The LSU gymnast cashing in big on NIL movement

Those close to LSU sophomore gymnast Olivia “Livvy” Dunne couldn’t wrap their head around why she took social media “so seriously” at age 10.

By the time she reached high school — where she was homeschooled by her mom and competed as an elite gymnast — Dunne had hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram.

Now, after celebrating her 19th birthday on Oct. 1, Dunne is profiting off the NCAA’s NIL rule change and securing brand deals with the help of her millions of followers on TikTok (4.5 million) and Instagram (1.3 million).

“I don’t feel too much pressure, because doing social media is always something that I’ve loved, and I’ve always taken it pretty seriously,” Dunne, who specializes in the uneven bars, told The Post. “At times, I can get overwhelmed with how busy things are, but I don’t feel pressure on a day-to-day basis.”

Olivia Dunne is an LSU gymnast and one of the faces of the NIL movement.
Courtesy of LSU Athletics

Dunne is currently the most-followed collegiate athlete across the combined social platforms. Her Twitter account also has over 17,000 followers.

NIL experts estimate she has been able to turn that following into over a million dollars worth of brand deals.

Dunne said she noticed a major surge in her Instagram and TikTok following when the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020.

“I was quarantined in Florida and I just started making content at the beach, doing flips and filming it. My videos started to get on the ‘for you’ page [on Instagram] a lot more, so more people saw them… and it took off,” Dunne said. “Then I went to LSU and the Louisiana following — they’re the best.”

In June, the NCAA confirmed it decided to suspend rules prohibiting athletes from selling their name, image and likenesses (NIL) — meaning college athletes can now profit off themselves, without sacrificing their sport.

“The NIL rule change has always been a dream of mine, and I didn’t know if it was actually ever going to happen,” Dunne said. “I think it’s great for female student athletes in gymnastics like myself because there is really no professional league after college, so we can capitalize on our opportunities right now. It’s such a special thing. It’s like I’m part of history, all of us student athletes are.”

When the the NCAA announced the NIL rule change, Dunne was in New York City, where a billboard in Times Square displayed her Instagram account — something she described as a “surreal” moment.

LSU was behind to the billboard shouting out various athletes from the school, including  All-American cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. and quarterback Myles Brennan — both of whom have announced NIL deals of their own after the rule change.  

LSU supported the NIL rule change in various tweets teasing the billboard on June 30 and July 1.

The New Jersey native was suddenly one of the faces of a historic monetary movement. It did not happen overnight, though.

“I actually think taking social media so seriously is what separates me in this space,” said Dunne, whose Tigers team is ranked third national in the preseason poll.

“When I was 10, I took it so seriously and people were always like, ‘Why are you doing this?’ But I love it. It has benefited me in the end.”

Dunne is now one of the few females projected to be among the highest earning student athletes thanks to the NCAA’s new regulations.

“I think she could be in the high six figure-range right now because of her national, collegiate and local reach of her brand. I think it’s fair to say that,” Peter Schoenthal, CEO of Athliance, an NIL management company, told The Post.

Olivia Dunne is an LSU gymnast and one of the faces of the NIL movement.
Olivia Dunne is an LSU gymnast and one of the faces of the NIL movement.
Courtesy of LSU Athletics

Vince Thompson, president and CEO of MELT, a sports marketing and branding agency agreed.

“At the level of followers that [Dunne] has, she could easily make close to north of $1 million dollars in annual income,” Thompson said.

After signing with WME Sports for representation in August, Dunne announced her first exclusive brand partnership in September, with activewear brand Vuori.

More long-term deals followed, with brands including, American Eagle, PlantFuel (a protein and supplements company), and Bartleby (a study tool and homework helper for college students, owned by Barnes and Noble).

Dunne has also secured one-off deals with TooFaced cosmetics, GrubHub, Madden/EA Sports and Nate app.

“It’s really amazing to be at the forefront of the start of this new [NIL rule change],” Dunne said. “I want to be a role model to young girls and I think it’s really awesome that I am a female in this. I feel like most people expected [male] football and basketball players to get the biggest endorsement deals.”

To honor her end of brand deals, Dunne could participate in anything from promotional photoshoots and social media takeovers, as well as events and more content creation duties.

Since she’s in her sophomore year at LSU — on a full athletic scholarship — Dunne has figuring out how to balance “work” with school, gymnastics and trying to navigate life as a traditional college student.

“Ever since I’ve been trying to find a balance with everything and using it to my advantage,” Dunne said.

While some universities may have different policies about how students go about the NIL rule change, LSU has an approval process.

“I always like to keep my social media clean — no cursing or any of that. Before the rule change, I didn’t need any type of permission for what I posted,” said Dunne, who stayed within the NCAA’s guidelines before the the rule change.

Olivia Dunne is an LSU gymnast and one of the faces of the NIL movement.
Olivia Dunne is an LSU gymnast and one of the faces of the NIL movement.
Courtesy of LSU Athletics

“Now, before I post for a brand deal, I send it over to LSU’s compliance, and they’re awesome .The team here is amazing. They give it a look for approval, and then it’s ready to post.”

Now that she’s working with beauty, fashion, fitness and lifestyle brands, Dunne has a “jam-packed” schedule.

“First, I wake up and go to the class, where I’m usually with my teammates. I study at the communications center] and get school work done,” she said.

Dunne recently switched her major from communications studies to “interdisciplinary studies,” which she described as being “three minors: leadership studies, entrepreneurship and international studies.”

After class, “I come home, eat lunch and go right to the gym, where I train for hours,” she continued. “I have conditioning before or after practice, which takes place at football operations. Then, I go straight to the dining hall to eat dinner. After that, I come home [to my dorm] and do my work stuff at night.”

When it comes to “work,” Dunne explained, “I’ll come back to my dorm, shower, get ready and put on makeup to start filming to create content.”

Her content is dependent on the brand she is representing. Dunne is working with Vuori or American Eagle, she might pose for photos in clothing by each brand. (She did not disclose any specific contract details with The Post).

“Making content is definitely time consuming. There’s 100s of takes and then you choose that perfect one for Instagram and TikTok,” she said. “I probably take an hour or two to create content after practice. But some days I’m so busy, I can’t get do it all.”

Dunne said she believed that she has mastered the art of posting to Instagram. TikTok is still an adjustment.

“TikTok, I feel is where you can express yourself more, and that’s something I’m still getting used to and I’m still trying to open up more,” Dunne said, emphasizing the importance of authenticity. “That’s something I’ve been working on more — opening up in a more personal way.”

Olivia Dunne is an LSU gymnast and one of the faces of the NIL movement.
Olivia Dunne is an LSU gymnast and one of the faces of the NIL movement.
Courtesy of LSU Athletics

When asked about if she feels there are any misconceptions about her through a social media lens, Dunne said she feels people only associate her with her sport.

“Most of the time people just knew me as the gymnast on TikTok, but I’d like to show everyone more of my personality. A big thing for me is that I want to show everyone that I’m more than my sport,” she said.

“I feel like people can look at me and be like, ‘Oh, she always posts pictures of herself. She’s that gymnast.’ But, whenever I meet new people, they’re always surprised, like, ‘Oh, I didn’t think you talk that much,’ or, ‘I didn’t know you were this friendly.’ I love meeting new people, I really do.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here