US Women's Soccer Team Not That Marketable
CNBC Sports Business Reporter
CNBC's James Kaminsky contribued to this report.
Soccer fever has hit this country. Well, as much as soccer fever can. The dramatic header by Abby Wambach, which eventually led to a shootout victory over Brazil last Sunday, has plenty of people drinking the marketing Kool-Aid.
Some even said the team's beautiful goalie Hope Solo would be on her way to making millions. Um, what? No.
Is there significant interest in Wednesday's game against France? Yes. In a Twitter poll I took of my followers, with 300 people voting, 81 percent said that would be keeping track of the game live.
In a gloomy summer featuring NFL and NBA lockouts, sports fans everywhere are desperately seeking for a team to root for and these women feel like the right choice. Solo, who had about 25,500 Twitter followers when Sunday's game ended, now has more than 70,000 followers.
Mia Hamm is the household name when it comes to women’s soccer, but who can name an endorsement deal she had aside from Nike or Gatorade? The problem is that when the final World Cup game is played on Sunday, the ladies have a ghost of a stage to return to.
That's why the potential for marketers to use someone like Solo after the World Cup ends is limited. Solo plays for the magicJack of the Women's Professional Soccer League, which drew a reported 1,224 fans to its first home game in Boca Raton in April. Some games have drawn closer to 500 fans. The WUSA lasted three seasons (from 2000 to 2003) and lost $100 million and the WPS—formed in 2009— is on life support.
"If they win out, there’s going to be a halo for them and some additional endorsement opportunities", said Peter Stern of Strategic, a New York based marketing firm. "But they clearly have to find a way to stay in the spotlight. The Dream Team went out and won on the Olympic level, but then they returned to the highest level in the world in the NBA. These women don’t have that".
Stern says he believes that some companies will take a shot at Solo, but her appeal is limited since, unlike Maria Sharapova or Serena Williams, there's not a schedule of her guaranteed future appearances. "I'm just not drinking 'the tea' all the way," Stern said.
Just look at softball player Jennie Finch. People said she had the millionaire looks and she had the gold medal from the 2004 Olympics. She went pro in the National Pro Fastpitch league, which we had to look up to find out exactly what it was called. Finch all but disappeared from the marketing scene with no legitimate platform.
Stern believes that the best thing for a company would be to latch on to someone like Solo and hope that she gets involved in alternative programming, like a reality show, in order to retain fans and attention.
"The media environment has changed," Stern said. "There’s so much programming today that exists that allows athletes to stay relevant, while being themselves."
One thing is for sure, if the US team falls short of winning the Cup, they can kiss any sort of endorsement deal goodbye. But even if they bring home the trophy, they still might be sitting on the marketing sidelines.
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