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Sports U.S. sports talent agency hopes to build on World Cup surge and launches a division for women athletes

Fans line the streets at the ticker-tape parade for the World Cup-winning U.S. women’s national soccer team in New York, July 10, 2019. The sports and talent agency Wasserman, which represents more than half the members of the team, including Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, will launch a division solely focused on female athletes.

HILARY SWIFT/The New York Times News Service

Trying to take advantage of the ascendance of female athletes and the popularity of the most recent Women’s World Cup champions, one of the country’s leading sports agencies is forming a new division to work with companies to market to women through sports.

Sports and talent agency Wasserman, which represents more than half the members of the U.S. women’s national team, including Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, will announce Thursday it is creating the Collective, a unit whose goal is to connect major companies, consumers and fans of every gender with some of the country’s best known female athletes.

“We believe there is a significant opportunity for the athletes to attract meaningfully more marketing engagement and awareness and dollars,” Casey Wasserman, the company’s founder, said in an interview last week.

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Hundreds of thousands of fans turned out Wednesday to celebrate the women’s soccer team in New York City, where team members and fans chanted “equal pay” together, highlighting how closely the team has connected itself to the business of its sport.

Rapinoe said she understands the opportunities that are now available to her and her teammates.

“I am fortunate to play soccer in a time where the women who came before me made such an impact on the sport,” Rapinoe wrote in an email this week, shortly after leading the U.S. women to a second consecutive world championship. Because of those women, Rapinoe said, she has “seen more acceptance, more acknowledgment and support which has certainly led to more opportunity.”

Characteristic of someone who is never afraid to speak her mind and has sued her employer for gender discrimination, however, Rapinoe said she does not believe those increased opportunities are enough. “We are still not nearly where we need to be,” she wrote.

Wasserman is hoping The Collective can help remedy that. In addition to Rapinoe and Morgan, Wasserman’s clients include prominent basketball players like Sue Bird and Maya Moore; Katie Ledecky, the world’s most dominant swimmer; and Hilary Knight, a top hockey player.

Wasserman also advises companies that want to advertise in sports and entertainment, with athletes his company represents or with others. Elizabeth Lindsey, Wasserman’s president of brands and properties, said she had seen an evolution in how companies advertise to women through sports.

“In the early days of my career in sports marketing, it never occurred to brands to talk to women,” she said. Even when companies would market to women through sports, she said, it would be to the mother who makes Super Bowl snacks or the wife who is dragged to the game. Women were typecast as supporting players for sports fans and not as fans in their own right.

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But Lindsey said she believes that is changing because of the power of female consumers. “They control the purse strings,” she said. “They are passionate and prevalent as fans, and the most important part is what is happening recently, which is they have a voice and are radically unafraid to use it.”

Rapinoe is one of a growing number of female American athletes who have become stars and who in many cases outshine their male counterparts. Morgan and Rapinoe are better known than most of the men’s national soccer team, and American women regularly win more Olympic medals than American men. In sports like tennis, running and gymnastics, the most famous American athletes are women.

In addition to running his company, Casey Wasserman is the chairman of LA 2028, the local organizing committee for the 2028 Olympics. In that capacity he will be a part of the entity that is selling advertising for the U.S. Olympic Committee and for the three preceding Olympics as well. He said there was no conflict of interest between representing and selling LA 2028, and representing potential Olympic athletes and securing sponsorships for them through efforts like the Collective.

“Obviously they are completely separate entities and lines we draw very clearly,” he said. “I’m a volunteer for LA 2028; I don’t get paid.”

He added, “LA 2028 in its bylaws will never hire Wasserman for any business, period.”

Structurally, the Collective will have a small staff dedicated to its day-to-day operations, with various Wasserman executives and agents working on the Collective projects. Athletes will still be represented by their agents, but they will also be supported by the Collective. The task is a nuanced one.

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It is not as simple as telling potential sponsors that girls and women follow women’s sports, and therefore companies should use female athletes to reach them. During the most recent Women’s World Cup, countless boys and men rooted for the American women just as strenuously as their sisters, wives and daughters.

Men and women “care equally about sports, they just consume it in different ways for different reasons,” Lindsey said. To figure out what those reasons are, she said, just ask them.

“The best way to talk to women, is to talk to women.”

Lindsey said competition within this segment of the market could grow quickly, which is something she and colleagues welcomed. “I hope more people pay attention to this,” she said. “I hope people realize what a valuable demographic this audience is.”

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