October has been quite the busy month for Michelle Wie. In the span of two weeks the young golfer officially turned professional, signed several multi-million dollar endorsement deals with major American companies, became the new face of a growing sport in the world’s most powerful nation and, to top it off, she turned 16.
By signing endorsement deals with Sony and Nike, reported to be worth around $10 million, Wie becomes the latest in a long line of American-born female athletes tapped to head aggressive marketing campaigns and help a growing sport reach new audiences.
In Canada, where sports are as important as they are in any country, major corporations have repeatedly ignored our top female athletes and it has become more than just a “wee” problem.
Lori Kane, Canada’s top golfer, has had a long and successful career on the LPGA tour, With four career victories – four more than Wie has to date, she has not been offered equally lucrative sponsorship deals from major Canadian organizations to help sell the game of women’s golf, one the country’s most popular sports. Kane has had tremendous success on the course, but not off of it. Her potential to market the game in Canada – and increase the popularity of the LPGA tour in a country with many female golfers – has been left untapped.
Canada’s failure to use female stars to market sports is not limited to golf. The Canadian Women’s National Soccer Team, ranked 12th in the world, has been a source of national pride for their unexpected success at international tournaments in recent years. The team, however, remains largely unknown to the Canadian public. The US team, by contrast, is full of people whose faces you see everyday. Mia Hamm, the recently-retired star, was the face of the sport in the United States during its years of explosive growth in the 1990s. Even less stellar talents, like Brandi Chastain were on the covers of magazines and appeared in major advertising campaigns.
This type of campaign gave legions of young soccer players identifiable idols in which to place their personal aspirations.
Canada’s best young talent, teenager Kara Lang, is a budding international juggernaut and could be used to market the game in a similar way as Hamm. But, given Canada’s track record, it’s unlikely this will happen. Lang’s career will likely be spent in the shadows of her often less charismatic and less talented American opponents.
Canada’s most esteemed female sports team, competing in its most popular sport, is also not immune to Canada’s inability to seize the day and create sports symbols for future generations. The national women’s hockey team has given young female puck lovers a bevy of heroes, from Cassie Campbell to Hayley Wickenheiser, yet the players are rarely seen in commercials and most Canadians could not recognize the majority of the team without a helmet on. By comparison, Jennie Finch, and other star of the US’s wildly successful and popular national softball team, has been the subject of magazine covers, advertising campaigns and was given the handed to a popular television show.
Are the American athletes that much more marketable than the Canadian girls, are they more talented or better at connecting with the public? The answer is no.
Canada is simply missing the opportunity to utilize their own stars to raise the profile of women’s sport and help put the stellar accomplishments of our female athletes on display to the rest of the world.