by Paul Kennedy @pkedit
A jersey sleeve agreement might not seem like a big deal, but it represents a turning point for the National Women’s Soccer League.
Ally Financial joined the NWSL's growing list of national sponsors, signing an agreement to become a league-wide jersey sleeve sponsor.
It's the latest in a series of commercial agreements that the NWSL has reached, showing its has been able to capitalize on the new wave of interest in women's soccer -- and women's sports -- since the 2019 Women's World Cup that the COVID-19 pandemic has not slowed.
NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird described the Ally agreement as "an extraordinarily unique proposition in the world of sports sponsorship."
Ally Financial, which will also be the NWSL's first official banking partner, will develop a program to give a portion of its sponsorship fees directly to NWSL players and work with the league on Diversity, Equality and Inclusion initiatives.
In 2020, the NWSL signed up P&G and Secret as presenting sponsors of the Challenge Cup and announced a new multi-year partnership with Verizon. Secret will sponsor the 2021 Challenge Cup, which will begin on April 9 as a preseason tournament.
On Monday, Nationwide was announced as a league sponsor. On the day of the 2019 Women's World Cup final, the NWSL and Budweiser announced one of the most significant corporate sponsorship agreements in the league’s history.
Significant commercial interest didn't exist in the NWSL's early years and even after the USA won the 2015 Women's World Cup before record U.S. television audiences.
With the exception of Nike, an apparel sponsor since the league's launch in 2013, the NWSL nationally and most of its clubs locally struggled to secure sponsors before 2019. In 2015, when Nike extended its agreement, the NWSL's only other sponsors were Coppertone and the National Mango Board.
Things changed earlier in 2019, but they began with a step back.
The NWSL and A+E ended their partnership with a year left on a three-year sponsorship. It wasn't just an agreement covering a national game of the week on Lifetime, it gave A+E an equity stake in the NWSL, and it managed the digital and commercial side of the business.
But A+E struggled to sell commercial deals and had no intention of renewing, so the divorce in the middle of preseason made sense even if it left the league without a national broadcast partner at the start of a World Cup year.
In October 2019, the NWSL hired Octagon as part of a multi-tier consulting partnership to advise the league on its media rights, sponsorship and marketing.
The first move came in March 2020, just as the league was shut down in the first week of the preseason because of the COVID-19 pandemic. CBS Sports and Twitch acquired the media rights to exclusively present all NWSL matches for three years.
Strong ratings on CBS for a pair of Challenge Cup matches and during the Fall Series when college football postponements opened Saturday afternoon dates gave the NWSL new national exposure and added momentum.