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NWHL

NWHL still has a lot to prove to potential sponsors

Dani Rylan with the Isobel Cup. NWHL Buffalo Beauts vs Boston Pride, Isobel Cup Finals, March 11-12, 2016, Newark, New Jersey. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kaitlin S. Cimini
Kate Cimini/Today's Slapshot

The NWHL’s sole sponsor in the 2015-16 season was announced early in December when New England-based fast food franchise Dunkin’ Donuts partnered with the NWHL, a huge connection for a league not even finished with its inaugural season.

The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, though the league and Dunkin’ Donuts did reveal that the deal was a multiyear deal, similar to a deal it made only a few months later with USA Hockey.

The NWHL can’t stop at only one major sponsor, though. If it is to grow the salaries of its athletes, the number of its teams and access to the game for fans and players alike, it needs more dollars and more sway. With big-name sponsors behind the small league, it can improve access to both.

How to do so and who to target is another story.

Proctor & Gamble’s Gillette brand, for example, which has a history of sponsoring women gymnasts, could be a potential target for the NWHL. Gillette is headquartered in New England, where half the NWHL’s footprint is contained, lending a hometown hero quality to a potential partnership. Beyond that, Gillette has money to burn.

Gillette’s parent company, Procter & Gamble is the market leader in the global blades and razors market, with a market share of approximately 70 percent. It owes most of its success in this area to the Gillette brand and is valued at $20.2 billion by Forbes, with approximately $7 billion of that in sales alone.

Whether the NWHL is a good fit for Gillette is another story. In gymnastics, women athletes compete in skintight leotards, baring much of their legs. That’s the perfect advertisement for Gillette Venus and convinces young women watching gymnastics – without obvious ads – of the necessity of shaving.

Brianna Decker and Gigi Marvin lead girls at the first NWHL Dunkin Donuts-sponsored girls' hockey clinic 12/8/2015. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kaitlin S. Cimini

Brianna Decker and Gigi Marvin lead girls at the first NWHL Dunkin Donuts-sponsored girls’ hockey clinic 12/8/2015. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kaitlin S. Cimini

In hockey, however, players are literally covered from head to toe. In that sense, Gillette could be a very hard sell as a partner or sponsor in the league.

Looking beyond Gillette to its parent company, however, opens up a host of possibilities. P&G would be a much better connection for the NWHL than simply Gillette; P&G owns not only Gillette but also Pampers, Tide, Ariel, Always, Whisper, Pantene, Mach3, Bounty, Dawn, Pringles, Folgers, Charmin, Downy, Lenor, Iams, Crest, Oral-B, Actonel, Duracell, Olay, Head & Shoulders, Wella, and Braun.

Aside from the obvious connections, many of these products are aimed at women as household purchases. Dawn, Pantene, Crest, Folgers, Charmin, Downy, and so on and so forth are considered typical staples and trusted products. Their companies, however, are constantly looking for ways to continue to generate trust, and therefore, more purchases.

Targeting organizations focused on women is a savvy way to do so, and with the league being so small, might not cost the brands very much.

Recent studies show that women continue to do the majority of household shopping and are evident in larger numbers as fans of women’s sports (between 30 and 40 percent self-identify as fans of women’s sports as compared to the 30 to 35 percent who identify as fans of men’s sports).

Additionally, women’s sports are on the rise with the NWHL, CWHL, WNBA and NWSL making significant strides over the past two decades. This puts women’s sports at the forefront of potential target areas for advertisement of these brands.

With the NWHL specifically targeting families of little girls, these consumers are already strolling around NWHL arenas, some of them making shopping lists for the following week. The burden is on the NWHL to prove that it has a large enough fanbase that P&G’s brands would benefit from targeted marketing within the NWHL’s arenas and its consumer base.

Beyond P&G there are myriad brands that are already finding ways to use women athletes to market their products and clearly see value in the women’s market.

Under Armour, for example, worked with Misty Copeland, the first African-American principle dancer with the American Ballet Theater. The rewards were tremendous.

Copeland’s campaign with Under Armour helped to make the company a viable competitor against brands like Nike and Lululemon. The video featuring her earned more than 10 million views on YouTube while, in the months since the campaign ran, Under Armour’s women’s business has grown 60 percent year-over-year to $600 million.

Similar to what Under Armour did with Copeland, individual players within the NWHL can partner with brands to find ways to earn further fame and fortune for themselves. In fact, there several players who already have.

Boston Pride forward and Olympian Hilary Knight has made herself into coveted brand representative, partnering with Chobani, Red Bull and Nike to sell herself and, by extension, the companies she has partnered with. Meanwhile her fellow Olympian and Buffalo Beauts forward, Meghan Duggan, represents Lululemon and Dunkin’ Donuts, among other brands.

Whether the NWHL is successful in the long run will depend on its ability to add more big-name brands to its list of sponsors, but the league will have to hold up its end of the bargain and deliver a large enough audience to make the connections worthwhile for such organizations.

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