From Our Friends at Fortune Most Powerful Women: How do you sell an athletic woman?|
Four decades since Title IX, organizations are still figuring out how to market female athletes, especially those who might not conform to traditional notions of femininity.
The basketball players on the WNBA’s New York Liberty are many things, but they are not gods. You can get close to them; some tickets in the lower section sell for $35, and you can get in the stadium for as little as $10. Players sometimes talk to you — forward Kelley Cain spoke straight to the crowd before the Liberty’s June game against the Seattle Storm at New Jersey’s Prudential Center stadium. “We need you guys to stand up and cheer as loud as you can,” she said into a microphone, “and help us to get this win tonight!”
What followed did not look like an NBA game. For one, there were no cheerleaders in two-piece sparkle-spandex outfits. Instead, the Liberty trots out a dance team called the “Lil’ Torches” during breaks. The Torches are 12 kids, between 6 and 14 years old, with elaborately colored hair. At the first break, they danced — adorably, and innocuously — to Carly Rae Jepsen’s sugar pop hit “Call Me Maybe.”
Between quarters and during time-outs, cheery Liberty staff ran on the court to chuck T-shirts to fans. They didn’t need to use those stadium-staple launching cannons, though, as most of the audience was within throwing range. Prudential can seat 18,500 basketball fans, but for the Liberty game, the top rows were curtained off, empty.