Gender Blindness Arrives In Sports Marketing

You may not see it, but gender blindness is everywhere you look in sports marketing. Case in point: The NFL just signed a multi-year deal with Procter & Gamble, making more than a dozen of the CPG company's brands an "official locker room product of the NFL."

At first glance, some of the brands make sense in seeking to attract the league's predominantly male audience: Gillette, Old Spice and Prilosec. But others seem less so: Febreze, Gain, Dawn and Tide. However, the alliance seeks to cross gender lines and even sack gender stereotypes. "Men do laundry, and women watch the NFL," said Sue Rodin, managing director at Lead Dog Marketing, New York, and president of the national organization Women In Sports and Events.

The NFL is well aware that the percentage of women who follow the sport is growing. The league recently expanded its apparel division for women, and this fall will unveil a line of maternity wear from Reebok being touted by Elisabeth Hasselbeck, co-host of "The View" (and wife of former NFL quarterback Tim Hasselbeck), who in August gave birth to her third child.

During its biggest game of the year, the Super Bowl, women are especially prevalent. The number of women ages 18-54 watching the Super Bowl has increased 8% over the past decade, according to Nielsen Media, New York. During Super Bowl XLII in 2008, when the New York Giants defeated the New England Patriots, 37.7% of the 97.7 million TV viewers were women over the age of 18, not far behind the 42.9% who were men over the age of 18. During the Super Bowl XLIII broadcast this year when the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Arizona Cardinals, the number of female viewers over the age of 18 was up 2% over the prior year.

So when the NFL marketing Armageddon decides to make a move toward the female side of its audience, it is no small decision. "The NFL and P&G brands are deeply embedded in the daily lives of Americans, and we look forward to delivering innovative programs with the company," said Mark Waller, the NFL's svp of sales and marketing, of the deal that analysts estimate could be valued in excess of $10 million.

Despite what happened to Erin Andrews, a reporter for ESPN who was the victim of privacy invasion in her hotel room, analysts say that more people are becoming gender blind when it comes to women in sports and marketing. Lisa Baird, who this year was named CMO for the U.S. Olympic Committee, formerly was svp-marketing and consumer products at the NFL from 2005-07 and, before that, held executive marketing positions at General Motors and IBM. This month, Jenny Storms started her job as svp-sports marketing for Gatorade (where the CMO is Sarah Robb-O'Hagan) after 14 years at Turner Sports, most recently as svp-marketing and programming.

In 2008, Jacqueline Parkes was promoted to the newly created position of CMO for Major League Baseball, where she had been svp-advertising and marketing. Kathy Carter was named vp-corporate marketing during the kickoff season of Major League Soccer in 1996 and is now evp of Soccer United Marketing, the marketing arm of MLS. Donna Orender has been president of the WNBA since 2005, a position that also in effect makes her the league's top marketing executive.

That same year, Katie Lacey was named svp-marketing for ESPN, and Mary Wittenberg was named CEO and president of New York Road Runners, the organization that oversees the ING New York Marathon, where she plays a crucial role in guiding marketing and advertising strategies.

In May, when Women In Sports and Events honored the accomplishments of Carter, Parkes and Jamie McCourt, CEO of the Los Angeles Dodgers, MLS commissioner Don Garber called Carter the "most respected sales and marketing executive in the soccer industry. She goes beyond being an outstanding woman sports executive. She is an outstanding sports executive." And Bob DuPuy, president and COO for MLB, reiterated his support of Parkes. "as the brand steward for the game [whose] efforts have contributed significantly to the industry's growth in attendance and revenues and the worldwide recognition of the MLB logo and brand."

"At one point having women in these positions of marketing power was a novelty act. It's not that way any more," said Rodin. "Of course we need more of them and would like to see more opportunities, but progress is being made, which is great. They are very talented and high energy people who garner respect because they are very professional and they get results."

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