Canadian Brands Need to Step Up

It’s no secret that Canada doesn’t support its amateur athletics programs the way it should (well, other than hockey of course), but when it comes to women’s sports, the lack of support is glaring.  We’ve all heard the debates around whether or not amateur athletes (or amateur athletic programs since some professional athletes play for our national teams when called upon) should even expect funding from the federal ranks and to be honest, that debate should now be silenced with the results that were seen from the Own the Podium campaign at the Vancouver Olympics.  If you want to see results from our national teams, then they need funding to be able to excel in their sports.  It’s pretty simple.

But outside of that argument, where are the sponsors for the various women who compete for our nation?  This came to mind as I was watching Canada play a powerhouse German team at the FIFA Women’s World Cup on the weekend. The women’s game has progressed light years beyond where it was even 10 years ago, with the quality of soccer being played rapidly improving.  Many countries are seeing more young girls enroll in soccer and they now have their own role models to look up to, not having to identify with the male players if they choose not to.   So why aren’t the various brands out there lining up for what is clearly an open opportunity to not only gain control of an available market, but also make a statement?

Christine Sinclair, the captain of the Canadian women’s soccer team is an undeniable leader.  She’s aggressive, scores goals, her teammates look up to her; has achieved at every level and has won individual awards.  She’s essentially everything you would want in a captain.  If there was ever a scene that cemented this, it was during the Germany game on the weekend, where she demonstrated what leadership is all about.  Going down the wing, she took an elbow from a German defender right to the nose.  As soon as I saw it, I said to my dad, “That’s broken.  No doubt, that’s going to be on the other side of her face.”  Surely enough, Sinclair went down holding her face and had to come off the field.  Replays showed the force of the impact and doctors looking at her on the sideline told her it was broken and that she shouldn’t go back in the game.  She fought them off and managed to convince her coach that she could go back in, telling her that she wanted to play.  She’s a competitor playing on the biggest stage for women’s soccer and it was going to take more than that to pull her out of the game.

Not only did Sinclair go back into the game, she scored a beautiful goal off a free kick, bending it over the wall, finding the top corner past a German keeper who had not been scored on at all at the last World Cup.  She also knocked over a German player during a tackle and yelled for her to get up.  She almost rallied her team back to tie the game, showing the kind of leadership that has made Canadian hockey players legends in this country.  Why wouldn’t you want your daughter to identify with Sinclair and that performance?  Why wouldn’t a brand want to attach themselves to that kind of determination and skill?

People will argue that the money isn’t there because the viewership isn’t there for women’s sports; that there aren’t enough eyeballs available to make it worth them to support the cause and create an identity.  This argument simply doesn’t have any weight.  According to the CBC, “More Germans watched their women’s team kick off the women’s World Cup against Canada than the men’s game against Serbia at last year’s tournament in South Africa” and “…the women’s game averaged 662,000 viewers.”  Those kinds of numbers simply cannot be ignored and neither can performances like Sinclair’s on the weekend.

Having a great brand is all about a great idea and even better timing.  When I was a kid, for a while I wanted to be Olympic gold medalist swimmer Alex Baumann…which is strange considering that I was a scrawny black kid who wasn’t very good at swimming and was allergic to eggs.  What does being allergic to eggs have to do with anything?  Well, Alex did a “Get Cracking” commercial for eggs where he didn’t even say anything, but as a kid, I was attached to the television and the more I saw that ad, the more I thought I could be an Olympic swimmer.  I kept trying to eat eggs (and kept getting sick by the time I got to school) and I took swimming lessons where I splashed around (frustrating instructors and other kids who were actually staying afloat) all because of that commercial.  I bet there are a lot of young girls who would probably run around in their backyards with soccer balls shouting “Sinclair scores!” and asking their parents to buy product X if they saw commercials featuring somebody who should be a bona fide star in Canadian households.

There’s doubt around whether or not Sinclair will play against France today because of her injury and if she does, she is going to be wearing what is an uncomfortable protective mask.  I hope she gets to play, because I know what it’s like to be a competitor and have to watch from the sideline because of an injury, but I also want to see her play because I want her to excel and show everybody – including marketers – what she is made of.

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