Visa has announced the roster of 70-plus athletes it will sponsor at the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo, and the list includes some history-making women: Megan Rapinoe, Simone Biles and Katie Ledecky.
The company says its new Team Visa roster is the most diverse ever, representing 43 countries. At a time when World Cup star Rapinoe and the rest of the women’s national soccer team have been fighting a legal battle against the U.S. Soccer Federation over equal pay, Visa casts itself as a longstanding champion for women. Since the beginning of the Team Visa program in 2000, the company says, 54 percent of members on average have been women.
Rapinoe says it's meaningful to have a major global brand like Visa backing the cause. “To be able to not only partner with brands, but to help influence the way they see the world, the way they interact in the space around women's equality—and just opportunity for women—is really important to me,” Rapinoe told Ad Age at the sidelines of an event in San Francisco, where Visa offered athletes resources on skills like financial literacy and personal brand-building.
Visa added Rapinoe to its roster in May, and it also signed a five-year sponsorship deal with U.S. Soccer, with over half of its support going to women players, a move that was widely praised. Rapinoe said she had conversations with Visa about that decision, which she sees as part of a broader strategy for change in sports.
“All the time we talk about what’s going to influence people?” she says. “What's going to influence the [International Olympic Committee], what's going to influence all of these big federations and governing bodies? It's money, obviously, and ads and sponsorships.”
Kate Johnson, Visa’s head of global sponsorship marketing, says that given the brand's reach, it wants to stand for universal acceptance. “How can you not stand for anything but equality and making sure that everyone is on equal footing when it comes to these incredibly important moments?" she says.
Biles, a four-time Olympic gold medalist and the most-decorated gymnast in World Championship history, and Ledecky, a five-time Olympic champion in swimming, were also announced Wednesday as new members of Visa’s team, along with athletes representing new Olympic sports in surfing, skateboarding and sport climbing.
Visa, an Olympic sponsor since 1986, is the worldwide payment technology partner of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. It’s among the top-tier sponsors, along with companies including Coca-Cola, Toyota and Alibaba Group.