Wasserman’s influence on women’s sports extends to athletes, brands and leagues

Wasserman's influence on women's sports extends to athletes, brands and leagues bird getty

Sue Bird, Wasserman’s clientfake images

TFollowing and mark The Wasserman agency has few peers when it comes to making the business case for aligning women’s athletes and leagues with major corporate players.

By leaning into the women’s sports movement, long before it became fashionable, the agency has become a market leader.

Among the pioneering marketing, sponsorship, and equity contracts and campaigns endorsed and/or created by the agency in recent years:

Helping five-time Olympic medalist Simone Manuel secure a rider of inclusion, which requires underrepresented groups to have the opportunity to work with the company in a variety of ways, as part of an endorsement deal with swimwear manufacturer TYR Sport in 2018. Believed to be the first in sports with an inclusion rider.

Landing the first major shoe endorsement for an openly gay athlete in 2013 when Brittney Griner signed with Nike.

Bringing gender diversity to the Mountain Dew/PepsiCo skateboard endorsement roster for the first time with the addition of Mariah Duran in 2019.

Wasserman's influence on women's sports extends to athletes, brands and leagues griner getty

Brittney Griner, Wasserman’s clientfake images

Making maternity protection part of a major footwear and apparel contract for the first time, a provision included in WNBA star Maya Moore’s endorsement deal with Nike in 2018.

Representing four of the most prominent female athletes who have fought for equal pay: soccer standouts Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe of the US Women’s National Soccer Team; former WNBA MVP Nneka Ogwumike; and four-time Olympian and hockey medalist Hilary Knight.

Development of strategies, valuations and sponsorship programs with AT&T, Gatorade, the NWSL and the WNBA.

Form a partnership in 2020 with sports performance and analysis company Orreco to provide Wasserman athletes with access to a program that helps women maintain their sports performance during menstrual cycles through a combination of nutrition, recovery and analysis scientific. (Orreco had previously lined up with the 2019 World Cup-winning US women’s national soccer team.) Skater Duran worked with Orreco to better tailor her training and performance.

“Fairness and gender equality — it’s just smart business,” Wasserman Chairman and CEO Casey Wasserman told Sports Business Journal in an email interview. “It’s a symbiotic business model: when you have more diversity across the board and more accurate representation of your markets and opportunities, everyone wins.”

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In addition to Wasserman, SBJ interviewed seven agency executives who are deeply involved in women’s sports, representing brands, properties and many of the most prominent athletes, coaches and broadcasters in women’s sports.

All agreed that women’s sports have come a long way and offer exponential growth in interest, spending and revenue. And all agreed that much work remains to be done, including a much-needed push for more media coverage and better distribution of women’s sports leagues to make them more accessible to all.

“That’s the last kind of domino to fall, in my opinion,” said Elizabeth Lindsey, president of brands and properties for Wasserman.

Wasserman's influence on women's sports extends to athletes, brands and leagues group shot

Wasserman executives accept the 2022 Sports Business Award for Agency Creativity and Innovation.Marc Bryan-Brown

The colective

Through its female sports arm, Known as The Collective, Wasserman has mobilized its efforts to advance gender equity in sports leagues and properties through a combination of new and aggregate research. The Collective has formed partnerships with 21 universities to further research and understanding of all aspects of women’s athletics and the business of sports.

In addition to increasing the availability of information and measurement tools for women’s sports, The Collective includes Wasserman executives representing female athletes, as well as brands and properties involved in women’s sports.

Wasserman's influence on women's sports extends to athletes, brands and leagues duran getty

Mariah Duran, Wasserman’s clientfake images

Thayer Lavielle, Wasserman’s executive vice president, spearheaded the creation of The Collective. Among the many statistics she mentioned are the following: Female sports fans are 50% more likely to purchase a sponsor’s product than male sports fans, and are much more likely to recommend that sponsor to others . Those findings come from a sports study of women conducted last year by sports agency The Space Between and research firm Savanta.

Lavielle cited consistent findings that women increasingly wield greater economic power as they make the vast majority of financial and purchasing decisions in American households. Combined with the stronger bond between female sports fans and their favorite sports (it takes more effort to follow female leagues and female athletes because their media distribution tends to be less prominent), it echoed Lindsey’s belief that the true power of women’s sports lies in reducing decades of disparities in attention and exposure.

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“The challenge has been that the sports ecosystem has not caught up with [the growth of women’s sports], and that their sports aren’t available enough to watch,” Lavielle added. “Viewership will increase, sponsorship will increase attendance, merchandise sales will increase. Those are four key barometers of the health of any sports industry. And so we have to keep pushing the audience to have this kind of trickle down effect on all these other elements.”

all about the audience

female sports properties and athletes, out of necessity, he spent years establishing outspoken stances on social and human rights issues that have suddenly become focal points for many consumers, especially millennials and Gen Zers. Research shows they want to know what brands believe and, just as importantly, what they’re doing on social issues: women’s rights, LGBTQ protection, racial equity, etc.

“It all starts with the audience,” Lindsey said. “Forget sports. So, when a client of a brand comes to us and wants to know where he should invest his money, I don’t just watch sports, I start with [the target consumer].”

Lindsey said she directs clients to answer internal questions: Who are you as a brand? Who are you trying to reach? What are you trying to say? And what do you need to achieve?

Once those questions are answered, it becomes much clearer which direction or directions to consider.

“What’s interesting to me about women’s sports is that there’s a lot more flexibility and commitment inherent,” Lindsey added. “It’s cheaper? From time to time, yes. But is that the only reason to be there? I don’t care if something costs me a dollar or a hundred dollars if it’s ineffective. I’d rather not spend the dollar.”

Increased effectiveness and efficiency are the key ingredients that brands need to understand about women’s sports. Shelley Pisarra, Wasserman’s executive vice president of global strategy and analytics, noted that, in most cases, it’s less crowded than men’s sports. “Even if you like multiple women’s sports, the chances of them overlapping are pretty slim,” Pisarra said. “You can be totally dedicated to that.”

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The power of the athlete’s star

Lindsay Colas, executive vice president of talent and The Collective, and Dan Levy, executive vice president of The Collective and Olympics, migrated to Wasserman more than a decade ago. They knew each other as friendly rivals representing basketball royalty: Tails with Diana Taurasi and Levy counting Sue Bird as a client. Levy joined Wasserman in 2006; Tails followed in 2009.

Wasserman's influence on women's sports extends to athletes, brands and leagues colas levy

Lindsay Colas and Dan Levy represent some of the agency’s highest-profile female athletes.wassermann

They have since come together to focus on representing female athletes. In addition to Bird and Taurasi, his clients include Griner, LPGA golfers Juli Inkster and Morgan Pressel, Olympic champion swimmer Katie Ledecky, retired soccer star Mia Hamm, and current USWNT player Tobin Heath, among many. others.

In February, seven-time WNBA All-Star Griner was arrested at the Moscow airport on charges of possession of cannabis oil. She is still in Russian custody. The US State Department said on May 4 that it considers Griner’s arrest a case of wrongful detention.

Colas, Griner’s agent, said that while the situation is dire, it points to the ongoing issue of gender equality in sports. Griner was returning to play in a Russian women’s league, where players earn much higher salaries, during the WNBA offseason.

In a Los Angeles Times essay published in April, Colas wrote: “So while [Griner’s] detention has risen to the top of [the] news for its geopolitical relevance, supercharged by celebrity, at its most vulnerable is a story of gender pay disparity here in the United States.”

Making those kinds of connections on topics that resonate in a larger context will continue to benefit brands that forge ties to women’s sports, Lavielle said.

“Exist [so many] cultural topics that women are naturally leaning into and where our talent can also start to make some noise,” she added. “Which we fully support.”

Erik Spanberg writes for the Charlotte Business Journal, an affiliate publication.