The U.S. women’s soccer team is crushing it on the field, winning its first three FIFA World Cup matches by a combined score of 18-0, but who—besides Alex Morgan—will collect after the tournament?
This year’s FIFA World Cup has generated more buzz, more content, and more dollars for female footballers than any women’s World Cup before. With an expected one billion viewers of the tournament globally, as defending champs, Team USA’s mixture of familiar faces and newcomers have racked up plenty of paid partnerships.
Most are smaller social media deals, for unpublicized amounts, but such linkups could pave the way for bigger, long-term partnerships. There’s Mallory Pugh sitting in a BMW; Megan Rapinoe plugging sports drink BodyArmor and serving as a VISA brand ambassador; and Lindsey Horan noshing on Chipotle. There’s a whole-team effort plugging Hulu’s live sports.
Plus, the team has a compelling off-field agenda, where winning could propel women’s athletics globally. In March, 28 players filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation, citing lower pay and unequal working conditions. That move, too, has drawn corporate support. Sports bar Luna has promised to pay each woman on the roster $31,250 to compensate for the bonus difference paid to men versus women who made the World Cup team.
“The World Cup and the Olympics put the sport under a microscope,” said Jeff Curtin, managing director of sports marketing firm IPZ and head of its soccer practice. The firm does not have any clients playing in the World Cup. “From an individual perspective, this is the moment to capitalize.” While Curtin noted endorsement deals on the men’s side are “exponentially larger” (top-endorsed male footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, for example, made $47 million in 2018), he emphasized “the women’s side is growing.”
Brands have a “great opportunity to leverage this women’s team and not just superstars like Alex Morgan,” said Jessica Giordano, senior vice president of client consulting and service for GMR, a marketing firm that connects brands with athletes. “There are a lot of powerful individual stories.”
Two things will help catapult players, Giordano said: Having a “magical moment in the World Cup” and having the business acumen afterward to capitalize in an authentic, personal way.
Dishing marketing deals
With the U.S. team advancing to the knock-out round of 16, which starts June 22, here’s who has the potential to cash in big:
First, the obvious.
Alex Morgan (Twitter 3.6M, Instagram 6.4M: The 29-year-old striker, lead plaintiff on the discrimination lawsuit, strides ahead of her teammates in having built a personal brand worth an estimated $3 million. In addition to endorsements from Nike, Coca-Cola, Secret, Chapstick, and others, Morgan has a book series, and an Amazon series. But considering what other leading male athletes of similar appeal command (Roger Federer recently inked a $300 million, 10-year deal with Uniqlo), there’s lots more room for Morgan. Curtin sees her as a fit for Lululemon, Athleta or any other athleisure brand. Recently, VW named her brand ambassador for its Atlas SUV. As for magic tournament moments to propel her business? Check. She notched five goals (a World Cup record-tying performance) in the first U.S. match against Thailand. Another partner: Beats by Dr. Dre.
Carli Lloyd (Twitter 836K, Instagram 918K: The veteran forward and team co-captain is off to a strong start, scoring three goals in the tournament so far. Hat-trick heroics in the 2015 World Cup final made her iconic and netted her an estimated $366,000 including all bonuses and appearance fees. Partners: Nike, Johnson & Johnson, Yolked, and others.
Julie Ertz (Twitter 261K, Instagram 639K): A feisty and physical midfielder, Ertz is a “known entity for U.S. soccer on her second World Cup,” Curtin said. Like Morgan, Ertz has a branded presence that extends beyond big soccer moments. She launched the Ertz Family Foundation based on empowering kids through faith and sports, with her husband, Eagles tight end Zach Ertz. The foundation is backed by big brands like Marriott and Dunkin Donuts. Partners: Johnson & Johnson, California Almonds, Secret, and others.
Megan Rapinoe (Twitter 442K, Instagram 598K): An outspoken activist for equality, Rapinoe is a World Cup veteran with a distinctive look: Short, side-swept icy blonde hair and her own unisex apparel brand, Re-Inc., launched with teammates Christen Press and Tobin Heath. She has the potential to draw in fashion brands that’ve never before sponsored soccer, or maybe any sport. “What do I want to be when I grow up?” she muses in an Instagram video after showing off a closet stuffed with colorful kicks. “A fashion designer.” Partners: VISA, Hulu, Body Armor, and others.
Branding limelight newcomers
Beyond these familiar faces, who will emerge as bankable stars? Here are top contenders:
Lindsey Horan (Twitter 73K Instagram 146K): Horan scored in the third minute against Sweden, the strongest competition the U.S. has faced yet. And she’s got a compelling personal story about forgoing college to move to France at age 18 and play for Paris St. Germain. “Lindsey Horan is already making waves in her first two appearances and the buzz surrounding her World Cup debut makes her a strong candidate for the breakout star of the World Cup,” said Mike Heiman, senior director of editorial operations, which has 11 photographers covering the tournament. Partners: Adidas, Chipotle, Hulu, and others.
Mallory Pugh (Twitter 80K, Instragram 377K: While older teammates drop in on social media to post game shots or plug products, 21 year-old Pugh’s a digital native and has cultivated a robust presence on Instagram. Getting regular minutes both as a starter and sub, Pugh is “very marketable,” Curtin said, noting her youth and potential to appear in several more World Cups. Partners: BMW, Gatorade, Google, Listerine, and others.
Rose Lavelle (Twitter 39K, Instagram 99K): Incredibly quick with a killer lefty shot, Lavelle, 24, has racked up two goals in the World Cup so far. Like Pugh, she has an every-girl appeal, talking on social media about Harry Potter and her bulldog Wilma. Heiman says Getty is seeing a shift in more commercial brands seeking editorial shots to meet consumers’ interest in “imagery that is authentic.” Because the camera’s catching Lavelle’s every scowl and celebration, the budding star seems poised to deliver on both fronts: the goals and the authentic moments. Partners: New Balance, Chipolte, Hulu, Secret, and others.
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