NetWorks Sports Industry News – Girls Who Run the World (Sports World, that is)!

Girls Who Run the World (or Sports World)
Written by Angela Taylor

This goes out to all my girls
That’s in the club rocking the latest
Who will buy it for themselves and get more money later

Who Run the World? Girls!

This goes out to all the women getting it in,
Get on your grind
To the other men who respect what I do
Please accept my shine

Well, there’s no doubt that Beyonce Knowles is certainly one of the entertainers who is running the world these days as is evidenced by her latest hit song (lyrics listed above) Girls Who Run the World.

Hope Solo

Following in her footsteps, it seems like several female athletes have taken Beyonce’s lyrics to heart and are trying to put their own stamp on the sports world.

While the sports industry remains a male-dominated industry and the support for women’s sports (team & individual) is modest at best (but growing), a few women have leveraged their athletic skills to demonstrate their marketability, which may eventually allow them capitalize financially.

The summer of 2011 has seen two injured stars re-acquaint themselves with the winner’s podium (Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova), a young hoops star captivate the attention of the best to have ever played (Maya Moore & MJ), a tennis star captivate a country (Li Na), and a team (USWNT) compel Americans to actually enjoy watching more than one soccer game in a week.

As a result, corporate marketing departments are opening up their vaults to a group of athletes who had only seen modest endorsements opportunities in the recent past.  Now, not to get ahead of ourselves, because the market & ability for female athletes to garner the eight figure endorsements that their brethren make is no where near, but we are making progress.

Here are a few of those individuals who are leading the charge and dancing to the beat of Beyonce’s hit song.

Maya Moore

In May, the #1 Draft Pick in the WNBA Draft, Maya Moore, signed an endorsement deal with Brand Jordan.  Moore, handpicked by Michael Jordan and his Brand Jordan team, was the 1st women’s basketball player to sign on to the brand.  That fact didn’t go unnoticed around basketball circles.  The WNBA and Maya’s representatives are hoping that such a commitment from the legend himself will provide her with an extraordinary platform to build her brand on a global basis.

Women’s tennis has had a huge boost to its portfolio, as the Top 3 highest earning female athletes (according to Forbes) are all tennis players.  The top earner is Maria Sharapova who, it is estimated, earns approximately $24 million per year in endorsements & prize money.  Serena Williams, who is reportedly #3 on the list, is making a bit of a comeback on the tennis circuit after missing a year due to multiple medical issues.  She recently won the championship at the Bank of the West Tournament in Stanford, CA, which could propel her back to the top of the tennis world and certainly carve into that ranking over 100.

The person who recently leapfrogged Serena to take the #2 spot of the list of highest earners is Li Na, who after winning the French Open earlier this summer has had her phone ringing off the hook with endorsement opportunities.  According to her agent Max Eisenbud (also Sharapova’s agent), she has signed 7 deals worth about $42 million over the life of the deals.  These deals include contracts with Mercedes-Benz & Taikang Life Insurance Co.

Yani Tseng

Then there’s newcomer & relatively unknown, Yani Tseng the 22 year-old Taiwanese golfer who has quickly burst on the scene in what is promising to be one of the most dominant golf careers (male or female) that we’ve seen in decades.  With her recent victory at the British Open (winning that title for the second straight year), etched her name in the history books as the youngest golfer – male or female – to win 5 majors. These praises had been reserved for Tiger Woods, Annika Sorenstam, and Michelle Wie.

But probably the biggest story to follow will be Hope Solo’s.  In her two weeks since the Women’s World Cup Final loss to Japan, Solo was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, has driven the pace car at the Brickyard 400, has been on what has seemed like a continuous media tour, had her Twitter followers multiply 30x, and secured multi-year endorsement deals with companies Gatorade and Bank of America.

Solo’s teammates, Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan, have also capitalized on the momentum.

Undoubtedly, more stars will shine as we are a little over a year from the 2012 Olympic Games in London.  The Olympics always has a way of generating a few household names.  Maybe even putting them on boxes of Wheaties…just ask Mary Lou Retton!

All in all, this is certainly good news for women’s sports.  The added attention & increased dollars being spent marketing these athletes should help to bolster attention & support for their sports here in the United States and around the world.

Who runs the world…for the time being, these five girls (or women) are doing their best to make sure that future generations of female athletes will have the chance to take their talents to the biggest stages in sports!

 

Follow NetWorks Sports on Twitter @NetWorks_Sports and Angela Taylor @AFTaylor22


Catching Women’s World Cup Fever

 

On a typical Sunday in mid-July, households across the world were captivated by a group of women who potentially have rejuvenated fan interest in a sport that has been in hibernation ever since fan favorites Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain brought home the Gold Medal on a similar stage 12 years ago.

While Chastain & Hamm et al had, what we now realize was, much more at stake (the survival of a women’s pro soccer league in the states), the drama and intrigue for the 2011 U.S. Women’s National Team was equally compelling.  If the 1999 group seemed to be the pioneers for women’s soccer at the elite level, then the 2011 team were flag bearers for the viability of the future of the sport.

Sometimes it takes a perfect storm to conjure up just enough steam to generate momentum.  Was this the perfect storm?

If Twitter is any indication (and we all now seem to use activity on this platform as confirmation of interest), the answer is YES!  The 2011 USWNT was in the midst of the perfect storm.  In fact, on Sunday evening, Twitter announced that a new record of tweets per second had been set at 7,196.  Eclipsing the activity around the Super Bowl, Osama bin Laden’s death, and the NBA Finals.

While media members debate whether or not this team is fair game for criticism for blowing two leads in the Final as the heavy favorite, the team can be grateful that the chatter hasn’t ended despite the disappointing and devastating outcome.  Truth is, as consumers of sports in all forms, many of us can’t resist analyzing this important moment in sports.  For many, the following questions come to mind:

1.  Was a sports starved American public (which included the President of the United States and his family), longing for any type of action as a result of the NFL & NBA lockouts, Tiger Woods’ absence from the Open, and a hangover from Derek Jeter eclipsing the 3,000 hit milestone last week? An 8.6 overnight rating on ESPN is a strong indication that a sports-starved public was more than willing to jump on the women’s soccer bandwagon.  For the avid sports fan, the absence of NFL free agency and training camp talk along with the terse undertones of a potential long-term NBA lockout certainly contributed to the interest in the WWC.  But to say that is the only reason people tuned in is a disservice to the fans and to the women’s soccer team.  Through their play, they earned our respect and desire to tune in as they sought after the first WC Gold medal in 12 years.  A hungry child must eat.  If fans tuned in because this was the best option, they were pleasantly surprised with what may just become a sport they now choose to consume on a regular basis.

2.  Was the Nike Women’s Sports campaign influential? There is no disputing the fact that Nike and its agency, Wieden & Kennedy, produce many of the most compelling ad campaigns in the industry and their efforts around the WWC were no different.  Nike’s commitment to the USWNT certainly provides a certain bit of credibility, but doesn’t necessarily impact consumer behavior or viewing choices.  It may, however, sell quite a few of those purple Hope Solo jerseys that were wildly popular.

3.  How strong was the Twitter-effect? As is witnessed by nearly 7,200 tweets being sent per second during the World Cup yesterday, fan activity on Twitter definitely played a role.  Players tweeted about their experiences, fellow athletes offered their respect & support, and Twitter-nation rallied in support of the team.  For those who weren’t watching the games live, they were treated to play-by-play throughout the matches and tune in prompts when action got exciting.

4.  Was ESPN’s commitment to the World Cup and growing coverage throughout the tournament a factor? ESPN’s commitment to the WWC was impressive.  They covered all of the matches, offered pre-match analysis, involved various experts (and former players) to share their opinions & analysis, and invested in making this a great event for the network.  As the tournament continued, ESPN’s covered picked up with post-game interviews and interviews on off days.  This allowed us to get to know the personalities of the rising stars.  In what had to be a moral victory for the 2011 team, the tone shifted from recounted the successes of the 1999 team to admiring the fierce competitors on the 2011 team.  Fans will still have Hamm, Foudy, and Chastain etched in their memories, but now a new generation of soccer playing role models have staked their claim on our respect & admiration.

5.  Is it the marketability of stars like Hope Solo and Alex Morgan? This isn’t even a question.  Simply Google Mia Hamm and you will realize how important it is for a struggling sport/league to have marquee stars. Over the course of Sunday’s Final, as reported by CNBC’s Darren Rovell, Morgan’s Twitter followers increased by 70%.  Yet, an important point to emphasize here is that these players are marketable primarily because THEY CAN PLAY!  Mia was one of the best (if not the best) players in the game who also was well-spoken and willing to carry the sport on her shoulders with her fellow teammates.  From what we can tell thus far, these players carry similar characteristics and both should be part of the USWNT for years to come.

6.  Is it the clutch play(s) by Abby Wambach that garnered instant respect with other professional athletes? Skip Bayless constantly harps on the “clutch gene” as he rates players in various sports.  In fact, despite his stellar play in the Eastern Conference Semis versus Boston & Finals against Chicago, LeBron’s fourth quarter disappearances in the NBA Finals still leaves Bayless questioning his clutch-ability.  Wambach’s huge clutch performances and game winning goals certainly made her one of the stars of this team.  To validate the impact clutch performances have on fan interest, we don’t have to look to far.  Remember Michael Jordan’s follow through as he hit a last second jumper in the Finals against Utah.  Think about Joe Montana & John Elway’s Super Bowl winning drives.  Recall Christian Laettnar’s game winner against Kentucky.  Clutch plays can make a career legacy!

7.  What will be the long-term impact of losing in the Final? Unfortunately, despite a cinderella-like journey through the World Cup that saw the team get off to a slow and unimpressive start, this loss will definitely have a negative impact on what “could have been” if the team brought home the gold.  The individual players will still benefit greatly from performing so well on this global stage, but they may not be able to generate as much off the field as they would have otherwise.  In addition, while interest will be boosted in WPS here in the states, we all love winners and may have somewhat of a hangover from the loss that stands in the way of us being motivated to tune into women’s soccer.  Hope Solo and Abby Wambach will now be household names and if they go on to win a Gold at the Olympics, they may be able to recapture some of what they lost.  It’s almost impossible to quantify the impact, but many of us will go on and say “what if”.

Despite the loss, the team captivated many unexpected fans. Possibly the coolest group of fans watching the theatre that became the Women’s World Cup Final was the POTUS and his family.  Huge fans of sports and fitness, the Twitter community was outwardly impressed that President Obama was not only watching the match with his family but also live-tweeting throughout the match.

Along with the question of whether or not sports fans will jump on board the women’s soccer bandwagon once the team returns to the states and their teams in the WPS, is the financial impact this attention will have on the new soccer stars Solo, Morgan, and Wambach.  An article in AdAge estimated that the stars each could have garnered $3 million – $4 million in endorsements with a victory.  Their eventual endorsement opportunities may not meet those expectations due to the disappointing outcome, but their agents’ phones certainly will be ringing off the hook with endorsements that can bring 7 figure incomes.  A newbie to the team, Alex Morgan, promises to become the face of women’s soccer.  She’s young.  She’s attractive.  She’s athletic.  She scored her first two goals in World Cup competition in two important moments.  She has a chance to become the next Mia.

We all have been treated to some amazing soccer over the last couple of weeks.  There were exciting victories claimed in the waning moments of regulation.  There was plenty of star power for avid and casual fans to follow. There was an amazing display of talented young stars.  There was great coverage from media members who typically hadn’t covered women’s sports or women’s soccer.  There were enthusiastic crowds in stadiums in Germany, pubs around the globe, and living rooms across the country.  And there were millions of Americans who Caught World Cup Fever!!!

The question remains, will they soon find a cure for that cold or will they continue to feed off the momentum and add a new activity to their calendars.  For those women who have worked so hard to put themselves in position to succeed on the grandest of stages, they hope that our interest is not temporary but that we will all find our way to stadiums around the country and watch them display the same passion for their craft as they play in the WPS.

Peace…