The U.S. Women’s National Team scored big on Sunday when they defeated the Netherlands 2-0 to grab their second consecutive World Cup win. In a tournament where there were plenty of distractions—from Presidential tweets to debates over whether they celebrated their wins too much—the team stayed focused and proved yet again that they are the best in the world. Home from France, they are taking their much-deserved victory lap with champagne on the tarmac and a ticker tape parade in New York City. But what happens after that?
All 23 women on the USWNT roster play for the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). Founded in 2012, the NWSL is the longest-running women’s soccer league in the U.S., but don’t expect the glitz and coverage of the World Cup. Take Reign FC, the Tacoma, Washington team. It has an average attendance of just over 3,000 attendees per game despite the fact that the team’s star player is Megan Rapinoe – the breakout star of this year’s WWC. How is that possible? Because it is drastically underfunded by the league and lacks the sponsorship it deserves.
In the next few weeks, as we celebrate the women’s victory, the conversation will likely center on equal pay as a number of the women on this year’s team are plaintiffs in a gender discrimination lawsuit demanding that they get paid equally to the men’s team. The disparity is staggering: the French men who won last year’s World Cup shared a $38 million bonus, yet the U.S. women will share just $4 million. At home, the women say they are sometimes paid just 38% of what the U.S. men’s team (a team that failed to even qualify for the World Cup last year) earns per game. We need to have this conversation for the women on this team, women athletes in every sport, and women workers in the U.S. who continue to earn 80 cents on the male dollar.
We must also turn the conversation toward sponsorship and what advertisers can do to ensure women’s soccer stays center stage, and that these powerful athletes get the support they deserve more than every four years. We’ve been here before: in 1999 after the U.S. Women won the World Cup, U.S. soccer created a 12-city league called WUSA. It started out very promising, but due to a lack of funding (the league was started with just $250,000) and slim corporate sponsorship, WUSA lasted just three years.
This should not be a hard sell to advertisers. Roughly one billion people watched the WWC this year. That’s 1 out of every 8 people on the planet. Nike took advantage of this by sponsoring 14 of the 24 teams in the WWC, including 3 of the 4 finalists. Its ads have been seen across the world—garnering more than 5 million views on the Nike Women’s Instagram account and 4 million views on YouTube. As soon as the final game was over, the company released a commemorative jersey that promptly sold out. On Monday, Nike followed the win with an inspiring ad featuring some of the star players and telling young women: “Don’t change your dreams. Change the world.”
Nike is also an ongoing sponsor of the NWSL, having been the league’s official outfitter since it began. A deal signed in May continues the partnership through 2020. It sponsors individual athletes as well, including World Cup stars Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe.
Budweiser used the WWC moment to announce a multi-year deal with NSWL that includes “on and off the field initiatives.” The deal gives Budweiser naming rights to the playoffs, the championship and the MVP trophy. The company says it will activate this sponsorship locally with the support of teams and stadiums, and during the off-season, it is setting up a training for players about the business side of sports. Monica Rustgi, Vice President of Marketing for Budweiser said in a statement: “Becoming the official beer sponsor of the NWSL is our way of not just supporting the U.S. Women’s Team once every four years, but also supporting women’s soccer every single day.”
This is a great start, but we need more. The 2019 team deserves equal pay and equal sponsorship. The audience appetite is clearly there, and it’s time for advertisers to step up. With open categories like travel, wireless, and insurance, brands have a terrific and unique opportunity to connect women and families and make a bold statement about women’s equality at the same time.
Your free-kick, Brandland.