Women in the Sport Collective Marketplace

In terms of sports merchandise and memorabilia, what does your pre-teen daughter have to display in her room? What jersey is she wearing? Who’s emblazoned on the poster she’s hanging? Is our business collectively making it easy for her to celebrate the women changing every game?
Truth is: while women’s sports are being played at a higher level of performance than ever before, marketing, licensing and awareness are still at or near zero.
You know, or should know, that more women are playing sports, and more women are watching sports. I’ve been following this upward trend since the 1990s when I signed soccer great Mia Hamm to a memorabilia contract. When I was growing up, girls who were into sports were thought of as “tomboys”; not anymore. Now girls of eleven or twelve have already been playing sports for years. Girls’ youth soccer leagues are bigger across the country than boys’ leagues.
There are so many role models, great women athletes – and I’m not just throwing around the term “great” – who are transforming professional sports. Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi are unbelievable on the court. Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan are as great soccer players as any who play the game.
When these women play, they don’t play around! They are playing for real, and that needs to be respected and celebrated. There have been women athletes who blazed the trail, going back to Nancy Lieberman and Billie Jean King and further back to Babe Didrikson Zaharias, but as far as support for women’s sports and female athletes, we’re still in the infancy of the business. You can get merchandise right now for Messi or Ronaldo; what about Christian Press and Samantha Mewis?
At this point, we need to be aligned to create opportunities for the women of sports as we have for male athletes – even if we don’t do it in the same way we have in the past. In fact, it’s become clear that what we create with and in support of women will be their own, new thing – and not just the female version of the male sports industry.

To advance these opportunities – to create a business around the women of sport and expand the sports market – we need to pursue specific opportunities.
First, we can embrace advocacy and not comparison. We need more people to be open-minded and not expect the women’s game to be the same as men. We need more people to understand the value of women’s sports. Value of the play is more relatable to the average consumer. You can see yourself in that game. So let that be what it is, and we can celebrate women’s and men’s sports in different ways – with enough love for both to thrive. This means we need more people of high stature to embrace and invest in the game and let their voices be heard. Males and females alike need to get behind this and to respect the quality of it.
Next, we can understand changing generational cultures. When there are a lot of older adults who look at women who play sports as tomboys, we need a shift in perspective current with the times. We need people to understand that there is more to sports participation that dismissive labels imply, and that past language and behaviors are not going to be the reference point for forward movement and change. Further, coverage of women’s sports needs to become more consistent to allow for greater consumption.
And once the media is in place, including magazine shows about the woman’s journey, we need more older people to give womens sports a look through fresh eyes.
Finally, we can provide equity without imitation. When it comes to creating change and progress, women need new things, not the same thing. Specifically, not the same thing as men, but packaged as “the women’s version.” We’re working to lead by example, teaming with Wasserman’s women’s organization The Collective to create The Collective Marketplace, which is part of Athlete Direct and features women’s sport items from jerseys to balls to signed photos, a segment that is, to say the least, underserved. We’re bringing new ideas to this marketplace as well, exploring the journey of young women from girlhood to professional sports.
Ultimately, it comes down to respect and accountability that will lead to growth and opportunity – for true celebration. It reminds me of when, not long ago, a women’s group was giving me an award. I asked my daughter Nicole if she would present it to me at their fundraising event. She didn’t hesitate to answer, “No. You haven’t done enough for women. I think you should refuse the award, do more for women, and when you’ve shown that you’re committed to helping women, I’ll give you an award.” My kid is tough, but she was right and she inspired me.
We’re not at the point where we can celebrate that it’s done. And the focus will need to be on women, as they’re leading the way for what’s new in this business.
Let’s all get the jerseys. Let’s all hang the posters. Let’s all cheer on, and help build something new.

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