The U.S. women's soccer team might have just left $10 million in endorsements on the table after Sunday's shocking loss to Japan in the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup.
For the moment, anyway.
The U.S. twice lost one-goal leads late in the game and succumbed to the Japanese, 3-1, on penalty kicks in the championship game in Frankfurt, Germany. Instead of winning their first World Cup since 1999 -- which turned several players from that team, including Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain, into global endorsers -- the Americans might have squandered some marketing opportunities.
The team had spent the better part of the last month capturing the imagination of the public with their play, including dramatic quarterfinal and semifinal victories over Brazil and France, respectively.
Star forward Abby Wambach and goalie Hope Solo were likely the biggest endorsement losers. Both players were looking at $3 million to $4 million a year in marketing deals -- a modest sum predicted by sports marketing experts but still a decent amount for a sport that has had trouble sustaining roots with the American public. The experts said another $2 million could collectively be brought in by remainder of the team.
"Yeah, the defeat cost the U.S. women some heavy endorsement dollars, but I don't think it's a total loss," said Bob Dorfman, exec VP-executive creative director at San Francisco-based Baker Street Partners and an expert in sports marketing. "The final was an epic match, it likely drew a huge audience, and it made household names of Wambach, Solo and [Alex] Morgan."
And that was amplified by social media, said Julie Foudy, who was one of the stars of the 1999 U.S. team that became something of a cultural phenomenon when it won the World Cup that was hosted that year in the U.S. The games drew sellout crowds across the country, including more than 100,000 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., for the final against China -- the one known for a final kick by Ms. Chastain, who became famous for spontaneously ripping off her jersey to expose her black sports bra.
Ms. Foudy said there is a big difference between '99 and 2011 -- social media. "With Twitter and Facebook, it's exponentially shared," Ms. Foudy, now an analyst for ESPN, said on a conference call prior to the final game. "Word-of -mouth has created such an amazing buzz."
Twitter said this morning that the Women's World Cup Final set a new record for the social-networking site with 7,196 tweets per second during the event.
Despite the U.S. women losing out on immediate endorsements that might have come with winning the World Cup, Mr. Dorfman believes it still sets the team up well for marketing deals after next year's Olympics in London.
"If a stunning loss can still be a win, this was it," he said. "With the 2012 Olympics just around the corner, women's soccer will stay relevant, and the U.S. team's quest for gold will take on added drama and relevance. Expect Wambach, Solo and Morgan to be highlighted heavily by Olympic sponsors and other advertisers leading up to the Games."
Ms. Wambach and Ms. Solo were clearly the star players throughout the tournament, but the 22 -year-old Ms. Morgan -- the youngest player on the team -- stole the day on Sunday by scoring one goal and assisting on the other for the Americans.