NASHVILLE, Tenn. — An hour earlier than the primary bell of SummerSlam, the West Club at Nissan Stadium buzzed with exercise, and Haley and Hanna Cavinder have been proper in the course of it.
The Cavinder twins, who play basketball at Miami and have become social media stars with their fashionable TikTok movies through the COVID-19 pandemic, had traveled to their first WWE occasion in July after signing a reputation, picture and likeness deal with the promotion in December 2021 They’re a part of WWE’s NIL program, “Next In Line,” which indicators school athletes earlier than the top of their careers, exposes them to WWE occasions and superstars, after which begins getting ready them for careers within the ring.
At the reception, the Cavinders have been inseparable and arduous to overlook. The 5-foot-6 blond sisters posed for footage with WWE superstars Rhea Ripley, Damian Priest and The Street Profits. They chatted up Liv Morgan, then the SmackDown girls’s champion, who offered her telephone quantity for any questions on WWE.
“She’s so dope,” the twins mentioned after assembly Liv.
When not taking footage, the Cavinders strategized. They’re achieved athletes — each earned All-Mountain West honors whereas at Fresno State, and Haley is Miami’s main scorer this season — but social media is their secret sauce. They have 4.1 million TikTok followers.
At the reception, they huddled with Gabi Butler, the star cheerleader from the Netflix sequence “Cheer,” whom WWE was recruiting (and would later signal). After a number of minutes, the three girls kicked off their heels and filmed a TikTok, with Haley and Hanna dancing and Butler punctuating the clip with a backflip.
The Cavinders have been then launched to Dwight Howard, the eight-time NBA All-Star and one among a number of distinguished athletes attending SummerSlam. After dialog and footage, the Cavinders proposed a TikTok concept. Standing earlier than WWE logos, Howard stepped in between the dancing twins and shimmied to the facet of a 10-second video, which might get 1.8 million views and greater than 150,000 likes.
“Never did I believe I might see the Cavinder twins dancing with Dwight Howard in entrance of a WWE signal,” learn the primary remark under the video.
That’s exactly the purpose. The Cavinders’ involvement with WWE has clear advertising advantages for each side. But will the twins ever really step into the ring?
The Next In Line program after all appears to be like for future WWE superstars, but it is not designed to strain school athletes into professional wrestling careers. WWE selects athletes with remaining eligibility and objectives of their sport, which they can full earlier than pivoting to the ring. Some NIL individuals have a transparent path to professional wrestling, like Gable Steveson, the NCAA wrestling champion at Minnesota and Olympic gold medalist, who began coaching at WWE’s efficiency middle in October.
Others, just like the Cavinders, are eased into the wrestling world, delivered to main occasions like SummerSlam or this week’s Royal Rumble, and launched to the celebs and components that make up WWE.
“This is tremendous entertaining,” Hanna Cavinder mentioned, standing exterior a stadium suite at SummerSlam. “I can see why the fan base is so aggressive, so loyal, so enjoyable. I can not take my eyes away from it. I do not even know if it will be in my future, but if it was, it could be a brand new problem, a brand new chapter. I believe individuals would like to see Haley and I as a tag group.
“A 12 months and a half in the past, I might not even have envisioned myself watching WWE. It’s unimaginable what NIL has completed for therefore many athletes.”
The branding element drew the Cavinders and WWE to one another. When scouting school athletes, WWE employees appears to be like for these bodily gifted sufficient to deal with the pains of the ring, but who will additionally thrive with promos, media interviews and within the social media house.
Many school athletes WWE indicators to NIL offers are available with substantial social penalties. In that house, the Cavinders are unmatched.
“We at all times wish to say the necessary means is marketability, and they have clearly demonstrated they are absolute professionals,” mentioned James Kimball, WWE’s senior vp and head of expertise operations and technique, who oversees the NIL program. “They’ve dominated the TikTok house, they’ve dominated the NIL house. So after we’re speaking about launching our program and attempting to create consciousness, what higher pairing? It’s an ideal marriage.”
WWE permits the Cavinders to attach with new, non-traditional sporting audiences. Jeff Hoffman, the Cavinders’ advertising agent with Everett Sports Management, mentioned the Cavinders’ attain throughout the WWE fan viewers went from 15 % earlier than the NIL settlement to 25% since they signed.
“Now you’ve got acquired an entire new group of people that did not know who the Cavinders have been, who might not even know they’re basketball gamers, who might solely know them from an affect standpoint, but they’re a part of WWE , Hoffman mentioned. “That is the place nirvana occurs, as a result of you possibly can stack completely different audiences with completely different demographics to say, ‘Hey, the Cavinders are on this services or products.'”
The Cavinders’ two-year NIL deal contains making appearances at WWE occasions and creating social content material. Hanna mentioned she and her sister take “a enterprise mindset” into settings just like the prematch reception, recognizing who’s round them and the completely different audiences they can attain by capitalizing on key moments.
They labeled their TikTok with Dwight Howard, “When basketball meets @WWE,” with a handshake emoji. WWE’s latest expertise are skilled to consider branding alternatives exterior of the ring. The Cavinders are “already wired that manner,” Kimball mentioned.
“They’re coming into this firm as absolute, high-level, social media model vixens,” Kimball continued. “Oftentimes, that is one thing that some expertise has to construct, and there is lots of training and sources that go into it. For them, it is pure, which we discover vastly priceless.”
Before SummerSlam, the Cavinders had by no means attended a WWE occasion. They did not know a lot about professional wrestling till signing the NIL settlement. They had seen the Bella twins, an identical twin sisters who, just like the Cavinders, grew up in Arizona (Hanna and Haley are from Gilbert, exterior Phoenix).
Signed to WWE developmental contracts in 2007, the Bellas spent greater than a decade competing on the game’s greatest stage. They have been inducted into WWE’s Hall of Fame in 2020 and have grown their model considerably whereas away from WWE.
They might develop into the perfect fashions for the Cavinders, who, if they do go down the WWE route, hope to compete as a tag group.
“Talk about historic priority,” Kimball mentioned. “If the Cavinders ended up even near a profession of the Bella twins, I believe everybody can be very blissful. We’ve talked about it. That’s what we’re attempting to determine. Where’s the potential? Where’s the archetype for all these expertise we’re bringing in?
“The Cavinders have an excellent alternative to develop into one thing that actually differentiates.”
The Cavinders’ lives have reworked since NIL laws went into impact on July 1, 2021. They have signed offers with Champs Sports, Boost Mobile, Crocs, Venmo, Core water, GoPuff and dozens of different corporations with extra to come back later this 12 months.
Their calendar exterior of basketball and college is crammed with fulfilling NIL content material obligations.
“It’s a full-time job, you are continually working,” Hanna mentioned. “It’s not simply taping a TikTok in 15 seconds. There’s quite a bit that goes behind it.”
Hanna and Haley will end out the season with Miami, and will use an additional 12 months of eligibility in 2023-24. They have considered enjoying skilled basketball but ought to have many different profession paths, together with WWE.
“When that point comes, clearly we will by no means flip down a possibility,” Haley mentioned. “The WNBA is so thrilling, and that is one thing we have labored for our complete lives. But WWE or one other enterprise alternative could possibly be one thing in our future as properly.”
Since SummerSlam, the Cavinders have been centered on basketball and their different NIL pursuits, but in April they are set to go to WWE’s Performance Center in Orlando, Florida. They will tour the power and study in regards to the coaching they would undergo if they signal developmental contracts with WWE. Haley and Hanna additionally may attend extra WWE occasions, like WrestleMania and SummerSlam later this 12 months.
WWE has taken comparable steps with most of its NIL athletes. Some go on to signal and have already began their professional wrestling careers. Former Northwestern soccer participant Joe Spivak, now generally known as Tank Ledger, is competing in NXT. Others will by no means attain the ring.
“Coming into this, there’s been no expectation that they do something bodily till post-collegiate eligibility,” Kimball mentioned. “We’re attaining precisely what each events got down to do: carry them across the enterprise, expose them to large-scale occasions, get them round WWE superstars. We’ll look to seek out extra methods to include them in programming and coaching transferring ahead.”
Like all new WWE expertise, the Cavinders would want to grasp the technical facet of wrestling and, of their case, the right way to apply their athleticism from basketball. The twins are something but digital camera shy, but they additionally would want to develop their WWE personas and study the wrestling lingo to be as efficient in promos as they are on TikTok.
“The greatest leap is the confluence of the advertising wants, the model expression after which the time commitments to knowledgeable profession that’s simply this, which could be very completely different,” Hoffman mentioned. “They’ve acquired teachers, they’ve acquired enterprise and they’ve acquired athletics proper now. If you are saying, ‘This is your profession, that is what it will be,’ that may be way more consuming.”
Their greatest benefit is one another and the model they’ve constructed collectively. Despite typical sibling annoyances, they stay extraordinarily shut.
There has been no discuss of competing individually. At SummerSlam, they made positive to speak with a number of tag groups to find out about their experiences.
“She’s my finest good friend,” Haley mentioned. “Basketball, enterprise, partnerships, every part with her makes every part a lot simpler. I’m glad I’ve her in my nook.”
The query is whether or not they finally share a nook of the ring. WWE launched its NIL program to determine potential expertise earlier, as many superstars solely started their careers of their late 20s.
The Cavinders turned 22 on Jan. 13, so there’s loads of time.
“What’s the endgame?” Hoffman requested. “That’s a part of the thriller. Are they going to be right here within the subsequent 12 months? A pair years?”
Whenever their school careers finish, the Cavinders will have choices. Their content material creation expertise and their enchantment to corporations will maintain doorways open.
“At the top of the day, when a choice is put in entrance of them, we really feel assured we’ll have a seat at that desk,” Kimball mentioned. “It’s useful for WWE to companion with the Cavinder twins.”