When Tom Brady endorses – and invests in – your brand, it’s more than a safe bet that things are going in the right direction.
At the beginning of October, the seven-time Super Bowl champion announced he was becoming a minority partner in the ownership group of the WNBA Las Vegas Aces. On a video he posted to social media, Brady said: “I grew up with three older sisters and they were all incredible athletes in their own right. They were role models to me, and it’s where my love for women’s sports began.
“I can’t wait for these amazing, talented (Aces) players bring another championship to Las Vegas.”
Brady’s investment/endorsement is the latest example of the growing wave of popularity with women’s sports today. This summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand drew record attendance and television ratings, including a peak audience of 12 million viewers on BBC One for Spain’s win over England in the tournament final – higher numbers than the Wimbledon men’s final in July.
BetMGM announced recently significant rises in betting activity for the WNBA and other women’s sports over the past year. Wagering on WNBA games increased 27 per cent over the previous year, while the sportsbook operator saw a spike of more than 40 per cent in betting on women’s tennis and golf. In comparison, Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League saw hikes of 18 per cent and 25 percent in wagers, respectively.
The timing couldn’t be much better for the Professional Women’s Hockey League, founded at the end of August by Los Angeles Dodgers co-owners Mark and Kimbra Walter with a helping hand from Dodgers team president Stan Kasten and women’s sports advocate/tennis legend Billie Jean King. The new league will launch its inaugural season in January with six teams in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Boston, New York, and Minneapolis-St. Paul.
The fledgling league, on the eve of its first player draft, introduced Canadian Tire as a founding partner and its first corporate partner. A league official told Gaming News Canada last month that it was “looking forward to starting discussions soon” with sportsbooks on partnership opportunities.
It’s expected that FanDuel will be a target of the sponsorships departments for the leagues and its franchises in Ontario, New York and Massachusetts, where sports betting is legal and FanDuel has licences to operate in those regulated marketplaces. Amy Howe, the chief executive officer of the Flutter Entertainment-owned brand in North America, has been a loud voice for providing women with more opportunities in the executive suite and other areas of the company. FanDuel last month introduced as its newest ambassador for its responsible gambling program retired American soccer star Carli Lloyd, who partnered with the sportsbook alongside a women-owned roastery in the FanFuel Extra Kick campaign during the Women’s World Cup.
FanDuel’s business in Ontario is a corporate support of national advocacy group Canadian Women & Sport. This spring, during the IIFH Women’s World Championships in Brampton, ON, FanDuel collaborated with Canadian Tire, Bauer Hockey and Harvey’s to launch a $100,000 pilot project to provide funding to Canadian hockey and para-hockey stars Renata Fast, Alanna Mah, Brianne Jenner and Sophie Jaques to create grow-the-game programs and grassroots hockey clinics.
“There’s no reason why we wouldn’t explore (partnership deals with the PWHL),” said Jennifer Matthews, the vice president of brand strategy at FanDuel. “There’s are four teams in our regulated markets. That’s huge for us.
“We’ve seen growth in the WNBA with fans and betting, and we’ll see the same with hockey.”
The new league is also to expected additional endorsement opportunities for female hockey players. While the rules around advertising in regulated markets prevent the use of current athletes in advertising and marketing campaigns (Ontario is the exception, although the Alcohol and Gaming Commisssion of Ontario announced in August that athletes will be banned from igaming advertising as of the end of February).
“We’re paying attention to the new laws in Ontario,” said marketing agent Brant Feldman of American Group Management, who represents Olympic and Paralympic female hockey players and other athletes. “I’m always cautious about putting athletes in a situation in which their fan base may not understand why they are promoting a category, which for some may be questionable but others love it.”
The fractured history of women’s hockey leagues will present a challenge in the early days of the PWHL to sportsbooks when it comes to offering in-game and other bets that require a trove of data to set lines.
“The biggest short-term gain is to get more content on the women’s games,” said Meghan Chayka, the co-founder of sports analytics company Stathletes and the insider for FanDuel’s Strength in Numbers segments on TSN. “Prop bets can focus more on player-specific data and storytelling, and this helps build the brand and audience. Long term, it would be great if there was significant handle on women's hockey.”
For now, however, there’s an opportunity to businesses to tie their brand, a la Brady, for a professional sports league that finally brings together the best women’s hockey players on the planet.
“The PWHL will have an engaged and loyal following, and brands can tap into that passion to convert those fans into consumers,” Canadian sponsorship and partnership sales veteran Gavin Roth said.
“I see this as a terrific marketing opportunity for a sportsbook to connect with an underserved audience, regardless of whether rich betting data is available when the first puck is dropped.”
This story is presented in partnership with Gaming News Canada.