Monday Women’s World Cup hero Carli Lloyd appeared on The CBS Morning Show, just one of a host of late night/early morning stops the U. S. Women’s National team, and her teammates would be making on this whirlwind tour celebrating their 5-2 win over Japan on Sunday night. However what was even more impressive, and led more hope to the cause that women’s soccer might be turning a big page, was the commercial leading into Lloyd’s appearance with her teammate Christen Press, for Coppertone.
The fact that brands had engaged and had gotten ROI going into World Cup, not just with one player but with a sold half dozen, shows how far the sport has come, and the marketability of these telegenic, engaging and hardworking athletes.
The numbers as a first look soundbites are impressive, but they should be, given the younger interest in soccer and all the hype around the event; Fox and Telemundo finished with a combined 26.7 million viewers for the U.S.-Japan FIFA Women’s World Cup final last night, marking the most-viewed soccer match ever on U.S. TV. The match passed the ’14 men’s World Cup final, which saw ABC and Univision draw 26.5 million viewers for Germany-Argentina. Outside the U.S., Fuji TV drew 9.3 million viewers to the Japan semifinal match against England and large audiences tuned in in every soccer-loving and engaged nation across the world.
The halo effect from this great showing by these engaged athletes will not totally fade into the distance even as we of short attention spans turn our thoughts to The British Open, the MLB All-Star Game, NBA Summer League and Wimbledon in the coming days. Unlike other years, these stars are better prepared to go a longer distance off the fuel provided this week because of their social engagement and the storytelling that has gone on in advance of WWC.
On the social side, the numbers for brands to engage with don’t lie, and are very genuine. According to MVP Index, which tracks over 25,000 athletes on social for their impact in real time. The USWNT Top Social Star remains Alex Morgan and her massive investments show that she remains not just the most visible, but most engaged. Morgan has over 4.9 million followers across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. She’s the most followed Women’s soccer player on Twitter and Instagram with more than 1.9 million and 1.5 million on each platform respectively. The most followed women’s player on Facebook is Hope Solo with 1.53 million followers, but Morgan engages at a higher rate than Solo at more than 26K likes/ post to Solo’s 23K.
The top five most followed women’s soccer players across all three platforms coming out of Sunday according to MVPindex are as follows: Alex Morgan 4,979,329, Hope Solo 2,813,086, Abby Wambach 1,216,134, Carli Lloyd 878,917, and Megan Rapinoe 877,122
While some firms threw around pretty amazing numbers for Lloyd to pull in…one said $30,000 an appearance could be possible, which if you are asking is great, but this remains very much a buyers’ market and until someone puts forth that kind of money the market is literally and figuratively still out…her success on the field as an athlete, and off the field as a leader and a solid, well-spoken will help her stock rise.
Quantity in successful candidates, and quality will help these athletes grow their brands as well.
So while all of that is great for the short term, what happens next to sustain the brand value for these stars? The proximity to the Rio Olympics will be one factor, with players already committed to going next summer will help give brands, especially those tied to The Games, a big opportunity to engage now and through the next year with some well-known, and probably cost-efficient faces in the States.
What about a league which would give these athletes the consistent face time with the American public that sometimes creates long-term success for brands? Tough to say if it can work, still, or for that matter if what we think of as a financially viable entity such as a professional league may work. WUSA was launched in 2001 and lasted three years before folding. Then came the Women’s Professional Soccer in 2009, just months after the U.S. won another gold medal at the Olympic Summer Games in China. The WPS also lasted three years. Now we have the National Women’s Soccer League, launched in 2013, which by all commercial accounts is again struggling. The Portland Thorns draw a league-high 14,000 fans where the rest of the league, even with the pre World Cup hype averages 3,000 with the New York entry, Sky Blue FC, hardly registering at all on the local sport radar or business scene.
Does that matter? Soccer officials on Monday were pointing to the existence of the league as a home grown developmental element as one of the key factors in Sunday’s win and the grassroots support the team had. Does a loss leader, a big loss leader at that, make sense? Or do you not need a league per se to keep fans involved if you can generate a series of friendlies and exhibitions between global events like World Cup and the Olympics. Is the league merely a marketing and development tool with some brand activation thrown in? The problem there is playing games as you do now, in front of empty seats with little media coverage. In the era of instant access and quick to judgement, such an endeavor could quickly turn sour.
Now as individuals, the successful athletes…and lets call them athletes with NO gender reference at all…should be able to sustain off their success with a solid marketing platform. They are well spoken, great story tellers, engage with a young audience, have a great sense of community and in many cases philanthropy, and in other cases a bit of an edge which even more brands may enjoy. Like successful Olympians, they can parlay that success into dollars in off years while still training for the next massive stage. It may not yet still be the massive millions across the board, but the pit is growing, and not just for one or two, but for a host of faces we now know better than ever before. Because they are also products of a system many young soccer players can relate to, they are both aspirational and now inspirational, the two most important qualities brands can look for. Young people can relate to that success, and they can now see how that success can come true.
What does it all mean? For the short term it means the blanketing of America by the World Cup heroes. Talk shows, first pitches, parades, honorees big and small will be in the offing. Brands on the fence will come on and see how the game is played, and athletes and their reps will make money. Licensees will reap benefits of lots and lots of product sold, and even the Olympics gets a little earlier run up than the usual one year out. Everybody wins.
For the long term, the future, because of the sustainability of more than a handful of stars, is brighter than it ever has been for these athletes. Whether that means playing salaries vs. endorsement deals is too hard to tell. What it does mean is that all associated with the team now have legacy brands because they delivered both on and off the field and gave us an emotional tie that will bind. It is a rare combination for success on any level, and one that should be cherished, embraced, and yes, exploited.
The spotlight is on for our new stars, let’s hope it stays on and leads to even more constellations of discovery down the line. It is all welcomed and well deserved.