The UCLA Bruins forward gives Boardroom the inside story on becoming Nike’s first NIL athlete and how she plans to use her growing platform to empower young athletes.
At dinner after UCLA’s women’s soccer team scored a 1-0 win over Stanford on Oct. 28, sophomore star Reilyn Turner handed a signed printed copy of her contract of representation with Wasserman to her new agent Spencer Wadsworth. The next morning, he called her mother saying that Nike was interested in working with her on a name, image, and likeness deal.
Just over six weeks later, Turner was announced as the first college athlete ever to receive an endorsement deal from the Swoosh. In an exclusive interview with Boardroom, she discussed how everything came together, what she wants to do to impact the Los Angeles community and the soccer establishment, and how this all shapes her long-term goals.
“I was shocked, I was excited and speechless,” Turner told Boardroom when asked how she felt when the sneaker and apparel giant approached her. “I thought to myself, ‘No way.‘ Then I had this big secret I had to hold onto. That was tough, being so excited and not being able to tell my friends.”
As Wasserman’s senior vice president of global soccer, Wadsworth had Turner on his radar since she was a star at Laguna Beach High School, right next to her hometown of Aliso Viejo, California. Some of his other clients include household names like Tobin Heath, Becky Sauerbrunn, Ali Krieger, Lindsey Horan, Olivia Moultrie, Ashlyn Harris, and Jordyn Huitema. After NIL laws had passed in July and Turner officially signed with Wasserman, Wadsworth started to approach brands that represented Turner and her values.
Given Nike’s history, influence, and interest in Turner, Wadsworth felt the deal was a no-brainer.
Nike could have easily chosen a top men’s basketball player or football player; that would have been considered a logical or even obvious choice. Wadsworth noted that the deal shows that women athletes can move the needle just as much as men can. But to choose a women’s soccer player shows the investment the company is making in a widening range of athletes, even beyond the professional ranks.
“Women’s soccer is a top women’s sport that’s as known for breaking boundaries and pushing for equality as it’s known for their winning record,” Turner said. “To choose a women’s soccer player as their first NIL athlete is a big statement.”
Turner was the PAC-12 Freshman of the year in 2020 for the Bruins, and was Second Team All PAC-12 in 2021, after finishing second on the squad with 10 goals. She helped lead the team that finished the regular season ranked No. 2 in the country, with 31 shots on goal.
As someone whom Wadsworth thinks has long-term potential not just as a pro, but on the US Women’s National Team, the Nike partnership represents not just what she’s capable of, but what she stands for.
Turner’s Nike deal, as well as future NIL signings for the brand, includes community engagement initiatives as well. Turner will work with nonprofit partners in the LA area not only to promote the sport itself, but to help create an active and equitable future for local youth.
Turner said that enacting lasting change is something very meaningful to her. She remembers how she was influenced and impacted by even the smallest, shortest encounters with women athletes and role models while growing up. She’s excited to give back to the community and work with young kids and teens, particularly to expose them to sports they may not have access to.
As someone who can’t imagine her life without sports, she’d be especially pleased if she can be the one who sparks a young person’s love for sports.
“There’s so much positivity to gain from growing up in and belonging to a sports community, and that’s the love I want to spread,” Turner said. “That’s why I am beyond grateful and on cloud nine that Nike thought I’d be a good fit to represent what they stand for. I’ve always pushed myself to try my best to be the best since I was little. I love soccer and to be at an amazing school like UCLA because of it. And now this — this is definitely a dream come true. Being a ‘first’ feels great. It feels awesome, actually.”
Though she naturally has ambitions to play for the famed, storied USWNT in Olympic Games and World Cups, Turner said her mother continues to tell her to not lose sight of herself, keep being her, and maintain school as a top priority.
“I want to continue to push myself to get better every day and focus on areas I want to improve on,” Turner said. “I’ll keep chasing my dreams, and along the way, I hope to inspire young kids to chase their dreams as well.”