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Selling Sexy Soccer in 2013

By Simon Allen




ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - JANUARY 07: Hope Solo poses during the red carpet arrivals of the FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala 2013 at Congress House on January 7, 2013 in Zurich, Switzerland
ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - JANUARY 07: Hope Solo poses during the red carpet arrivals of the FIFA Ballon d'Or Gala 2013 at Congress House on January 7, 2013 in Zurich, Switzerland

Victoria Carty, an assistant professor of sociology at Niagara University in New York, concluded that “although athletes who use nudity may gain financially and take pride in their individual success, they are not necessarily acting on behalf of other women to enhance the collective position of women in society.” Feminist, Gloria Stienem said of women athletes using their sexuality to sell the sport “(It makes women) feel contemptuous of other women.” Not sure I agree with Gloria Steinem but it's worth looking at.

If by putting out a calendar or posing in a magazine you end up isolating a core group of paying customers then there is no reason to actually do that if your main goal is trying to put butts in seats at the stadium.

It's the same thing on the Men's side. Back in 1974 New York Cosmos goalkeeper, Shep Messing posed naked for Viva magazine. Famously saying that it was to get more “exposure” for the team and the league. The average attendance in the old NASL in 1974 was about 7,700 people per match. Not until Pele showed up did the attendance double. So needless to say soccer “fans” in wacky 1970's America weren't really sold on the sexualization of soccer back then.

The chance to see the best soccer players of the time actually play was the best form of advertising. And it's the same today. How many people suddenly became soccer fans when they saw Tim Howard in ESPN's Body Issue? And How many Women's soccer fans were created after Hope Solo posed in ESPN's 2011 Body Issue? How many DC United fans were created in 2009 when Chris Pontius posed? I'm betting it was a low number.

In 2011 the Vancouver Whitecaps came out with a campaign that was somewhat boggling. The viral ad was that of a nude model being painted with the end result being a half nude model with a painted on Vancouver jersey. It was neither titillating, original or effective.

Anne Giardini of the National Post wrote “(Women) are not passive...They are not blank canvas for some kind of perverse sports fantasy.” The ad campaign did well with the fans of the team (both the men and women) but the same question arises 2 years after the campaign. How many folks became regular season ticket buyers after the campaign? One group of people who didn't quite like the message in the advert was the Whitecaps corporate sponsor, Bell.