Watch the Game, Change the Game: A Sports Equity Discussion

Watch the Game, Change the Game: A Sports Equity Discussion

In this session from Hashtag Sports 2022, Ally’s Chief Marketing and PR Officer Andrea Brimmer are joined by professional soccer superstars Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris for a candid discussion about what it's going to take from brands, media partners, leagues, and others to break the vicious cycle that's long prevented professional women's sports from reaching its full potential. Andrea, Ali, and Ashlyn talk about their shared mission to drive equity in women's sports and the outsized business opportunities women's sports provides.

Hashtag Sports 2022 conference sessions are now available for viewing on-demand.

Key Insights:

  1. Equity in women's sports is not a men versus women thing; it is a men and women thing.
  2. Everyone has to be committed to the change that we want to see in women's sports around the world.
  3. Supporting women's sports makes good business sense. It is the women in America who play and have played sports that will create the next generation of business leaders in this country. 
  4. Investing in women will result in massively positive results. 


Andrea Brimmer: I am super excited to have two amazing guests joining me who don't really need much of an introduction. Not only are they amazing soccer players, content creators, and brilliant parents, but they're also amazing fashionistas whose outfits I want to steal! I'm excited to bring to the stage with me Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger.

We are super excited to be with you guys here today and to have a conversation that is near and dear to our hearts and important and timely around equity in women's sports. The thing that's really important to understand as we talk through this conversation is that there's a shared belief—which is a lot of the reason why we've partnered together. Equity in women's sports is not a man versus women thing, it is a men and women thing, and it's really really important that we provide the right opportunities for people that want to see themselves in women's sports to have the opportunity to play on big stages in front of big audiences and to be able to have the opportunity to grow in the ways that the sport needs to grow. So that's what we're going to focus on a lot here today. 

 

We're going to talk a lot about something that I think is really important which is this notion of the vicious cycle that without broadcast, women's sports today gets about four percent of media coverage versus male sports.

The leagues will never flourish and have the valuations that the leagues need to have. The audiences won't be there for the brands that want to participate, and the players ultimately won't make what the players should make. If you look, for instance, at WNBA as an example, I think that some of the stats on this chart are really shocking. You think about the valuation of network availability for league revenue for WNBA versus NBA. You look at the valuation of the league's 475 million for the WNBA versus 77.5 billion for the NBA, and then you look at players' salaries. You know something has to change, and while there's a lot of amazing momentum right now, we have to do something more impactful. We had a lot of good conversation this morning at breakfast. I don't think we need to spend a lot of time talking about Ali and Ashlyn's soccer careers; hopefully you guys all know that as soccer fans. What I'd like to focus on more is just this conversation of equity in sports and what athletes do kind of after the sport is done, and so maybe that's a really good place for us to start.

Ashlyn, as you guys have been playing for a long time playing together, what does the next chapter look like, and how do you start to think about that knowing that you're two of the best that have ever played this game, and what does your future look like for you?

Ashlyn Harris: So that's an interesting question that I get a lot at this point in my career, and I always like to give the harsh reality of "It's going to be a challenging time, especially being in female sports." People like Ali and myself have dedicated our entire life so far to being dedicated to our craft and winning at every single level. and the reality is I'm on my last contract potentially, and I have to start an entirely new career at 36 and that's an unfortunate thing. It's a scary thing, but it's the reality. The reality is there's a shelf life in my sport, and I haven't made enough money to sit comfortably like most of my male counterparts to feel good about walking away in a good financial state to take care of my family. That doesn't exist for me. I will start a new career at 36. I will have to start completely over. My hope is sitting in chairs like this with people like you so that our younger generation doesn't have to go through this same time that could be very difficult and present a lot of challenges. I'm glad we're talking about it; it's a real thing. My career is coming to an end, and right now I am trying to figure out what the next chapter looks like.

10469666_Hashtag_Sports_Awards_-_Vegas_2022_-_7_13-69_jpg_Jessica_Ramberg_20220713_185519Ashlyn Harris during HS22 session (Photo: Crossovr Collective)

Brimmer: I think it's pretty daunting to think about. You're sitting here with players that are the most decorated players in soccer history and to have to start over... Their male counterparts that are 36 with careers ending aren't having these kinds of conversations, and aren't having to worry about these kinds of things. Ali you know you've got a little girl, Sloane,  at home, and you and I talked a lot this morning about how it just feels like a different time. It feels like there's good momentum. It feels like a lot of brands are stepping up, but you've got a lot of people in the room that are influential in the space as content creators, etc. What really needs to happen for meaningful change and to have that pathway for somebody like Sloane if she chooses to play sports? 

 

Ali Krieger: Great question. There are many different pieces that we could talk for hours about on this topic, but I do feel like it has to be everyone that has to be committed to the change that we want to see in our sport and women's sports around the world. It takes a lot of leadership and people in the right positions of power to create that change first and foremost.

Then, I do think that it is all of us together—both men and women. We also need powerful men in our corner to help create that change [and] invest in women sponsorships. [We need] brands, organizations around the country to really invest in the league and invest in women because the product is incredible if you do so.

Having strong men in our corner to support us like the girl dads out there bringing their kids to games and investing in women so that their daughters—and even sons—who are supporting women as well can see that change and understand that their dreams can come true. I do feel like it has been really valuable over the past few years, like Ashlyn had said, we might not see the benefits of what we've been trying to create over the last six to seven years in fighting for what we deserve and pay equity and the equality in sport. But I think that with us continuing to fight and continuing to have these conversations—and sometimes they're uncomfortable conversations—but that's when we see the growth of the game and the support and the investment continue. Yeah, we do this for our child, we do this for the game, and we continue the grind so that the younger generations have the opportunity to be who they want, to play where they want, and to get what they deserve at the highest level.

10469590_Hashtag_Sports_Awards_-_Vegas_2022_-_7_13-54_jpg_Jessica_Ramberg_20220713_184829Ali Krieger during HS22 session. (Photo: Crossovr Collective)

Brimmer: It's really interesting. You feel a lot of momentum around women's sports right now.  Why do you guys think this moment is different? You've played in a lot of professional soccer leagues that have failed. You've played overseas, you've played at the highest level on the US Women's National Team, World Cups. The NWSL seems to have a lot of momentum, a lot of power, a lot of celebrity investment. Why does this moment feel different right now? 

Harris: I think what you're seeing is a shift in our culture that women now are standing up and screaming from the rooftops that we're here and we're not going anywhere. We deserve equality and equity in what we do with our male counterparts. I feel like soccer has always been good in our country, it has been incredible. I just think for the first time people are seeing it, acknowledging it. Numbers don't lie, it's not a coincidence when you look at the revenue that's being created in ticket sales with the women's national team. These numbers don't lie, and there's something there—the products there, but the investment hasn't [caught up]. Women's soccer comes in waves right so usually if it's a World Cup year everyone's all in, but as soon as that's over it goes back down to its cycle and now you're seeing this constant progression of going up, up, up, and up because people are seeing the value and the benefit of betting on women investing in women.

You can't be what you can't see. For our children, for my child, if I have a professional women's team in my backyard, I want her to see it because I know if she sees it, she can truly believe I can do that one day. I didn't have that as a kid. When I look through all my papers as a child I asked "Who do you want to be when you grow up?" I wanted to be Tony Hawk, I wanted to be Michael Jordan, I wanted to be Hulk Hogan. I can't be any of those things for a lot of reasons, but I didn't have the visibility to go watch sports on tv and see really impactful influential women paving the way maybe behind the scenes that I didn't know about. Now it's in your face, and it's in your face because of people like yourself and Ally that see there's a real something here. We just have to help lift, promote, and invest in this vision. I think it's a cultural thing. You're seeing it with women across all industries now. It's not just about the sport we're fighting for what we deserve, and I think it's a really important thing that we continue doing so. Just like Ali said, we want to leave this game better than we found it so that's why we sit in these seats, and this is why we have these hard conversations because we're knocking on doors. We know how great we are, but we need all of you to know, invest, and show up for us.

Brimmer: It's such an interesting point and one of the things that always bothers me as a marketer: people will say things like "Oh that's so nice that you're investing in women's sports" almost like you know here's a pat on the head and go away like I'm contributing to a charity. My rebuttal is always "It's not charity, it makes good business sense." Number one, women's sports produce outsized returns, and we know that empirically. Number two, I think the stat that's on the screen is fascinating. Something that honestly I just learned recently, we're building the next generation of business leaders in this country. 94% of C-suite women in America played sports and more than half played at a collegiate level, myself included. Playing soccer at Michigan State was so formative to me in terms of every aspect of my life. We think about the opportunity that is in front of business by supporting women's sports, and it just makes good business sense. It makes a ton of sense. I want to show a spot that we just did actually with these two wonderful players that are sitting here on the stage with me, and then focus our conversation around an initiative that we've got called Watch the Game, Change the Game

 

In May, we made an announcement that for every dollar we spend in men's sports, we're gonna match that dollar for dollar in women's sports. We put a five-year time horizon on it and that was purposeful. The time horizon part of it was a challenge that we needed the media to buy, that the media needed to be there and the fact that only four percent of media coverage goes to women's sports today makes it very difficult for brands to kind of come off the sidelines and be a part of that change. Ali why was it so important for you and Ash to be part of this campaign with us, and can you talk a little bit about what it means to kind of have player impact and voice in these types of initiatives?

Krieger: It was incredible to be a part of this opportunity and to partner with such an incredible brand and organization, and that was important for Ash and me because we believe in the same fight. The amount of care I feel that Ally has for lifting women really resonated with Ash and me, and we wanted to obviously show that in this commercial, that it's really important when we do have this visibility that others see us and then you feed off of it and can actually make it happen and make it real. We deserve to be on TV, we deserve to be on the front stage, and we deserve to be put in these positions of visibility so that others can know that their dreams can come true if they want to do the same thing.

For a lot of the younger generations, we just want them to follow in our footsteps, and partnering with you and the company and NWSL to celebrate Title IX and the 50th anniversary, for us to even have a job and have this opportunity, this platform that we use every day to encourage people to want to be successful, is incredible and kind of embodying all that into one. Exemplifying that every day and performing that out on the field, really ignites us. It's motivating that you have this support as a female athlete. As a player obviously we're not defined by just being footballers, we're much more than that. This is something that is going to change the game, and this is the visibility that we need. That's why we are very excited to be a part of it and it's not every day that you get to get to showcase yourself in this light and showcase the NWSL and all the other powerful women that we have within the league. It's important to us. We're really grateful for that.

Brimmer: Well you guys look great in the spot, and we appreciate you [both] being part of it. There are a lot of content creators in this room, a lot of people that have influence in helping us create the momentum that we want to see. What advice would you have for people in this room just with regard to elevating the conversation around women's sports?

10469585_Hashtag_Sports_Awards_-_Vegas_2022_-_7_13-52_jpg_Jessica_Ramberg_20220713_184817Andrea Brimmer during HS22 session (Photo: Crossovr Collective)

Harris: I think this is a really good moment and a call to action of "What are you doing to keep this around, to keep this relevant? What are other companies doing to lift not only their women employees but their community or what they believe in?" We're so lucky that Ally has committed to this investment and such a big partnership in the NWSL, but Ally alone cannot carry this league. So what are other companies doing to help lift these sports that are in our backyards? If we don't get the investment we won't be here. It's as simple as that so are we doing everything we can for our children to have a place to say hey that's what I want to be when I grow up, but I don't have to work five jobs just to do what I love. That's what we need. So my question is are we doing everything we can to create this space for women to do what they love and be paid fairly for it? I'm not a professional soccer [player] for just a hobby. I have a family I have to provide for so I want to leave this sport so much better, and I need more people like Ally to continue to invest in our league, in our sport, and women across all industries to continue to pave the way to generate a space where we can do what we love and actually make a living.

Brimmer: That's a great point. You think about the time that goes into your training, what you put into your craft, how much of your life you've devoted to it. The NWSL and the Players Association recently reached a new CBA agreement, and while there's been incredible progress, the average salary for a player in the NWSL is still $35,000 a year. Think about trying to do what you do every single day as a world-class athlete, and I would argue in many regards that the fandom around soccer in this country has been precipitated by the success, particularly of the U.S Women's National Team. You have to work four jobs or three jobs or five jobs in order to be able to play the sport that you love. That's what this is all about, and that's what we're trying to do in terms of creating this meaningful change. Ali, any last words that you would want to leave this group with relative to how they can be part of the change?

Krieger: I just want to want to say that when you do invest in women's sports, you're not only investing in that specific sport and that team and that organization, but you're investing in the individuals that represent those teams and those organizations. You as a fan or supporter or an investor, you have some sort of an attraction to anyone you can relate to, anyone within our league and within our sport, because we have so many attractive personalities and characteristics and there's so much more to us than just being a soccer player.

Luckily Ally saw that in us and has invested in us because of those reasons, but if you come to one game and you sit in that environment and atmosphere, you will tell your friends, you will tell your family members, you will tell anyone that you meet in your path along the way to go to a women's soccer game because it is just electrifying. It is so enjoyable, it's so fun. I mean it's just an entertainment piece, and I feel like it's you can't really compare it to the men's game. We were speaking about this earlier—it's a lot different than the men's game. It's just a different type of game, and you can't really explain it, but once you come once, you'll definitely come again, and you'll bring your family and friends. If you invest in women, you will see massive results in a positive way, and that's what we're trying to say. We need the help, we need the support, we need the money to continue to do what we're doing and continue this work. Obviously, the work is never done, but we need everyone. It's not just females, it's also powerful males who want to see us thrive as well.

Brimmer: I think that's a great way for us to end this. Thank you [both]. We could go on forever and ever and talk about this subject. It's obviously something we're all very passionate about, and there's a lot to unpack here. Hopefully, we left you with something that's meaningful as you think about doing what it is that you do every single day. I appreciate Hashtag having us here, thanks so much to Ash and Ali for flying from New York to be with us before they go to Portland this weekend for a game. We appreciate all of your time, thank you!

Learn more about how to effectively engage the modern fan & consumer at Hashtag Sports, an annual conference for sports, media, and entertainment professionals.