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WNBA: Endorsements and Marketability

WNBA logoThe WNBA season officially kicked off on May 15, 2010. I was very excited to see Lindsay Whalen and Monica Wright play at Target Center this past Sunday. A couple of weeks ago, I attended an event the Minnesota Lynx held at the Mall of America to kick off their 2010 season with the fans. It was a pleasure to chat with Monica Wright, Lindsay Whalen, and others.

Shortly after the event, I begin experiencing “light bulb” moments with considerable questions. Why are the women of the WNBA and “star players” not securing more endorsement contracts? If the players obtain more endorsements, will it support the WNBA brand more effectively in communities? How can agent advocates secure more endorsements for their female clients?

Women are the leading consumers of products and services in various industries such as retail, automotive, social media, and even sports merchandise (i.e. NFL). Research over the last ten years proves there has been a shift of purchasing power in American households. More women are heading households, more women are career oriented, more women are becoming entrepreneurs, and more women have the power to make choices that affect the family. Teenagers are big consumers too.

The WNBA specifically directs marketing strategies to women and families in metropolitan cities. The market is segmented to include women and the community. The emotional appeal is the feminist type of mentality.

Based on this information, one would think players in the WNBA could attain a significant amount of additional monies via endorsements. However, it is not true.

If we examine women’s tennis, the endorsement contracts are very lucrative (female golfers are not far behind). For example, Maria Sharapova leads female athletes in endorsements with an estimated at $26 million (Nike, Sony, Canon, Motorola, and Pepsi). Serena Williams is second with an estimated $14 million (Hewlett-Packard, Nike, and Kraft) and Venus Williams is third with an estimated $13 million (PowerAde, Nike, Wrigley’s, and Reebok). Some of us can read between the lines and conclude Maria Sharapova has secured more endorsements due to her physical appearance. She has not won as many majors or titles as Serena Williams.

Consequentially, physical appearance does impact athletes’ opportunities of securing endorsements. It is called the athlete’s marketability. The marketability depends on tangible and intangible factors. Level of skill and success are tangible factors. Image, charisma, physical appearance, and personality are the intangible factors. The intangible factors are the consumers’ perceptions.

So, when we look at the women of the WNBA; many of the women are physically attractive, some are mothers, some are very charismatic with huge personalities, and most are skillful athletes. Candace Parker is the first name that comes to mind.

She is attractive, wife, mother, and personality with notable image. She is believed to be the new face of the WNBA. Unfortunately, I found numerous articles questioning whether Candace Parker’s first pregnancy would hurt the WNBA. It was deliberated because she is the “face” of the league, but had to take a maternity leave for most of the 2009 season to give birth. Even though Candace would not start the 2009 season with the team, I thought this would be an enormous opportunity for the league to expand marketing to a broader audience.  The  opportunity and possibility of Candace’s agent securing more endorsement contracts with corporations targeting women and mothers could have been developed.

Agent advocates need to understand clients’ marketability for potential placement as spokespeople and for obtaining endorsement contracts. We need to understand the league’s or organization’s marketing strategy. If a client is marketable and wishes to seek endorsements, what organizations can we approach that are supporters and an integral part of the marketing strategy?

Hence, leading us to ponder more questions such as: what companies or corporations are considered the “best fit” for a client seeking endorsements or sponsorships? Is the client a good match for an organization inquiring about a spokesperson? Is the relationship good for the client’s image?

Marketability is important for endorsements and sponsorships. I am shocked a majority of women in the WNBA have not acquired major endorsement deals. Hopefully, agent advocates will begin to initiate this change. We can improve the visibility of our clients and increase the revenue stream for our clients and organizations.

4 replies on “WNBA: Endorsements and Marketability”

Your general point about the dearth of opportunities makes sense. However, you seem misguided in that you conclude that you hope the agents will begin to initiate change. I can assure you that everyone who represents WNBA players would love to initiate the change. It is the marketing side – the corporations and media buyers, etc. – who need to initiate the change. To use a cliche, if no one’s buying, no one is selling.

Ok…I understand your point. Questions: Do you expect the corporations to call you inquiring about the client as a spokesperson? Or, do you get out there and promote your client to secure endorsements? Should or does an agent wait around to see who knocks at the door of opportunity? Or, do you create an opportunity by networking and pitching proposals with executives of corporations?

I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota which is the headquarters to major corporations such as General Mills, Target, Ameriprise, Buffalo Wild Wings, etc. Even before the economy went into the tank, I didn’t see Lynx players (to say the least) in local advertisements.

Maybe corporations don’t know or understand the benefits of using female WNBA basketball players (whom are mothers, parents, daughters, etc) for endorsements. Maybe they haven’t realized the connection?

However, I refuse to believe it can’t happen and this challenge can’t be overcome whether it’s the agent initiating the change or the corporation. These women are consumers and I personally believe their athletic marketability reaches a broader audience than Maria Sharapova or Serena Williams.

I understand your point but Jason and Bobby seem to have the better argument. Corporations won’t come calling and the agent needs to be the one initiating endorsement deals. It’s their job. However, the reality is that the agent can network and pitch all they want but they ultimately need a buyer. The buyer is the corporation or company. The situation may change at one point, but currently no one is going to be knocking at WNBA player’s doors to be spokespersons. The league has minimal exposure and local companies are not willing to invest money in something that no one is watching. Maybe the agent should be working on trying to improve the status of the league through their networking and pitching. Perhaps then the endorsements will come.

Jason pretty much nailed it. The bottom line is nobody cares about the WNBA. Look at the ratings for all the major golf and tennis tournaments compared to an WNBA game. Women’s professional basketball in the states is not a viable league. Without the NBA’s support, it would have folded long ago like all the women’s soccer league that were going to do so great after the World Cup success.

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