“Many people say I'm the best women's soccer player in the world. I don't think so. And because of that, someday I just might be.” — Mia Hamm, 1999 U.S. Women’s World Cup Team
I like that quote from Mia Hamm, one of the standout players from the 1999 U.S. Women’s World Cup champion team. Mia’s quote reflects a consistent theme of how the current U.S. women’s soccer team approaches playing — on and off the field. And just one of the many reason they are champions, in a sea of doubters.
Sunday’s Women’s World Cup championship’s stunning 5-2 win over Japan was a trill to watch. I was streaming in from my car en route from Seattle to San Francisco. It set records on and off the field. By the numbers, more than 26 million viewers tuned in to watch the match. Viewership peaked at 30.1 million from 8:30 to 8:45. Carli Lloyd’s impressive hat trick during the game was matched in the broadcast world with three amazing goals; the match bested the recent NBA Final viewership (13.9 million), the NHL Stanley Cup Final (7.6 million) and becoming the most-watched soccer event in the U.S. television history. The icing on the cake, for Fox Sports Go app, was a record-setting 232,000 concurrent streams. Very impressive numbers, to be sure.
Given all the growth of U.S. youth soccer programs, especially girls leagues, women’s collegiate soccer, you would think the U.S. Women’s World Cup games would have been an attractive venue for marketers to reach their key audiences. Guess again.
Monday morning stats about the match should now silence the doubters about women’s sports being a big draw. Even the doubters should have seen this as an ideal entry point to test the waters with a minimal investment. So, I’m baffled that more marketers didn’t find ways to engage and reach what was certainly a key audience. Fox raked in an estimated $17 million on advertising revenue, a tiny number when you consider the $529 million ESPN made from advertising/sponsorship revenue from last year’s tournament in Brazil.
Granted, the men’s World Cup has been around longer. Fox aired 16 matches live (a new record for Women’s World Cup Soccer in the U.S.) and I counted ads from at least 15 brands, from QSR, auto, insurance, CPG and alcohol beverage companies. While there were more advertisers and revenue than in previous years, it was still a missed opportunity. Also puzzling was the noticeably absent traditional sports apparel brands that are typically sponsors. All day I dreamt about seeing them show up in the match somewhere. Hats off to non-traditional brands like Clorox and Tampax for stepping up. I think they will do well from their investment.
A lot of marketers rely on reports and historical data to help determine where to put their sponsorship dollars. Perhaps the brands that didn’t show up relied on these reports too much vs. considering market conditions, and the hyper growth of women’s soccer (even girls youth leagues). I’m guessing the reports suggested sticking with proven sports franchises for proven returns. Data is a great tool but it’s not the only one in the toolbox.
There have always been a lot of doubters about women’s sports, including the high-performance world of Women’s World Cup. And nearly every time, the women have something to prove and they do. Hopefully, this year was a wake-up call for brands that have been on the sidelines. As marketers, our goal is to connect with audiences in meaningful ways. The highly passionate women’s sports fans offer a great opportunity for many marketers to connect and tell their story in a meaningful way. How will you find a way to engage with this audience? I would love to hear your thoughts, feel free to comment on this article or find me @dougchavez on Twitter.