alabama softball players bring a lot of value to the table for businesses, but Murphy said this also helps the athletes prepare for the real world.
"I think it’s awesome for these kids to be able to experience this," Murphy said. "They’re learning stuff in the real world, you know, and they're gonna have to grow up really quickly because there's something called taxes that they're going to have to deal with. But I think it's a positive all the way around."
A recent event that showed the popularity of the Alabama softball program happened at Bryant-Denny Stadium after the first quarter of Alabama football's game against Southern Miss.
Academic All-Americans from every sport at Alabama were recognized during the ceremony, but the loudest cheers of the night came for the Alabama softball players including Tow.
"Yeah that was so awesome," Tow said. "I mean everybody went crazy for softball, and so we appreciate everybody that comes to our games and allows us to have a certain type of momentum in Rhoads Stadium.
"Absolutely we would seat 100,000 in there and hope that we could fill it up because that would be crazy. But our fans travel, our fans come out and we're appreciative of them. So the moment in Bryant-Denny was, it was awesome to share it with some of my teammates from last year.”
The crowd's response prompted the official team account to tweet the video below.
It would be impossible to fit 100,000 fans in Rhoads Stadium, but that many would show up for a big series if they could.
Last season, when Alabama hosted and won the SEC Tournament for the first time since 2012, COVID restrictions were just starting to loosen around the country. The SEC tournament was the first time Rhoads returned to full capacity since March of 2020, and it was packed with energetic fans for all of Alabama's championship run.
The team carried that momentum all the way to the semifinals of the Women's College World Series, and now Team 26 is ready to get things going again.
Crimson Tide fans will have another opportunity to cheer on the ladies at Bryant-Denny when last year's team receives their SEC championship rings at the Homecoming game against Tennessee on Oct. 23.