Jami Lobpries, Ph.D
Two months removed from the 2012 Olympic Games, the majority of the fame, spotlight, and national attention for the female Olympic athletes subsided. In fact, the majority of these women often do not have viable professional leagues to return to post-Olympics. Gender disparities continue to exist in the sports world, particularly in media exposure and financial dollars for endorsements or sponsorships. Professional female athletes are a brand, as are their male counterparts, but in today’s society the female athlete brand is not being capitalized as it can or should. Olympian LoLo Jones was criticized for accumulating more sponsorship deals than competitors who placed above her because critics believed she should only get deals if she “won.” It is a constant challenge to market female athletes and for female athletes to achieve the same profitable marketing deals male athletes are obtaining.
Female athletes are challenged to display the masculine qualities of aggression, confidence, and competitiveness every day in their sport in order to be successful athletes. However, society looks for femininity and beauty when it comes to marketing and appeal, giving rise to a gender conflict. Gender is socially constructed through psychological, cultural, and social means, and carries with it numerous societal expectations. An individual’s gender can communicate membership to certain societal groups and reveals social status, power, perceptions, and behaviors between sexes.
Professional athletes experiencing this gender conflict in today’s society can be found in professional softball. Being a team sport already causes difficulty in marketing individual athletes. Additionally, it is viewed as a masculine sport, furthering the gender role conflict debacle. Researchers have interviewed women who vary in years of professional and Olympic experience, and who have been considered for endorsement deals from Under Armour to Louisville Slugger.
I was a professional softball player in the National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) for four years and have personally experienced this conflict. It is my desire and my passion to help build the female athlete brand through my research and practice. Young girls deserve the opportunity to aspire to be professionals in their field of choice, even if that field is athletics. Title IX has helped paved the way for more girls and women to participate in sports, but it is time to take the next step in terms of professional growth for these athletes. With the high visibility of sport in general, female athletes have the right to earn a viable income from their identity as a brand. Understanding and identifying potential barriers and conflicts through this research can help serve as a foundation for creating more lucrative marketing deals for professional female athletes.
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