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Nike Aims to Better Support Women’s Basketball with Apparel, Action

Anya Alvarez

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Photo Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Women have begun to receive more recognition within sports, but the dollar figures have yet to catch up. According to a 2018 Statista report, women’s sports receive only 0.4% of total sports sponsorships. In a market where global sports sponsorships were worth $106.8 billion, just $427 million was spent on women’s sports.

One of the companies aiming to improve those conditions is Nike, particularly for women’s basketball. But how, and what does support for growth of the game actually look like?

They aimed to answer these questions during a panel at the WNBA draft held at Nike HQ in New York City, where WNBA legend Sheryl Swoopes, Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird, New York Liberty guard Kia Nurse and Vice President and General Manager of Nike Women Rosemary St. Clair shared their opinions on how women’s basketball can be better supported.

Nike hopes to cement itself as the go-to brand in the space and has a number of strategies for doing so. There is the apparel itself, which runs the gamut from new uniforms better designed to fit women’s bodies to re-releasing Swoopes’ signature shoe last August. There’s advertising, such as featuring players like Bird in their recent “Dream Crazier” spot, which Sinclair said was all about “[wanting] to show [female athletes] in a thoughtful and more meaningful way and elevate them.”

But they’re supplementing those measures through deeper work, such as investing money behind the scenes into grassroots basketball programs for girls and partnering with organizations like FIBA to grow the game internationally for women.

“We’ve been using our brand as a catalyst since the inception of Title IX, and that gives us the area of expertise of what we need to do as we continue to evolve in the women’s sports space,”  said St. Clair, who has been with the company for almost 25 years.

The brand has featured female athletes for generations, including names such as track stars Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Florence Griffith-Joyner, soccer legend Mia Hamm, tennis star Monia Seles, and WNBA standout Lisa Leslie. Nike has also invested money in girls’ athletic programs across the country and campaigned for women in sports as far back as 1995, when the company released a 30-second spot highlighting girls between the ages of 5 through 15 called “If You Let Me Play,” which discussed the positive social change that can take place when girls have access to sports.

Swoopes believes that representation within global brands is essential to empowering the next generation of women. She recalled a recent interaction with a 16-year-old girl who told her about her goal to get drafted to the WNBA and become the face of Nike.

“When I was 16, I didn’t have that dream because I had no idea that [it] was even possible,” Swoopes said. “Now these girls see it as a possibility to be part of brands like Nike.”

The company hopes to boost those efforts even further through Game Growers, which fosters partnerships with middle school and WNBA and NBA teams, culminating in a brainstorming session that evaluates different ways girls’ basketball participation can be improved on at the local level. Participating schools then share their ideas nationally to help inspire programming across U.S. cities.

But while Nike spent almost $10 billion on athlete endorsements in 2016, Nike declined to disclose to Front Office Sports how much of its annual budget is dedicated to female athletes or supporting women’s leagues and teams. When asked about possible shortcomings and areas for improvement regarding their financial support for female athletes, St. Clair told Front Office Sports by email that the company “take[s] pride in standing up for our values and empowering women to have an equal opportunity in sport” before going on to cite the Let Me Play campaign as well as a longstanding support of pay equity in the United States.  

While the messaging around Nike’s new endeavors is centered on women’s empowerment, it’s also smart business to make stronger appeals to women. Participation in women’s sports is at an all-time high, and women’s college basketball has gained popularity over the years, with college players developing strong followings on social media and viewership slowly increasing overall. Just last season, the WNBA saw an increase in viewership of 50 percent in women. Momentum is building, and not investing in women’s basketball would seem largely out of touch with the cultural trends taking place in women’s sports.

“It’s finally being exposed of what it means to be a woman, what we go through, the good and the bad,” Bird said.  “Companies like Nike are starting to realize, ‘Wow, this is a group of people that we haven’t been supporting enough, and there’s more we can do.’”

Irrespective of the company’s motivations, however, Nike is taking tangible steps to grow women’s basketball. Bird believes merely showcasing more female athletes’ stories allows companies like Nike to better realize the value of female athletes and invest their money accordingly. As more of them do, the ultimate winners will be future generations of female athletes.

“We might not understand the effect and impact of investing in this space for another ten or fifteen years, because these things take time,” Bird said. “But we have to invest in these girls if we want to grow the game.”

 

Sponsorship

Teams and Leagues Cozy Up to CBD Brands

The sports world is beginning to bring CBD companies into the fold, marking a significant milestone for the CBD industry.

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Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else.

As teams and leagues look for emerging partner opportunities, CBD brands are showcasing that they aren’t afraid to spend when it comes to sports partnerships. 

While not really a thought in the minds of professionals more than a year ago, CBD presents both a revenue opportunity and an interesting challenge for teams and leagues.

How did this happen?

Before the enactment of the new nationwide 2018 Farm Bill. there wasn’t much mainstream conversation around CBD. Since then, the category has exploded across both retail and sports.

When the bill passed, it legalized industrial hemp by removing it from the controlled substances list and allowing tribes, states, and territories to establish regulatory structures within their boundaries that allow farmers and ranchers to produce a high-value cash crop while retaining federal farm program benefits that were previously not allowed.

Teams and leagues are starting to find interest…

Just this past week, the Portland Pickles became the first baseball team with a CBD partner.

Before that, the Big3 signed a deal with cbdMD that made the brand the official CBD partner of the upstart basketball league. 

And, ahead of this weekend’s Indianapolis 500, Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports announced its partnership with DEFY – a CBD-based sports performance drink.

The only problem with this partnership is that the drivers of the car can’t drink the drink due to the fact that CBD is on IndyCar’s banned substance list

Who’s sponsoring what?

Below you will find a list of some of the CBD and cannabis-related partnerships that have been signed recently.

Las Vegas Lights / NuWu Cannabis Marketplace

Big3 / cbdMD

Portland Pickles / Lazarus Naturals

Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports / DEFY

Jonathan Byrd’s Racing / Liquid Gold Processing

RC Enerson / Craft 1861

It’s not just teams and leagues…

While the bigger deals might get more attention, CBD companies have also struck deals with athletes. 

For example, Bubba Watson has a deal with cbdMD, the same brand that is sponsoring the Big3.

Before Watson, Scott McCarron signed an endorsement deal with Functional Remedies, a hemp manufacturing company.

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Are NFL Jersey Ads Next?

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May 15, 2019; Berea, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns linebacker Sione Takitaki (44) runs a drill during organized team activities at the Cleveland Browns training facility. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else.

Jersey ads aren’t an unfamiliar sight at NFL practices. Brands like Lecom and Hyundai are visible on the practice jerseys of the Browns and Cardinals respectively.

The one place jersey ads haven’t shown up is in regular season games. 

Could that be changing anytime soon?

Speaking with SI, an NFL spokesman said, “Never say never, but there are no current plans to pursue or explore.”

With what SI estimates to be $224 million in revenue being left on the table by not having patches on the jerseys, why would the league not consider it? 

According to those inside the industry, the NFL is concerned about conflicts of interest between teams who may have patches of competitors of current partners for opposing teams.   

The NBA has found success…

The NBA launched its jersey patch program in 2017 and as of March of 2019, every team in the league found themselves with a patch on their jersey. 

According to Terry Lefton and John Lombardo of SBJ, the patch program has generated more than $150 million for the league.

Another important stat is that of the 30 team patch sponsors, 20 are doing business with NBA teams for the first time.

At this point, not having ads is more unusual…

Even MLB, considered the most traditional of sports leagues in the U.S., has experimented with sponsor patches since 2000. Of the major sports leagues in the U.S., here’s a look at which ones have ads on their game jerseys and which ones don’t. 

NBA: Yes

WNBA: Yes

MLS: Yes

NHL: No 

NFL: No

MLB: Yes (for special occasion games only – Mexico Series etc)

Internationally, teams are cashing in…

While soccer is somewhat different in that the advertising is not just a patch, but the primary part of a team’s uniform, the revenue potential can’t be argued. Here’s a look at what just five brands are paying international clubs, according to The 18.

Emirates / Real Madrid: $80 million per year 

Chevy / Man U: $68 million per year

Rakuten / Barcelona: $60 million per year

Emirates / Arsenal: $56 million per year

Yokohama / Chelsea: $51 million per year

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CohnReznick Sponsors a Dive Inside the Business of Baseball

Accounting firm CohnReznick shows the business of baseball in two video series with MLB, “Business of Baseball” and “Front Office Focus.”

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Photo Credit: Peter G. Aiken/USA TODAY Sports

Accounting firm CohnReznick is taking an authentic approach to its MLB sponsorship. Through a video series called Business of Baseball and Front Office Focus, CohnReznick lends its name to an inside look at professional baseball. The series is produced by MLB Network, where it airs, along with, MLB.com and CohnReznick’s website.

MLB confirmed CohnReznick as a sponsor of the video series to FOS. The two parties collaborate on ideas, but MLB declined to speak on the sponsorship further.

“Our team really wanted something that was authentic, not just a way to slap our name onto something, but to own something,” says Frank Longobardi, CEO, CohnReznick. “We are able to align some of our core values with what’s being talked about in Business of Baseball and Front Office Focus. That makes us feel good, as we felt we could drive content and value with our strengths.”

READ MORE: MLB Flies Under the Radar With Sponsor Patches

While service-oriented companies have sponsored sports for decades, it’s becoming more common for non-consumer brands to find ways to cut through the clutter,” says Joe Favorito, a sports marketing and communications consultant.

“These companies are tying to something that resonates,” Favorito says. “Consumers have millions of choices. If it comes down to personal choice, they remember the company for who their spokesperson is or the story being told.”

The Business of Baseball series launched during December’s Baseball Winter Meetings, where CohnReznick was the presenting sponsor of the meetings for MLB Network. Over the course of the video sponsorship, there will be approximately six Business of Baseball videos and up to 35 Front Office Focus clips through the season.

“They’re topics, like hospitality and security, that are the same types of things we deal with our clients,” Longobardi says. “We wanted to show similarities of how Major League teams go through some of the same things our clients go through.”

Each of the videos feature commentators and baseball executives. Front Office Focus highlights discussions with executives from the league’s 30 teams about issues ranging from team strategies to club operations, while Business of Baseball looks into how franchises transform the game through analytics and management, but also how they redefine the fan experience.

A recent episode, “The Business of Food,” featured a look at how food experiences now play into a fan’s trip to a ballpark., like a sit-down interview with Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer by CohnReznick Managing Partner Cindy McLoughlin talking about how the game day experience has evolved to include a culinary aspect. The restaurant industry is evolving inside and outside the ballpark.

“When you look at stadiums and games, it’s not just about baseball anymore,” McLoughlin says. “Fans expect an overall experience. People get to stadiums to stand in line, they need to get their Shack Burger.

“That led us to Danny Meyer to really peel back why it’s a benefit to him and how those synergies line up.”

The video topics originated in a brainstorming session featuring CohnReznick’s team and  MLB. The topics center around issues with innovation and analytics to elevate customer experience and retain loyalty. From these conversations, MLB could consider matching a team with a relevant topic.

“It puts us front and center with a really good brand,” Longobardi says of the partnership. “In any business, you want to align yourself with good organizations, and this relationship does that well and connects the right type of people we’re trying to attract, the C-Suite individuals to middle market to small public companies.”

READ MORE: The MLBPA Has Embraced Athlete-Driven Marketing

The sponsorship has allowed CohnReznick to provide clients, potential clients and employees with strong relationship building opportunities at games and events.

“It really has allowed us to spend some time with key clients and be able to spend quality time with our employees and enjoy ourselves,” Longobardi says. “We can more closely align MLB brand with our clients and our staff, and that makes it a unique experience.”

By tying in with behind the scenes content, CohnReznick hopes to resonate with clients beyond just a name on the screen.

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