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Women’s Soccer and the Seven-Figure Spot

Merry Michael Smith, Media Director at Big Communications

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In early 2022, following decades of support for women’s soccer, the United States Women's Soccer team filed a pay discrimination claim that yielded a game-changing agreement: requisite equal pay compared to male players. The public rose up in support on the heels of the release of LFG, the documentary dedicated to the case, a year prior. Brands followed suit; for example, millennial and Gen Z banking favorite Ally pledged equal ad spend between men’s and women’s sports to drive increased parity. The strategy worked. Women’s soccer in the United States has flourished and brands are reaping the benefits.

The 2023 Women’s World Cup marked rapid growth in ad spend. In the lead-up to the tournament, FIFA President, Gianni Infantino issued a sharp statement to broadcasters, urging them to “pay a fair price for women’s football, not just for the World Cup, but for women’s football in general, in all the countries, all the leagues, in all the competitions.” Advertisers heard his message. Per SportsPro Media, advertising for the tournament sold faster than it had “for any previous edition of the tournament thanks to increased interest in women’s sport and a greater number of matches”; 37 days ahead of kickoff, only 10% of ad revenue remained.

Last November, the National Women’s Soccer League announced a new four-year contract beginning in 2024 with CBS, ESPN, Prime Video and Scripps Sports. Valued at $240M, it marks an increase worth 40x the value of the previous deal. The power of female viewership has received increased recognition over the past six months; on the heels of a blockbuster Barbiecore summer, the triple threat of Taylor Swift, Patrick Mahomes, and Travis Kelce, paired with the possibility of a back-to-back championship for the Kansas City Chiefs, proved irresistible at the 2024 Super Bowl. 30-second spots went for a whopping $7,000,000, a natural uptick accelerated by the promise of an expanded viewership inclusive of millennial and GenZ women. 

With the attention of the female consumer at the forefront of the public consciousness, along with the natural rise of interest in women’s sports, we may see a seven-figure ad buy on the horizon for the 2027 Women’s World Cup. This potential reality means not only higher prices, but also increased likelihood of a certified major marketing moment, almost, if not wholly, on par with the Super Bowl, the Oscars, and the Olympics. Brands have an opportunity to harness this momentum through traditional buys and non-traditional marketing moments, tapping into the enthusiasm around women’s soccer – and women’s sports more broadly – to drive affinity. 

Think of how Johnnie Walker handled the 2023 Oscars. The brand took to the much-paparazzied Vanity Fair Oscars Party with its own red carpet, a patchwork of images related to seven female filmmakers: Ana Lily Amirpour, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Janicza Bravo, Christine Choy, Julie Dash, Wanuri Kahiu, and Claire Denis. This move served to promote female filmmakers in a year when men dominated the Best Director category, generating brand recognition and advocating for equity beyond the confines of a traditional ad buy. Per Ad Age: “Johnnie Walker, which is not an Oscars sponsor, will not run that ad or any others during Sunday’s broadcast on ABC. Instead, it focused on an experiential activation to prompt engagement, said Kelly [Sophie Kelly, senior VP of Diageo’s North American whisky portfolio]. ‘It’s not about creating ads, it’s about doing something that begets content and inspires people to get involved,’ she said.”

As the cost of a Women’s World Cup ad buy increases, so does brands’ power. A study by FIFPRO, the global professional footballers’ union, revealed last year that 29% of women players who responded said that they had not received any payments for World Cup-qualifying matches from their national teams. Brands investing in traditional ad buys have an opportunity to leverage their dollars to call for delivery on the promise of equity, forging a better future for women within and beyond the realm of soccer.


About Merry Michael Smith:

Merry Michael Smith is Media Director at Big Communications, where she leads media for Big's largest accounts spanning multiple industries including automotive, education, healthcare, retail and hospitality. With over 20 years of experience, Smith has a demonstrated history of working in the marketing and advertising industry, spanning media strategy, buying and management. Smith's work has been recognized by top industry programs, and she was named one of Ragan’s Top Women in Communications in 2022.


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