The Spectacle of Sport: The U.S. Women’s National Team

I recently attended a PRSA Georgia monthly luncheon focused on Atlanta United and how this team took the city – and country – by storm. Conducted as an interview, Elena Cizmaric and Matt Moore talked through their experience of successfully representing one of the most intriguing franchises in American sports history. Two of their main considerations for developing Atlanta United’s brand were “reaching” and “claiming a chair at the table” alongside other sporting giants.

While this luncheon was of personal interest to me – a current collegiate soccer player and hopeful public relations professional – I left the luncheon with a lot of questions on my mind. The timing of this luncheon seemed almost coincidental or maybe even intentional with the Women’s World Cup happening right now. I couldn’t help but wonder how the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) still struggles to garner successful media attention. Historically, the team has reached and claimed a seat at the table, daring to win a record three World Cups. So why, then, is the USWNT still cast in our men’s team’s shadow?

Soccer is the world’s most popular sport. Yet, for much of my lifetime and long before, soccer has been gracelessly labeled “a girl’s game” in the U.S. and has fallen behind the male-dominated sports – football, basketball, baseball and hockey. Yet, something strange is happening. The exponential growth of Major League Soccer has propelled the game to never-before-seen heights in the U.S., and North America has been awarded the 2026 World Cup (the largest and most covered sporting event in the world). You might think the sport’s greater recognition could push our women’s national team and the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) into the limelight. This is only partly the case.

As the representation of soccer in the United States expands through the MLS and World Cup, it simultaneously marginalizes the women’s side of the game, stealing attention and recasting the sport from “a girl’s game” to something considerably more masculine. In other words, the sport women once had a dominant claim on is shifting its spotlight. Now, U.S. women’s soccer has to compete for media attention against the ever-growing men’s side despite their incredibly impressive trophy cabinet.

Here is what the USWNT is doing to claim their throne:

Strategizing – “It’s not the warrior who’s never been knocked down you should fear…,” a voice says sternly as Megan Rapinoe, the USWNT’s startling left midfielder, gets slammed to the ground by an opponent. Several clips of Rapinoe now flash by as the voice continues, “it’s the warrior who knows what it’s like to get hit [Rapinoe – slammed again] and keeps coming back for more.” This “All Eyes on Us” commercial campaign aims to market the Women’s World Cup and our national team through the now increasingly more familiar lens of the men’s game. It is physical, fast-paced, loud, intense and dramatic. This is a brilliant approach considering the recent collapse of the men’s national team. In some ways, it is an attempt to overtake the hole left in soccer fans’ hearts by the men’s team, as the women are the true “warriors.”

Seizing the Moment – This is the perfect opportunity for the USWNT to promote itself. Most people are aware that the men’s team failed to make the World Cup in 2018 for the first time in 43 years. This women’s team gives American soccer fans something to cheer for, and the players capitalized on our excitement. In their first World Cup match, the USWNT scored 13 goals on Taiwan, breaking the previous Women’s World Cup goal differential of 11. Now, the team has scored the most goals ever in the preliminary stages of the world cup (18), while conceding zero. They are certainly living up to their campaign – “All Eyes on Us.”

Breaking Barriers – The USWNT is no stranger to controversy. Comprised of several players with controversial backgrounds, the team is known immediately as different. However, they have always stayed true to a collective identity. In 2016 Megan Rapinoe began kneeling during the national anthem in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick but also to represent her own plight as a homosexual female athlete, and not without the full support of her teammates. Later that year, 28 USWNT players filed a class action gender discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation on the grounds of significant pay inequity. This rippled across the sports world as groundbreaking. No women’s organization has ever done this before in sports history. These women have solidified themselves as the disruptors, strategizers and championed capitalizers.

With the world’s most prolific striker Alex Morgan serving as team captain throughout this World Cup, the United States is bound to make an impression as they’ve done on and off the field for over 20 years (see Brandi Chastain’s 1999 World Cup goal celebration). In my opinion, they are in many ways the queens of brand development, occupying both the men’s and women’s arenas in their campaign to succeed as one of the most recognized sports teams the world has ever seen.

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