Olivia Dunne, LSU gymnast and social media queen, could be NIL multi-millionaire

BATON ROUGE, La. — LSU gymnast and social media queen Olivia Dunne may soon be one of those one-name stars like LeBron, Beyoncé, Madonna and Cher.

@Livvy on TikTok has 4 million followers. She has another 1.1 million on Instagram. She could sign for something between those two numbers with the international talent giant Creative Artists Agency at 2000 Avenue of the Stars in Los Angeles, which has represented Madonna and Cher and may be among the spots Dunne and her mother Katherine were visiting this week.

"I'm going to meet with creators and collaborators, get to meet new people and discuss brands," Dunne, 18, said in a phone interview from Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey on Wednesday before taking off for L.A.

She may also sign.

Hillsdale native Olivia Dunne signed her letter of intent to compete for LSU gymnastics last week.
Hillsdale native Olivia Dunne signed her letter of intent to compete for LSU gymnastics last week.

"Olivia Dunne signing with CAA or another company for something like $4 or $5 million — that's not out of the realm of reality," said Baton Rouge entertainment lawyer Roy Maughan Jr. "I know of a college football player from a small school who just signed for $2.4 million. It could happen. Her reach as an athlete is what is impressive — five million on social media. The fact that she has that following, she can touch a lot of people. She could endorse sports drinks, gymnastics wear, other clothes."

And bikinis. That is what she was tossing in the air on a TikTok post Wednesday.

Dunne is the poster child for the new NCAA world sweeping the country that as of July 1 allows college athletes to be paid for use of their name, image and likeness in advertisements, endorsements and the like without losing their amateur status.

"I feel now everyone has an opportunity to make money," she said on the LSU athletics website after Gov. John Bel Edwards signed a name, image and likeness bill into law in Louisiana on July 1. "I feel like this is a little piece of history being made. This is monumental."

But it is Dunne who is expected to make the financial history for a college athlete, largely because she is the whole package at 5-foot-6.

A communications studies major from Hillsdale, New Jersey, Dunne was named to the SEC's academic honor roll last month after she achieved All-American status in the bars routine with a 9.90 score at the NCAA championships in Fort Worth, Texas, in April. All that after catching COVID-19 in November and struggling with fatigue for several weeks just as gymnastics season started in January.

"She's an incredible gymnast, a beautiful girl and a wonderful personality that comes across in her social media posts," said former LSU gymnastics coach D-D Breaux, who recruited Dunne before retiring last August after 43 seasons. "She's just a fabulous young woman. I could see her signing endorsements with a clothing line or a cereal company or anything. There are lots of great gymnasts, but it's her personality on social media that sets her apart."

On NIL Day — July 1 — a TikTok video showed a dancing and joyful Dunne lip-synching Beyoncé's words from the Destiny's Child hit "Bills, Bills, Bills" of 1999, three years before she was born — "Can you pay my bills? Can you pay my telephone bills? Do you pay my automo' bills?"

Behind her was the headline, "NCAA approves interim name, image and likeness policy removing restrictions for college athletes to earn money."

"It's that following on social media," says former Baton Rouge radio voice Charles Hanagriff, who just became media relations director for a startup company called MatchPoint in Baton Rouge. The company is a liaison between student-athletes and prospective companies in the NIL world.

"She's going to make low seven figures at least," he said. "People love her posts, and she has cultivated it for years."

Dunne started gymnastics at 3 and social media networking at 10 on Instagram, which launched in April 2012 when she was 9.

"She was on the U.S. national team, and she had to travel a lot," her mother Katherine said. "So she had to be homeschooled, and social media became a way for her to connect with kids who would've been her classmates. And she used it to stay in touch with friends she had from gymnastics who were around the country."

And she got good at it.

"She just started developing a following," Dunne said. "She always enjoyed it, and she used it to communicate not just sports, but other aspects of her personality."

Then TikTok, which was launched as Douyin in 2016 in China, started exploding in the U.S. in 2018 when Dunne was a junior in high school.

"Instagram was a cool platform for young kids," Dunne's mother said. "But when TikTok came out, she started using it for gymnastics, but also for some of the fun, dynamic parts of her personality. Then she grew it a lot during COVID when she wasn't able to train as much. She developed it because she could focus on it."

Dunne chose LSU over fellow gymnastic power Alabama.

"She was delightful and focused even as a teenager — very serious and very engaged," Breaux said.

"I really love gymnastics, and I really love social media," she said on LSU's site. "So why not do both? And LSU is the perfect school for that. I came here, and my social media just kept growing."

She never saw 5 million followers or an endorsement contract in the millions coming.

"I knew I had the potential to build my social media to be really big," Dunne said Wednesday. "But I never really expected it to be this big."

Dunne appeared on a huge billboard in Times Square in New York City on July 1.

"It's been pretty crazy," she said. "Crazier than I ever expected actually."

Things could get crazy big very fast. Could acting or modeling be in her future?

"I've always liked modeling," said Dunne, who advertised leotards before college. "I'm really not sure yet what I want to do after gymnastics. Haven't thought about that too much."

"We're keeping all options open," said her dad David Dunne, a former Rutgers punter who works as a corporate attorney and has represented Fortune 500 companies. "A lot of entities are reaching out to us. I'm looking over contracts, doing what I need to do to get Olivia in position. It's been crazy. It's exciting times for the Dunne family right now."

But come August, Dunne will be back at LSU for her sophomore season.

"I'm so excited," she said. "I'm going to train hard so I can do more than just bars. I had a couple of setbacks last season with COVID, but this year's going to be great."

Follow Glenn Guilbeau on Twitter @LSUBeatTweet

This article originally appeared on Lafayette Daily Advertiser: Olivia Dunne: TikTok queen, LSU gymnast could strike NIL gold