The United States Women’s National Team has the power to dominate summer soccer coverage in the U.S. better than any other national team – men or women. Driven by their success on the pitch and always growing list of star players, the women have been able to captivate American audiences during the big summer tournaments, such as the Women’s World Cup and Olympics. They do so by being likable, inspiring and most importantly great on the pitch.
As big as the 2014 Men’s World Cup Final, 2016 Euros Final, 2016 Copa America Final were, they all failed to attain TV audiences as big as the USWNT did in their Women’s World Cup Final victory over Japan in 2015. Last July, 26.7M people in the U.S. watched on TV as the women earned their third World Cup Trophy – the largest audience to ever tune into a soccer game in the United States. The ladies even beat out all the NBA Finals games to become the fifth highest viewed non-NFL sporting event of 2015.
In addition to pulling massive TV audiences, the women rack in the social media follows. A little over two weeks before they started their Olympic play, the 18 players on the roster had an average of over 300,000 Twitter followers and 500,000 Instagram followers. These numbers are sure to rise across the board for all players over the course of the tournament and we will most likely see the “breakout star” of the team receive a massive jump. 18-year-old Mallory Pugh, who is playing in her first tournament with the National Team, has already jumped from 25,100 Twitter followers to 36,500 and from 94,800 Instagram followers to 138,000.
The influence and draw these women have is massive and only just beginning. So, whom do these women have influence over? Of course, the team pulls in adult support groups, like most top-level soccer teams in the world. What is really appealing and sets the USWNT apart from most, if not all, soccer teams in the world is the support and love they receive from young girls. There are over 2 million youth girls playing soccer in the United States, who look up to members of the USWNT and hope their future may look similar to that of Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd or Mallory Pugh. No matter where the USWNT is playing in the U.S., there will be swarms of preteen and teenage girls with their families at the game to watch their idols play.
As a former youth soccer player, who spent this summer interning at Gilt Edge Soccer Marketing and the Chicago Red Stars, of the National Women’s Soccer League, I have been apart of soccer, specifically women’s soccer for most of my life. I used to be in the crowd of youth soccer players decked out in Mia Hamm gear flocking to USWNT games with their parents. I continue to attend USWNT games, mostly still with my parents, but have grown into an adult supporter. Although my time idolizing the USWNT members has passed, it intrigues me to see preteen and teenage girls idolizing the new generation of USWNT members for the same reasons I did years ago.
On July 9, the USWNT took on South Africa at Soldier Field in Chicago in an Olympic tune-up game. We attended the game and talked to these girls and their families, in addition to adult supporters, about what specifically appeals to them about the team they love so much. As seen in the video, fans are drawn into the USWNT for many reasons, including their skill level, teamwork and work ethic. All of these traits give them a platform to inspire and teach young girls, who view them as role models.
The way fans in the video describe members of the USWNT as role models, genuinely good people, and winners is a powerful opportunity for many brands. According to Alex Morgan’s website, she has 12 sponsors, including some of the top brands in world like Nike, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s. Morgan and her teammates can help brands reach a demographic untouched by other professional sports teams and personalities.
Preteen and teenage girls who play soccer relate and lookup to members of the USWNT, and they trust the powerful voices on the USWNT. This trust has been created from the USWNT members always showing an appreciation for their fans, specifically the young girls, who see the members fighting for equality that will directly benefit their future. The constantly growing fan base these women have from their success in tournaments and genuine personalities has created an opportunity for all types of brands to reach this very attractive demographic.
One fear brands may have when looking to partner with women’s professional soccer players is the lack of year-round exposure. The Olympics and World Cup create a powerful stage for the USWNT, but only happen once every four years. There is a viewpoint that the women then fade out of public eye during the off years and lose their platform. The National Women’s Soccer League (created in 2012) and exhibition US Soccer matches must fill these void.
Many people know about the huge influence the USWNT has over young girls in this country during big tournaments, but fewer know about the influence these same professional players and many others have on a more local level through the NWSL. The NWSL, which is currently in the middle of their fourth season, is home to USWNT members when they are not on National Team duty. The nine team league features rosters filled with USWNT members, top international players and players fighting to earn their call-up.
In Chicago, we hit up a Red Stars’ game to ask the same question we did at the USWNT game earlier in the month – what appeals to you about women’s professional soccer. It is no surprise that the answers are extremely similar. The fans echo the ability of professional women soccer players to inspire and teach young girls.
Even though the NWSL does not reach as many adult fans in all markets as the USWNT, the most attractive fan group for marketers remains, and there is no better place to reach this segment than through the more constant, local level created by the NWSL. The NWSL provides a one of a kind place for brands to reach youth girls on a week-by-week basis, instead of once every few years.