The U.S. women’s national soccer team enjoyed a ticker-tape parade in New York City and a host of talk show appearances after they won the World Cup this month. Now, they’re getting down to a different kind of business — translating athletic excellence into sponsor support to help grow the profile of women’s soccer.
While marketers often complain there’s little interest in women’s sports in between World Cup events and the Olympics, one difference between the 2015 Women’s World Cup win and that of 2019 is that there appears to be a commitment from advertisers to sustain their efforts in the interim. With the Summer Olympics exactly one year away, brands are stepping up to sponsor high-profile female athletes.
It’s partly due to an intensifying movement propelling women to the forefront of boardrooms and newsrooms. The women on the soccer team were featured in a celebratory Nike commercial after the win. “It helps change perception of women athletes and challenges the norm,” said Marissa Weseloh, director at Momentum Worldwide, a sports marketing agency.
“Someone asked me why women’s tennis players dominate more than any other sport, and you can draw a line to Billie Jean King’s calls for equality," said Elizabeth Lindsey, president of brands and properties at the sports agency Wasserman, which represents many of the women’s soccer players. "It raised the caliber of the talent, and with that more fans are interested.”
Brands are also getting interested because the numbers speak for themselves: Fox attracted 14 million viewers for the final match with the Netherlands and averaged more than 1.6 million viewers per game during the tournament, according to Fox. Telemundo attracted a total of 1.6 million viewers for the final, a 22 percent increase in viewers over the 2015 final.
Fox was able to charge more than $506,000 per 30-second commercial in the women's final, according to the data firm Sqad, while the men's final the previous year brought in $437,000.
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“We are totally at a big inflection point,” said Monica Rustgi, vice president of marketing for Budweiser, which just signed a new partnership with the National Women’s Soccer League. “A lot of people and entities are going to step up now and really deliver upon what these women are deserving of, which is the attention on the pitch, not just one month out of every 48 months but every other day. Things are going to change exponentially — and rightfully so,” she said.
“We’ve had so many emails and interest in partnerships and we have had really strong ticket sales,” said Theresa Ferguson, director of brand management at the National Women’s Soccer League.
Wasserman has even created a new division, The Collective, to further raise the profile of women in sports, entertainment and general pop culture.
Outside the league, the women's soccer players have also cut their own deals. Team captain Megan Rapinoe appears in an ad for the sports drink BodyArmor, part owned by Coca-Cola, while striker Alex Morgan, who has four million Twitter followers and 8.8 million followers on Instagram, has multiple deals, including one with Coca-Cola.
“These players accomplished something spectacular on the field," said Billy Hallock, managing director at Royce Carlton, a company that manages professional speakers. "Combine that with the conversation they’ve started about equal pay and empowerment, and you’ve got the recipe for success on the lecture circuit.”
Members of the women's soccer team could command anywhere between $50,000 to $150,000 per speech on the circuit, said Jarrod Moses, chief executive of the sports marketing agency United Entertainment Group. Rapinoe has already proven herself a compelling, if controversial, speaker, appearing on several shows to discuss politics and equality.
“Clearly there will be a halo effect for the team after the World Cup win, as brands look to align with a team — and its players — that has had unparalleled recent success,” said Joe DaGrosa, an American investor and president of the French soccer team Girondins de Bordeaux.
But he believes it’s a win for women’s sports globally too. “Both FIFA and UEFA soccer organizations, as well as the different women’s national teams globally, have seen a significant increase in interest and investment-levels from global brands looking to engage in this space over recent years," DaGrosa said. He said the women's recent victory "will only continue to help increase commercial revenues further."
Meanwhile, brands continue to bank on the Olympics as a solid source of interest.
“The women of Team USA are really holding their own and doing a great job in delivering more than half of the medals [during the Winter Olympics] — and consequently advertisers want to be part of that,” said Dan Lovinger, executive vice president of advertising sales for the NBC Sports Group. The Summer Olympics in Tokyo will air on NBC in July 2020.
“We’ve seen a continued significant interest in our coverage of women in sport, and the Olympics is the greatest platform for that,” Lovinger said.
However, there is still a long way to go in convincing marketers to spend anywhere near what they do on men’s sports, even with incredible TV ratings. While Fox pulled in an estimated $40.7 million in advertising revenue from the Women's World Cup, this year's NBA final drew in around $305 million, according to Kantar, a data analytics company. Fox declined comment.