Sports marketing is a serious business. There’s no denying that sexy sells, so is it bad for a female athlete to flaunt a fit physique… or is it smart?
Exposure opens doors to the sponsorship necessary to live as a professional athlete. But what about marketing women beyond the bikini? Sure, you’ll see women in surf magazines selling sunglasses through lifestyle shots, but good luck finding them on the cover of a surf magazine, a place generally reserved for talent over beauty.
It’s not just within the surf industry, either. It’s a universal issue for female athletes across the board. To gain a better understanding of the business behind marketing women in sports, I walked into the Women+Sports espnW Summit in Dana Point, California with a few questions for some of the top athletes and influential leaders in the sports industry. Surfers Lisa Anderson, Lakey Peterson, pro volleyball player Gabby Reece, Olympic swimmer Summer Sanders, as well as leaders in the space like VP of espnW, Laura Gentile all weighed in with their thoughts.
Biggest challenges facing women in sports?
Laura Gentile, VP espnW: One challenge is really having a voice that’s heard, and to be on equal footing. We’re lucky enough at ESPN that we have a lot of senior women. Women that support each other are critical, and having that team atmosphere means someone is there to back you up.
Another challenge is growing the business of women in sports, whether it’s women endorsing products or women being respected as athletes and not just as sex objects. Are our sports being taken seriously?
Maya Gabeira just finished a spread for Playboy, and seems to be applauded for it. What’s your perspective?
Gabrielle Reece, pro volleyball player: In the niche lifestyle sports, such as surfing, it’s hard to get attention. Doing something that is perceived as mainstream and driving attention to the sport may be praised, so maybe the audience can identify. The platform for Playboy may be secondary, but seeing that someone in the sport getting attention out in the mainstream world can be very challenging.
When I was photographed for Playboy, I was 30-years-old and was offered $750,000. I hired my own photographer so I had total editorial control over the shoot… and royalties on the images.
How do you balance over-exposure when you work in a bathing suit?
Summer Sanders, Olympic swimmer: Confidence and control. You can tell if a girl walking on the beach has confidence, and frankly, with that comes the sexy image. Whether you’re walking the beach in a bikini or hospital garb, if you have confidence, it’s sexy.
How have you been sharing your struggles as an athlete with your fans?
Lakey Peterson, pro surfer: I wrote blogs for espnW over the summer about all the stuff I was dealing with as an athlete. It was a lot of fun, and I think they got a good response from it. Being a pro surfer puts me in a unique position, so I hope to use that as a platform to be able to mentor and set an example for kids.
Next season, I am really excited to see what ASP‘s plan is and how everything operates. I think the ASP right now is really doing all the right things. They guaranteed to raise the prize purses significantly for women, which is amazing. Everything is getting better.
How should we market the Women’s World Tour?
Peterson: Bringing in bigger media outlets and more mainstream sponsors is important. How about Covergirl? You could totally market all 17 girls on Tour amazingly through companies like that, which means reaching out to industries outside of the surf space.