New Opportunities for Women in Sports Marketing

As Bob Dylan said, “The times they are a-changin’” and this time it is women in sports who are leading the way. From media to merchandise to social change, women professional athletes are making their voices heard and their presence noted more than ever. They are both seizing opportunities and creating their own opportunities to become a more prominent part of the landscape both on and off the field.

You Have Out Attention

Of course, everything starts with the games themselves. All over the world, women’s sports are on the rise. The 2020 WNBA season was the most successful in league history despite it being played without fans in attendance. The 2020 NWSL final was the most-watched game in the league’s history, coming a year after the U.S. Woman’s National Team won its second straight World Cup title. Likewise, there has been similar growth in the interest of women’s rugby, cricket, and soccer in Europe.

The added attention that women’s sports are receiving is turning female athletes into key marketers and influencers for major brands. More than 25 years after Sheryl Swoopes became the first female athlete to get her own signature sneaker, brands like Nike, Reebok, Puma, Adidas, Converse, and others are all using women in marketing campaigns. In fact, when Puma and Converse attempted to get back into the basketball market, their strategy involved using prominent WNBA players as spokeswoman.

*Be sure to check out a young Kyla Pratt (One on One, Love and Basketball) in this groundbreaking commercial series.

Driving Change

It’s important to note that female athletes are using their voices for more than selling sneakers. Many male athletes have been at the forefront of driving social change, and their female counterparts have been right there with them. The WNBA has long been the most active pro sports league in fighting for equality and change. The league took things to another level in 2020, dedicating the entire season to social change and creating the Social Justice Council, which will push to continue conversations about important social issues, including race, gun control, and voting rights. In fact, former league MVP Maya Moore has taken a leave of absence from the league since 2019 to focus on criminal justice reform and other social causes.

 

 

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We also can’t forget about the Atlanta Dream rallying to push out their partial owner and ex-U.S. senator Kelly Loeffler. Those actions paved the way for former player Renee Montgomery to go from activist to owner/activist. Montgomery made history in February as part of a three-member investor group that purchased the Dream. She  became the first former player to become both an owner and executive of a WNBA franchise.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Women’s National Team is still in the middle of a longstanding gender discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation over equal pay and treatment. The USWNT players have been relentless in their fight to receive the same compensation as members of the men’s national team. Even after reaching a partial settlement last December, the fight continues. Amidst the lawsuit, the American women have continued to dominate on the field and will head to the Olympics this summer having not lost a game since January 2019.

Coming to a Screen Near You

When it comes to female athletes getting more exposure, many are taking matters into their own hands. The latest example of this is the creation of a media company called TOGETHXR. Announced in early March, TOGETHXR is the creation of Sue Bird, Alex Morgan, Simone Manuel, and Chloe Kim, who are all Olympic Gold Medal winners.

TOGETHXR will be geared toward the younger generation of women, allowing “young girls can see themselves reflected in the stories that we tell, that they have a place to go that feels like they’re bigger than themselves, gives them something to aspire to, and to be seen and heard and recognized.” The company has private equity funding and will create original content for social media platforms and streaming services. Morgan says that TOGETHXR will “be something that really breaks barriers.”

Helping Hands

The rise of women’s sports isn’t happening at the expense of men’s sports. Rather, it’s happening with the support of male athletes. At the start of the 2020 WNBA season, several prominent NBA players, including LeBron James, Chris Paul, Devin Booker, and Damian Lillard, wore orange hoodies to promote the start of the WNBA season. Not only did that help attract the best ratings for a WNBA opener since 2012, but in short order, those orange hoodies became the best-selling piece of merchandise in WNBA history.

 

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“That’s our sisterhood,” Booker said in an interview this past summer. “Ever since I’ve been in Phoenix I’ve made it a point to support the [Phoenix] Mercury players and support the WNBA as a whole. A lot of the things they do go unrecognized and they need the treatment they deserve. I’m inspired by them, which made it easy to wear the hoodie and give them the support they deserve.”