Sportswear companies have historically used radically different approaches to market products to men and women. For men, endorsements by athletes are the most common marketing tool, featuring powerful and well-known athletes using or wearing the products. However, this method has been less popular for marketing these same products to women. Instead, sportswear companies tend to favor showing their products as used by female models, frequently sporting mantras of anonymous “girl power.” But this discrepancy is slowly fading into the past.

According to Adweek, a strong female presence in athletic advertising is on the rise. Male-centric endorsement deals are becoming less and less dominant as female athletes ascend to similar statuses of fame and fortune as their male counterparts. In the past, we have seen star male athletes, such as LeBron James, slam-dunk over $65 million through endorsement deals alone. However, with a wider fan base starting to follow women’s athletics, as exemplified by the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup’s massive audience, the new face of athletic endorsements are the women themselves.

This year, Forbes reported that Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams were the only two women to make it to the top 100 of the list of highest-paid athletes, earning $23 million and $13 million in endorsements, respectively. Williams’ most recent endorsements deals include contracts with large brands such as Gatorade and Beats by Dre.

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Aside from an increasing interest in women’s sports, the recent shift can also be attributed to advertisers’ need to please the female consumer population. Women hold most of the market’s purchasing power, making up 70-80 percent of consumer purchases.

The New York Times identified the women’s athletic apparel brand Oiselle as the frontrunner in the race to push women to the front of athletic endorsements. The 20-employee Seattle based company has become the first solely women’s sports brand to outfit a major college running program: the cross-country and track teams of Yale.

With established powerhouse sportswear brands such as Nike and lululemon pushing brightly colored leggings and patterned sports bras, Oiselle had little room to flourish in this market. Instead, they are playing smart and capitalizing on the intrinsic connection between feminism and athleticism to their target audience. By establishing a female-centric marketing strategy, brands are peeling off the flower prints and lace to reveal what truly counts: the athletes themselves.

Matt Powell, sports analyst at NPD Group, commented, “Women have always performed at a high level. But the industry has started to figure out that they’re not just celebrities and fashion icons, but athletic heroes as well.”

These newly-recognized athletic heroes will be playing first string this year with endorsement deals with brands such as Nike, Coca-Cola, and McDonalds. So, let’s hear it for the girls!

-Madeline S. 

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