SBJ Unpacks: Game Changers flip the script on women's sports – Sports Business Journal

Tonight in Unpacks: SBJ’s Game Changers event highlights the importance and sound business rationale of investing in women’s sports. It also digs into some of the details of how brands and stakeholders are doing just that.

Other headlines:
In today’s Morning Buzzcast, David Albright covers St. Louis City SC losing its stadium naming deal; Fanatics expanding its Mitchell & Ness footprint; and a college basketball exhibition game coming to PPV this week.
Ahead of their first-ever appearance in the NWSL title game this Saturday, Kansas City Current co-owners Angie and Chris Long took the stage at SBJ’s 10th annual Game Changers conference to discuss their massive investment in the franchise since acquiring it in 2020, notes SBJ’s Alex Silverman. The team this year opened its own $15 million training facility in just its second season and is in the process of building the first stadium intended exclusively for a women’s sports team at a cost of $117 million.
Asked about their decision to buy an NWSL franchise, Chris Long explained that they “always looked at it as a return-on-investment situation.” He said, “We saw low valuations, which we thought were unwarranted and they continue to be way too low. We saw a lot of low-hanging fruit around revenue levers that nobody was taking advantage of. And we saw, quite honestly, a fear of investing and thinking big.”
While the team now has a robust portfolio of corporate partners, Chris acknowledged that it was initially difficult to convince brands that women’s soccer sponsorship was a legitimate marketing expense: “We would call an XYZ big company in the Kansas City region and they would put us to their foundation group or they would put us to their community relations group. And that was infuriating, because that implied, ‘Oh, this is some sort of like, you know, charity event.’”
Angie Long believes demonstrating a willingness to invest in the team has changed that perception among corporate partners and quickly established the team as part of the sports fabric of the market. “We had to come in acting like a professional organization and because of that we’ve been treated like a professional organization,” she said.
The Longs said that the willingness to invest, particularly in a state-of-the-art training center, has also created a winning culture among the club’s players. “The best athletes in the world just want to get better and they want to win, and we’re creating that environment,” Angie said.
K.C. Current's Angie and Chris Long echoed an increasingly widespread sentiment: that women's sports remain undervalued
Expect to see more marketing by PepsiCo and its cohort of brands around the WNBA, particularly with Las Vegas Aces star A’ja Wilson. That was one of the key takeaways from a panel at the Game Changers event, notes SBJ’s Preston Bounds.
Speaking this morning from the event at MetLife Stadium, PepsiCo Senior Manager/Sports Marketing Erica Smith recounted how Wilson in 2018 became the “first female basketball player on the Mountain Dew roster,” which “gave A’ja her very first endorsement deal.” Then came increased WNBA activation at the team, league and player level, such as sponsoring the three-point contest at WNBA All-Star weekend. Smith: “Our sponsorship has evolved quite a bit.”
NBA VP/Global Partnerships Lauren Sullivan referred to Wilson as the “face of the league” and prompted Smith further: “We might be seeing some sort of A’ja mixed with other NBA players coming soon from the Pepsi family.”
Smith: “In the beginning of our partnership, we struggled a little bit to figure out the best way to leverage A’ja, and to be honest with you, we leveraged her in somewhat of a way as an add-on to our NBA roster.” But by 2021, the brand “collaborated with A’ja on her own custom hoodie,” and it has launched Wilson-centered sweepstakes that are “promoted on WNBA channels.” The Ruffles brand “leveled up her game even more by giving her her very first chip deal.” That partnership yielded a signature Ruffles flavor for Wilson: Smoky BBQ.
Smith concluded, “As well as a huge WNBA fan myself, you can expect us to continue to sponsor the three-point contest. You can expect for us to lean in with A’ja and potentially other WNBA players and to have deeper integrations into WNBA Live (the league’s All-Star fan fest).”
PepsiCo's Erica Smith pointed out how much the activations around WNBA star A'Ja Wilson have evolved since 2018
MSP Sports Capital finalized its acquisition of a majority stake in the X Games, reports SBJ’s Chris Smith.
ESPN Productions will maintain minority ownership in the action sports property, and ESPN will retain the near-term domestic linear broadcast rights under the terms of the sale agreement.
The X Games will now be led by CEO Steve Flisler, who joins from Twitch. Before that, Flisler spent over a decade in various roles at NBC. Over a dozen ESPN staffers also will move over to the new X Games property, largely filling roles in event operations, athlete relations and social media. Tony Hawk has also joined in an advisory capacity.
Flisler said immediate staffing plans include hiring in marketing, sales and communications roles. The near-term commercial strategy will prioritize further integrating existing X Games event sponsors, which in recent years have included Monster Energy, Jeep, Geico and Pacifico Beer.
MSP is led by Suns investor Jahm Najafi and former Padres owner Jeff Moorad. Its portfolio includes stakes in McLaren Racing and soccer clubs in Spain, Portugal, Germany and Belgium. Sources familiar with the sale process said that additional bidders, including Thrill One Sports & Entertainment as well as several venture and private equity firms, had also pursued an acquisition.
Also check out a profile of Ron Semiao, founder of the X Games, who was honored as an SBJ Champion of Sports Business in 2019.
Jake Paul will have the logo of his recently launched sports betting startup Betr on the ring mat and two corner posts for his boxing match against retired UFC champion Anderson Silva in a Showtime PPV event Saturday night, notes SBJ’s Bill King.
Betr, a free-to-play game operator that intends to roll into real-money microbetting as its app becomes licensed in regulated states, will see its brand featured prominently around the event, held at Desert Diamond Arena in Glendale, Ariz., and promoted by Paul’s MVP Promotions.

Betr also will debut its first commercial spot during the broadcast. Paul will wear Betr-branded gear during his ring entrance. All fans at the fight will receive Betr branded T-shirts and merchandise. A “Betr Ticket” free-to-play promotion will offer a $100,000 price to be split by entrants who correctly predict how many punches each fighter will throw and land and the duration of the bout.

Betr co-founder and CEO Joey Levy: “We view this sponsorship primarily as a brand awareness endeavor, as well as a customer acquisition one.”
The Hawks signed JPMorgan Chase to a multiyear extension of their sponsorship deal, which will see the brand remain the official bank, credit card, wealth management and investment banking sponsor of the NBA team and State Farm Arena, reports SBJ’s Austin Karp.
The brand first signed on with the Hawks in late 2020. Chase, as part of the extension, will add entitlement of the arena’s high-end Chase Concert Club. Chase also will become presenting sponsor of Project Rebound, a community platform that works with Good Sports, a nonprofit whose mission is to drive equitable access in youth sports and physical activity.
Just days before calling his first World Series game, Fox Sports’ Joe Davis joins “The Marchand and Ourand Sports Media Podcast” to talk about how his meteoric career took off.
Davis, who replaced play-by-play legends Vin Scully on Dodgers games and Joe Buck on national MLB games, takes listeners through how he approached the NLCS and what was going through his mind before Bryce Harper’s game-winning eighth-inning home run. He also discusses his accomplished family, including his Academy Award-winning brother, producer sister and his father, who works as a spotter on his NFL games.
Andrew Marchand and John Ourand open the pod by discussing Jim Nantz’s decision to step away as the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament’s main play-by-play announcer and CBS’s decision to replace Nantz with Ian Eagle. The two also discuss the NBA’s decision to mandate that RSN announcers travel to every game this season. Other topics include updates to the Big 12 and Pac-12 media rights negotiations and this weekend’s NWSL championship, which CBS will carry on its broadcast TV network in prime time.
Click on the image to watch the full episode
Playfly founder & CEO Michael Schreiber joins SBJ’s Abe Madkour to talk about the growth of the agency, its focus on the fan experience and what comes next.
Click on image to watch full segment
In the latest edition of SBJ College, Michael Smith looks at:
Are you or someone you know in the sports business industry running in the TCS N.Y. Marathon on Nov. 6? If so, contact Xavier Hunter at after the race with your time, a photo and a quick note about the experience to share with our readers.
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