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Have You Heard of ‘Em?

I’m hoping that at least half of the sports fans and future sports business players and sports agents out there are aware that the FIFA Women’s World Cup has been going on for the past couple of weeks now. If you watch Sportscenter in the morning I suppose you’ve got no choice but to be aware of the tournament though, since they’ve been showing World Cup matches on both ESPN and ESPN2 rather than the usually scheduled shows (that’s an entirely different issue though).

In any case, the U.S. Women’s team, coached by Greg Ryan has been making some waves once again as they cruised into the semi-finals after beating on England yesterday (3 – 0). They’ve also got Abby Wambach who is debatably the best female soccer player out of the States since Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly who, at 36, has over 330 international starts under her belt, which is remarkable in and of itself. Perhaps more interestingly though, depending on who you’re asking of course, is this Nike campaign that has been airing for the past couple of weeks as well. If you ask me, the guy harassing the team is terribly awkward creepy but Nike is right on the money with the claim that the U.S. women’s soccer team is “the best team you’ve never heard of”. Since that’s the case, why is Nike putting money into airing these commercials at all? There was a time, 1999 to be exact (yea, with the whole Brandi Chastain sports-bra deal) where soccer popularity in the U.S. was climbing swiftly amongst young girls and sponsors flocked to the team; but the same can’t be said for this year’s team. While they were apparently favored to win the World Cup before it even began, I not only had no idea that ‘the Cup’ was this year, let alone this month; but I had no clue who was on the team or how good they were. The big motivation I can see for Nike is next year’s Olympics and a prediction that a win for the U.S. this month will get the nation on the bandwagon leading into the Beijing Games with a win there acting as a catalyst for another women’s soccer popularity surge. Remember, for Nike it’s about who’s buying the gear, rather than who is (or isn’t) watching the sport. That’s quite a few hypotheticals though and something tells me that Nike doesn’t like to gamble too much with its advertising dollars, especially considering that not only is the upside not guaranteed, but it doesn’t seem to be THAT big of an upside. I’m definitely up for hearing any ideas or any inside knowledge if anybody has some since the numbers behind Nike’s current campaign don’t seem to be out in the open.

Back on the soccer side of things though; the games are actually pretty entertaining to watch and the team is pretty darn good…Thursday’s semi-final will be against Brazil who won their quarter-final matchup against Australia today and it should be a good one!

Samyr Laine

4 replies on “Have You Heard of ‘Em?”

I do agree with the statement that the Women’s World Cup this year has not received as much attention as it has in the past. There are many reasons for that, such as the fact that the United States is not the host country (which we were in 1999). Also, since the games are played in China, they are aired in the U.S. in the mornings, when most potential viewers are either at work or school. I do agree with the Nike commercial statement that the U.S. women’s soccer team is, “the best team you’ve never heard of,” because this team is new and most of the players are different than the famed 1999 Women’s World Cup team. That team was extremely popular, and drew an audience of about 90,000 (I being one of them) to watch them play in the finals against China. Their popularity seemed to stem from the fact that big-name stars like Mia Hamm and Michelle Akers were on the team, and that the U.S. was the host for the tournament that year. However, I feel that it is unfair to say that Nike hopes that this Cup and next year’s Beijing Olympics will be a “catalyst for another women’s soccer popularity surge,” because I do not feel that girl’s interest in soccer has waned since 1999. Today, there are more than 1.54 million registered girls playing soccer at various levels in the United States. That is more than the next fourteen countries combined. So to say that Nike and the U.S. needs this women’s team to win the Cup for soccer to become more popular, I think is a falsehood. The sport seems to be doing just fine, and a win would not hurt. In fact, it definitely would lead to more excitement in the future. However, if they did not win, the future popularity of women’s soccer in the United States would not wane.

I agree with you 100%; grassroots soccer is alive and well in the U.S. But to say that they’re hoping it’s a catalyst for ANOTHER surge doesn’t preclude the fact that they’re currently making money off of the 1.54 million registered girls playing soccer right? As Gordon Gekko said, “greed is good” and I have no doubt that Nike would relish the fact that the team’s success this year and next year resulted in an increase from 1.54 million to 2 million girls or even more since they’re always after more sales and more people using their products. That’s just what businesses are after. So to say that Nike isn’t hoping for another women’s soccer push from these two huge soccer events (the World Cup and the Olympics) simply because there are a good number of people playing now would be to assume that they’re not after growth in their sales and revenue numbers…and we know that’s not the case.

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