Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) stars like Hope Solo and Abby Wambach (who play for the Florida magicJack) and Alex Morgan (of the Western New York Flash) have been in the news since the U.S. team's narrow loss to Japan in a Women's World Cup Final in Germany that was the most-viewed soccer match ever televised by ESPN.
Once back in the U.S., the team made quick appearances on "Today," "Good Morning America" and "The Daily Show." Solo and Wambach were also on "The Late Show with David Letterman."
And Solo and Morgan, who are lined up to appear on "Entourage," showed up at the program's season premiere in New York. Solo is also the first woman to make the cover of Sports Illustrated since tennis star Serena Williams last summer. She is one of only three women's soccer players ever to make the cover.
With all of the media, how big are the players when it comes to sponsorship potential? The Marketing Arm's Celebrity DBI, an independent index that quantifies consumer perceptions of more than 2,800 celebrities across eight attributes, finds that only 21% of consumers know who Solo is -- many of whom are Solo fans.
But the firm says her consumer appeal puts her on par with Drew Brees, Bill Gates, Matthew Broderick, and Emmitt Smith. And her endorsement rating puts her at the level of Michael J. Fox, Julia Roberts, Beyonce, and Ron Howard. As far as "influence" she is, according to the firm, at the same position as Bono, Heidi Klum, Bill Cosby and Ashton Kutcher.
As for Wambach, the DBI pegs her at about the same level as Solo in awareness, and her appeal level puts her on par with Mark Wahlberg. Her enforceability is around that of Denzel Washington, Reese Witherspoon, Michael Jordan, Phil Mickelson, and Peyton Manning.
It's possible that one upside for soccer has been the contretemps within the NBA and NFL, notes Bill Glenn, senior VP, managing director. National Football League owners have just reportedly a signed a 10-year collective bargaining deal that could close the book on the league's four-month lockout; Monday marked the 25th day of the NBA lockout.
Glenn tells Marketing Daily that the freeze opens a natural window of opportunity for both men's and women's professional soccer. But he says the NFL lockout probably won't have much serious influence on the sponsorship opportunity of pro players long-term. "We went through this once in 1999, so I don't see anything that makes me think it's any different this time," he says, adding that the big difference now versus then is the number of new non-traditional sports -- particularly those that appeal to a younger demographic.
"The sports selection is now much greater, and by the way, a big difference between now and 12 years ago is we have a very prevalent Internet distribution channel that's not just content but social media. And that actually gives sports like soccer additional channels and provides fans additional access. It allows stories to stay alive longer and fans to immerse themselves to a greater degree than in the past."
In traditional sports, Glenn gives props to Major League Baseball Advanced Media. "They have done a great job of creating an online experience with things like game-day applications; the NBA has done a great job of building up its digital base of fans and communication across a lot of platforms and mobile apps."
Glenn says the sponsorship power of individual WPS players is about exposure. "How do they keep their brands alive? Through product sponsorships and their own efforts on networks like Twitter," he says. "But in the end fans relate to them as soccer players, and therefore, unless they are changing their own brand [by getting into other high-exposure fields], they need to be playing."
He adds that it is too early to tell if their popularity will help boost WPS interest, awareness and attendance. "In the end we will know their impact on WPS when attendance jumps from around 2,000 at games to something appreciably higher. If that doesn't change, I think it's safe to say it's really more about individual athletes than women's pro soccer."