By Iacovos Iacovides, APC Sports
The athlete’s brand as a term is somewhat ambiguous and hard to pin down. In the past couple of decades, we’ve witnessed a marked rise in the visibility, demand and popularity of female sports with a series of factors driving this trend. Part and parcel, is the emergence of ever-powerful female athlete brands. Some examples are Serena and Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Ronda Rousey. In what follows, I seek to focus on some of the aforementioned cases in order to examine how their achievements, actions and behaviour, both on and off the field, have contributed to the formation of powerful brands. We should keep in mind that any financial gains—through advertisement, endorsements, sponsorships and so on— emanating from the athlete’s brand are not intrinsic to it but rather a consequence.
Serena Williams- the best in the world.
William’s skills on the pitch are well-known. She’s been no.1 several times between 2002 and 2017, she has won 23 grand slams which deems her the most decorated female tennis player of the Open era (1968 onwards) and is undoubtedly one of the best, if not the best, female tennis player of all time. During her days of glory, Serena Williams capitalized to the full her on-pitch performances and has managed to create the most successful brand in the world of female sports.
Serena is no longer the best in her favourite sport but she still remains the most commercially valued female athlete with her 18 partnerships standing at an estimated $32.2m for 2021 according to Global Data. That is thanks to the brand that she cultivated over the years. When she was at the peak of her career, instead of focusing exclusively on the athletic aspect of things, she instead branched out on industries and issues that she was interested in.
Indicatively, she has taken a stand on racial and gender inequality and on public health issues. She has also invested in several business ventures including her own. Her clothing line laconically called “Serena” has a social agenda as well. What gives her clothing brand its twist is the theme of inclusivity, as it seeks to create clothes for all shapes and sizes. It is safe to say that Serena Williams has masterfully created a multi-faceted and successful brand.
Alex Morgan- Most marketable brand in women’s football
It’s hard to do justice to Alex Morgan in a few paragraphs. Morgan turned professional after graduating from Berkley in 2010 and was the number one draft in the 2011 WPS Draft. Shortly after, she became the youngest athlete and only the second woman to score more than 20 goals and serve out 20 assists in a single season. She was named U.S. Soccer Female Athlete of the Year, a FIFA World Player of the Year finalist, she has won 2 world championships, an Olympic gold medal and a silver boot in 2019 among other accomplishments.
Morgan is the highest-paid athlete of her sport and holds multiple sponsorships—the most notable being Nike. Morgan, as co-captain of the US national team has spearheaded attempts by the national team for the promotion of LGBTQ rights and pay equality—arguing that the pay gap is ludicrous given that the women’s team is undoubtedly much more successful than their male counterparts. This move sparked similar action across the globe, including Europe. Unlike most American athletes, Morgan has also competed in Europe raising her brand awareness even further. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Morgan and fellow US national Megan Rapinoe are the two most famous women footballers in the world.
Morgan will not struggle after she retires from football either, as she has multiple options on what to do next. She is a successful writer, having written an autobiography and also a football-themed kids fiction series—The Kick—and has also starred in Alex and me, playing a quasi-fictional version of herself. Moreover, she has recently launched her own PR company TOGETHXR which she co-founded with Sue Bird, Simone Manuel and Chloe Kim with the aim of increasing media coverage for female athletes. All in all, Morgan has created a brand that encompasses but also transcends her career as a footballer.
Ronda Rousey- The baddest woman on the planet
Ronda Rousey is one of the underrated and underappreciated figures in female sports. She might not be at the level of Serena Williams, but she managed to leave her mark in a sport traditionally dominated by men.
Rousey won a bronze medal in the 2008 Olympics—the first American woman to win one in judo— before deciding that her future lies in the world of mixed martial arts and joined Strikeforce. When the company was acquired by UFC, Rousey competed in the first women’s fight of UFC. Rousey and MMA are nowadays practically synonymous as she became the only woman to have successfully defended her title 6 times. In 2018, she was inducted into the UFC hall of fame.
Unlike a lot of athletes who slip into anonymity after retiring, Rousey joined the WWE and became the Women’s champion. She has also starred in several films since 2015 such as Furious 7, Mile 22, the Expendables 3 and Entourage, including her own documentary in 2019. She routinely supports charities that deal with hunger and mental health issues; two issues close to her heart due to her childhood. Ronda destroys prejudices and crushes stereotypes. She is not the smiling face of your TV or the cute girl next door. She is simply “the baddest woman on the planet”.
Our sample above is small, however, certain conclusions can be drawn from it. All three women are, or at some point were, the best in their sports, yet that does not mean that you have to be the best to create a strong brand; a great example being Serena’s sister, Venus Williams. What you need, is an attitude to match your performances, to give back to society, maybe even act as a voice for the voiceless and to pursue your extracurricular interests that will prise you and your brand from the sport you compete in and give you… that edge. As we keep emphasizing, however, brands come in all shapes and sizes. In other words, there is not just one path to achieving a formidable brand. At the end of the day, it has to be something that reflects you.
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