Why an extensive partnership between the NWSL and main sponsor is so important

During Saturday night’s NWSL Championship game between the Portland Thorns and Kansas City Current – prime time on CBS, thanks to Ally’s previous intervention – Andrea Brimmer, director of marketing and public relations at Ally (pictured above, left, with Michele Kang, owner of Washington Spirit), announced that the bank had renewed its partnership with the NWSL for five years. And while announcements about sponsorships and corporate endorsements often don’t warrant much fanfare, this one could have an outsized impact on a boiling league.

The deal will run until 2027, which means five years of league action, plus the inflection points of two World Cup cycles and the 2024 Olympics. For the NWSL, that’s their second longest sponsorship deal, second only to Nike’s which was renewed until 2030 (another big vote of confidence in the NWSL, signed last November).

The continuation of Ally’s sponsorship is notable news on its own – particularly being a five-year deal – but there are additional elements to the renewal that will provide massive assistance to the NWSL’s growth outside of the league. Ally’s direct involvement.

Brimmer said Athleticism in a call ahead of Saturday’s announcement, “We have also restructured our investment with the league to include significant guaranteed media engagement with official league media partners. It gives them something to eat when they’re out there negotiating media rights deals.

It’s a big win for the NWSL, which is about to enter a period of exclusive negotiations with CBS for its media rights, but the league office is also surely monitoring recent media rights deals and their valuations for MLS and American football with Apple ($250 million minimum per year over 10 years) and Turner Sports/HBO ($25-27 million per year over eight years), respectively. Currently, the NWSL has a $4.5 million deal with CBS that started in 2020 and will run through next season.

“The other thing we did was cool, we tightened the category a bit to give the league more inventory to sell,” Brimmer said. Previously, Ally was the league’s partner for all financial services, but the brand dropped a few specific things it didn’t activate, allowing the NWSL to generate more sponsorships.

“Brands have a responsibility to think differently about deal structure and valuations so women’s leagues can have more assets to monetize, so they can become more cash flow positive. was a big part of making sure we could do that and it gives (the NWSL) an opportunity to get more brands to invest,” Brimmer added.

For Brimmer and Ally, the overarching goal is clear: “inject more dollars into the NWSL ecosystem.”

There is an incentive for its own brand, of course; she wants to be held accountable for Ally’s commitment to supporting men’s and women’s sports equally.

Ally will still have all the typical sponsorship elements: the crest on the shirt of every team in the league, social media and content, LED signs around the pitch, all of which help promote their brand. It has been clear to anyone here in Washington, DC for the NWSL Championship. Everywhere you turn, you’ll probably see the Ally logo. From the fan party outside the stadium to the advertisements broadcast across the city, Ally’s has made its presence known. Brimmer has been everywhere this weekend, too – from a Title IX event, to an event with the NWSL Players Association, to official party.

(Amber Searls – USA TODAY Sports)

But Brimmer is fully aware of her role within the NWSL ecosystem and the token element to doubling down on Ally’s investment at this moment of significant and painful change in the league. Ally was in an option year on his original sponsorship contract with the NWSL, but rather than wait another year to restock, they opted to negotiate now. Brimmer wanted to be clear – a five-year deal right now makes sense for Ally, but that’s not all.

“The league itself needs to be able to have the money to build the infrastructure it needs to be the best league it can be for the players,” she said. “These kinds of commitments. …it gives them a guarantee to go out and realize the vision you have and start running with it. It’s not going to be death by 1,000 cuts where we’re just going to do a series of one-year deals and see how it goes. It’s a substantial commitment that says “we’re here, and we’re here for the long haul with you.”

Ally also has a partnership directly with the NWSL Players Association, and they are working to structure a renewal there as well.

“The players have taken control of their league, they’re using their voice and their power to control what’s going to happen in the NWSL,” Brimmer said. “The only way to show them that they don’t have to fear the repercussions is through investment.”

There was plenty of good news from the NWSL Championship this weekend, with viewership up nearly 30% year-over-year on Paramount+ as the league passed the one million viewership mark for the first times this season and sponsorship revenue up 87% annually. over a year, according to NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman.

On Friday, Berman spoke to the media before the game at Audi Field, where she was asked if she must have had difficult conversations with league sponsors after the release of the Yates report. Given the pressure from team sponsors in multiple markets — particularly Portland and Louisville — it’s notable that Berman said league-level activity has remained consistent. She said she was only met with offers of support.

“The hard truth is…if it scares a partner, then it’s not the right partner for us,” she said. “You can look at the global sports industry and the corporate world and pretend these issues don’t exist, but they do. I promise you they not only exist in the NWSL, but everywhere, whether you talk about harsh coaching and emotional misconduct, sexism and unconscious bias, (these) exist everywhere.

The NWSL wants sponsors who want to be part of the solution that will hopefully extend beyond the league and into other sports and industries, she continued.

“There is a lot of room in the bank for people to invest in the league. But if it scares you, maybe it’s not good for you. I think we just have to feel comfortable with it, because we only want the right partners.

These good partners will not only support the league, but will use whatever influence they have to ensure that investments go to the right place.

“We want to hold you accountable for actions that we know are part of your long-term plan,” Brimmer said of Berman and the NWSL. “Let’s make them happen. Let’s not lose momentum then, and a year from now, have very short memories of what was supposed to happen, and not make it happen. That’s key for us, and I think that’s the kind of relationship we have with the league.

But despite all the work and long-term planning that’s still to come, Brimmer was buzzing about Saturday night’s primetime finale.

“It’s the first step to get to a point where we don’t always need to talk about women’s sports as ‘women’s sports,'” Brimmer said. “We can finally start talking about sports, because we are finally getting the same stages. I just hope people pick it up on Saturday, because it’s history. You’re going to be part of a premiere, and that’s damn cool.

(Top photo: Jessica Rapfogel-USA TODAY Sports)


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