Why Brands Need to Invest More in Female Athletes

Over the weekend, Nike dropped its newest ad encouraging women to “dream crazier.”

The 90-second montage captivated the progress women have made in the world of sports. The short film is narrated by the best tennis player in the world, Serena Williams, and is accompanied by clips of women dominating their sport along with the skepticism that comes from it due to the patriarchal society we live in.

There’s a powerful scene in the commercial where a female runner has a shirt with the words “ET LES FEMME?” which translates from French to “AND WOMEN?”

In essence, the commercial aims to shift to focus on what women can do due to their dreams, aspirations and talent.

The commercial is a masterpiece.

Nike and their campaign team have been doing a tremendous job as seen by their Colin Kaepernick ad and now this.

However, the fundamental question still remains — and women?

This past season, Nike became the official sponsor of the NBA and WNBA after years of working alongside adidas. While fans were ecstatic to see what the brand would do for their teams and their athletes, the reality was far from its original expectations. Gear was limited and often inaccessible. Most jerseys failed to even have the team name on the front.

But the problem isn’t just on Nike and their relationship with the WNBA. Dedicated sneakerheads of the WNBA have failed to receive their proper due. Nike and other brands lace their athletes with player exclusive sneakers, better known as PEs. Receiving a PE is a huge nod from a brand as it showcases a level of commitment to the athlete, their talent and marketability. However, a PE is still ways away from what every athlete dreams of as a kid — having their own shoe (better known as a signature shoe).

It’s important to mention that living legends Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird get PEs from Nike and even some exclusive pairs from LeBron James and Kyrie Irving themselves. At one point, Taurasi was even a signature athlete herself.

A’ja Wilson was recently wearing a Nike Adapt BB PE during the NBA All-Star Celebrity game in Charlotte. Maya Moore has had a multitude of PEs and even had her own ad with Jordan Brand. Candace Parker and adidas teamed up for a homage to the late Pat Summitt who was her coach at Tennessee with the adidas Pro Bounce 18 PE. Skylar Diggins-Smith was the first player to don the all-new PUMA Clyde Court Disrupt on court. Stephen Curry and Under Armour provided an exclusive all-female camp as a part of his Underrated Tour furthering his commitment to the game of basketball being accessible to all.

A’ja Wilson in her Nike Adapt BB PE (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Skylar Diggins-Smith in the PUMA Clyde Court Disrupt

But that’s not enough.

Over the summer of 2018, Nike recently retroed the Nike Air Swoopes II. Sheryl Swoopes was the first player to ever sign with the WNBA and was the first female player to ever have a signature with Nike with the Air Swoopes.

That was in 1995.


Nike Air Swoopes II

Since then, only a handful of WNBA players have been granted a signature shoe, namely Cynthia Cooper, Chamique Holdsclaw, Lisa Leslie, Rebecca Lobo, Nikki McCray, Candace Parker, Dawn Staley and Diana Taurasi. All are elite players in their own right, all lines were also short lived.

Dawn Staley’s Nike Zoom S5

Yet, it’s been quiet from the brands for roughly a decade.

It’s time to move forward from just appreciating female athletes in commercials and to start giving girls heroes with merchandise, performance gear and more.

Virgil Abloh’s collection for Serena Williams was perfect. A mixture of hype on staple silhouettes along with a set of performance gear for Williams herself was a step in the right direction.

OFF WHITE x NikeCourt "Queen" Collection
OFF -WHITE x NikeCourt “Queen” Collection

It’s time that Nike and other brands need to actually place women in their products and partnerships instead of just advertisements.

As of yesterday, WNBA veteran Monique Currie retired from the W and is set to work at Nike Headquarters to further push the visibly of female athletes in Nike products. A great step and hopefully a sign of things to come.

However, if Nike is determined to dream crazier, why not have more signature female athletes? The trajectory of the brand shows the endless possibilities that Nike can create for not only their female athletes but rather for women around the world.

It’s not just a dream nor is it uncharted territory.

It’s overdue.