Trying to build a girls licensing program around the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team is starting to look as difficult as winning the World Cup.
Even though the U.S. team’s triumph over the Chinese this summer drew more than 14 million viewers (the largest audience ever for a televised women’s sporting event), its players can be seen on TV serving as pitchmen for Gatorade, Nike and Quaker Oats, and millions of girls across the country are playing the sport at a grassroots level, the apparent critical mass for women’s soccer has yet to materialize into licensing opportunities for the players, either collectively or individually.
‘The bulk of the activity we’ve seen so far has been related to corporate endorsements and store appearances,’ says Sue Rodin, president of New York-based sports marketing firm Stars & Strategies, and agent to World Cup members Julie Foudy, Carla Overbeck and Tiffany Roberts. Lee Burke, VP of corporate development for SFX Sports Group, which represents the team, concurs. SFX recently brought on Toys `R’ Us to sponsor the team’s 12-city victory tour, which kicks off in October and will see the women go up against a group of international soccer all-stars in a series of exhibition games. TRU will be creating some tie-in merchandise to sell on-site at the games and through its stores, but so far that is the only related product making its way into the marketplace.
So, why aren’t potential licensees lining up? As a sports property, the problem with U.S. Women’s Soccer team is the same as it is for all teams or individuals who excel in one-off sporting events-there’s no promise of a sustained presence on TV, which would drive the sale of licensed merch, says Michael Lysko, senior director of consulting with Dallas-based sports marketing firm Corporate Marketing Associates. The only way to get that TV coverage, he adds, would come via the emergence of a professional women’s soccer league, which would give the players the venue to regularly showcase their talents and personalities. Though there are no plans to do so, it’s a point SFX’s Berke readily concedes. ‘There’s very few new sports that have received this level of exposure over the last 20 years. Creating a professional league would be the next logical step in capitalizing on all that appeal,’ says Berke.