Although it happens annually, it has not gotten any easier over the years for me to handle. I am talking about the crippling sadness that washes over me at the conclusion of the college basketball season. The thought of a larger portion of ESPN Sportscenter being devoted to baseball and hockey for the next few months always makes me nauseated. Yet, there is a pleasure island on the horizon — the draft.
As I am sure that you have heard repeatedly from the incessant chatter of tv analysts, this year’s draft is fairly weak, on the men’s side that is. The WNBA draft is filled with interesting prospects – Brittney Griner, Kelly Faris, Elena Della Donne and Skylar Diggins, to name a few. Della Donne and Diggins are interesting for reasons that go beyond the basketball court that should be obvious with only a little thought.
While these two are both breathtaking, basketball Anna Kournikovas they are not. Della Donne has finished her career as the 5th leading scorer in the history of collegiate women’s basketball on a team at University of Delaware that was reminiscent of Jordan and the Jordanaires of the 1980s. Diggins ended her career as the leading scorer in Notre Dame history, the winningest player in Notre Dame history and the two-time winner of the Big East Player of the Year. These are some serious athletes. They are also the real world equivalents of Helen of Troy, the mythological Greek beauty whose abduction from Sparta by Paris led to the launching of 1000 Spartan ships to seek her return in a conflict known as the Trojan War.
Sportsmen are high priced endorsers who are used to market and promote everything from consulting services to luxury watches to razors and beverages. The endorsement is at its best when the pitchman is at the pinnacle of his sport, good looking and is promoting a product that the consumer could actually imagine him using. Top pitchmen like Michael Jordan, Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant all fit those criteria. The challenge that brand managers have nationwide is finding female athletes who check all of those same boxes and who are also relevant in non-Olympic years.
Tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams meet these criteria, especially Serena (smile), yet they are not pitch women featured in national ads very often (their recent brilliant Apple ad is an exception). Michelle Wie’s career as a endorser got off to a flying start, but it is hard to do much with her when she has not won a LPGA event since 2010. Danica Patrick is also a great story and a pretty face who was the centerpiece of Go Daddy Super Bowl ads, yet she has not won a NASCAR or IndyCar race. Additionally, it is easy to ask yourself whether auto racing is even a sport.
Brilliant and beautiful performers from the Olympiads burn brightly in the vicinity of the Olympic Games (e.g., Alex Morgan, Lolo Jones, Dominique Dawes and Allyson Felix), yet they fade into obscurity 3-4 months after the Olympics are over. US Soccer player Alex Morgan is the sole exception to that rule as the nation also pays attention to the Women’s World Cup, so she can be marketed every two years when either the Olympics or World Cup are happening.
Della Donne and Diggins have the potential to be perennial all-stars and be in the spotlight annually. If I were a brand manager of a company looking to find an athlete to speak to the female consumer and the men who love them, I would be moving heaven and earth to sign them right now. Woe unto those who are dawdling at this moment, they risk the fate of the Trojans, the losers in the Trojan War.