Wambach Is Sponsorship Winner After U.S. Women Lose in Soccer

As Abby Wambach tried to deal with a nightmarish U.S. loss in the Women’s World Cup final, her agent was watching what looked much more like a dream come true.

Dan Levy of the Wasserman Media Group said his e-mail traffic had already tripled with requests for appearances by Wambach hours after his client and her teammates lost to Japan in a penalty-kick shootout for the championship in Germany.

“We knew our playing resonated,” Wambach said. “But we didn’t know how it would translate into dollars and cents.”

A nine-year veteran of professional soccer who helped get her team in position to win the title, Wambach is one of the few players on the U.S. team who have been able to turn success on the field into sponsorship contracts, Bloomberg Businessweek reports in its Oct. 24 issue.

A win over Japan for the championship on July 18 might have made those contracts even bigger, according to Bob Dorfman, a sports marketer at Baker Street Advertising in San Francisco.

“Losing probably cost Wambach a couple of million dollars’ worth of additional deals,” Dorfman said. “She does have the potential to transcend the sport.”

Wambach and goalkeeper Hope Solo became the most recognizable female U.S. soccer players since Mia Hamm in the aftermath of the World Cup. They appeared on television, from the early morning “Today” show to “Late Show with David Letterman. Solo did a turn on “Dancing With the Stars.” Bank of America Corp. signed them as spokeswomen for the Chicago Marathon.

Yet most others on the team remain anonymous.

“It would have been amazing if this team won,” says Hamm, who led the U.S. team to a World Cup championship in 1999. “So many more players would have been included in the celebration.”

Gatorade Connection

In 2004, shortly before she retired from competitive soccer, Hamm recommended Wambach to Pepsico Inc.’s Gatorade brand, which had signed a sponsorship deal with Hamm in 1999 and had been backing the U.S. team since 1998. Hamm accompanied Wambach to a Gatorade event at golf’s Masters Tournament, introducing her to the company’s executives.

“It was my tryout,” says Wambach, who passed the test and remains a Gatorade endorser.

“We’ve gotten more involved with Abby over the years,” says John Shea, Gatorade’s senior director of sports marketing.

Gatorade completed its first deal with Solo during the World Cup. Shea declined to give financial details on any of the contracts.

Wambach recently shot a commercial for magicJack Plus, a broadband telephone device from a company founded by Dan Borislow, who owns the Women’s Professional Soccer club Wambach plays for, the magicJack, in Boca Raton, Florida.

“I’m looking forward to selling as many of them as I can,” she says.

League Struggles

The women’s league is struggling. None of its six teams is profitable. The average salary for a player is $25,000.

Wambach has had a contract with Nike Inc. since 2002, when she was drafted out of college to play professionally. The terms of the deal are private, though Wambach said that “the more goals I score, the more accolades I accrue, the higher my income. That’s good for me.”

In Germany, Wambach scored in the 122nd minute to tie the quarterfinal against Brazil, a game the U.S. won in a shootout. In the championship match, her overtime goal put the U.S. ahead, only to have Japan tie it and win on penalty kicks 3-1.

Wambach, who was interviewed at a Nike event in Beaverton, Oregon, wants to stay in the game until the next World Cup, but it’s possible the London Olympics next year will be her last chance to cash in.

“If you’re a female athlete today, you should hope the generation after you will make more money than you can,” she says.

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