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What impact will former UConn star make on advertising?
To no one's surprise, Maya Moore is having a standout rookie season in the WNBA.
A four-time first-team All-American at UConn, where she led the Huskies to a record 90 consecutive victories, Moore was the first overall selection in April's draft. She started in the All-Star Game last month and is third on the first-place Minnesota Lynx in scoring at 12.9 points per game a season after the Lynx finished with one of the worst records in the league.
But Moore had a notable impact as a professional before she played a minute in the WNBA.
In May, Moore became the first female basketball player to sign an endorsement deal with Jordan Brand, the popular sneaker company owned by Nike that is centered on Michael Jordan. The brand has deals with some of the best basketball players in the world, including Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony, as well as with baseball players like Derek Jeter and C.C. Sabathia, football players Dwight Freeney and Andre Johnson, and NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin. April Holmes, an amputee runner, was the first woman to sign with the brand, in 2009.
"When my agent told me that Jordan was on the table and was very interested in having me be a part of their team, that was one of those opportunities where you don't really realize it until it kind of hits you moment by moment," Moore said in a telephone interview.
Although other WNBA stars like Lisa Leslie, Sheryl Swoopes and Candace Parker have signed endorsement deals with brands like Adidas and Nike, Jordan's decision to sign Moore could be a breakthrough for female athletes looking to achieve greater marketability.
"It's definitely an accomplishment," said Bob Dorfman, the executive creative director for Baker Street Advertising. "It's a coup for her. It is a prestigious brand. It certainly gives her a leg up in the marketability category among female athletes."
But for the former WNBA president Val Ackerman, the endorsement deal is not enough. She said the brand really needed to showcase Moore.
"I think the thing to see will be the extent to which Nike activates against the relationship because to sign her is one thing, but then to really take advantage of the relationship - have her in the advertising campaigns or other programs around her - is really going to be the test," Ackerman said. "The signing is really just the beginning."
So far, the deal has not gone beyond conversations in which the brand has "been able to tap into her mindset and insight in terms of how she approaches the game," said KeJuan Wilkins, Jordan Brand's vice president.
Jordan Brand would not provide details of Moore's contract.
Traditionally, female athletes in individual sports like tennis, track and golf have had much of the marketing success for women in terms of dollars and the number of endorsement deals. According to Forbes, the 10 highest-paid female athletes in 2010 played individual sports. Tennis star Maria Sharapova was the highest-paid female athlete in the world and signed an eight-year extension with Nike reportedly worth as much as $70 million in 2010. Serena and Venus Williams were No. 2 and No. 3 on the list.
Rarely, if ever, have women in team sports commanded similar fortune. The most prominent - and perhaps only - example of women in team sports finding significant marketing success were Mia Hamm and the 1999 U.S. women's national soccer team, which won the World Cup. Hamm was the most prominent member of the team and had endorsement deals with Nike and Gatorade, which ran advertising campaigns featuring her, including one that put her alongside Michael Jordan.
"I don't think it's the creation of superstardom," Nova Lanktree, the marketing vice president of the sports entertainment marketing firm Octagon, said of Jordan's decision to sign Moore. "We can look as far back as 1996 when women were just on fire in the Olympics and later when the women's soccer team won the World Cup. They could not have had bigger, better news, but I don't think they had great successes. I think they had good success, but not great."
To become marketable in the male-dominated world of sports, female athletes have needed a combination of novelty, like a Women's World Cup in the United States; off-the-field endeavors, like the Williams sisters' fashion ventures; and sex appeal. Anna Kournikova never won a WTA singles title, but she became a star largely because of her attractiveness.
"Those of us who are more idealistic, particularly the people who work in women's sports, want to believe that what happens on the athletic surface is all that matters," Ackerman said. "I think the reality is sometimes it's not enough to be a great athlete. You have to have something more. So whether that's loads of charisma, good looks, sometimes an edginess or a brashness can get you there, or just great personal style."
Wilkins said that Jordan signed Moore because she embodied commitment and dedication.
Moore said of the deal, "I think it's one of those questions we can better answer down the road as far as the impact it's going to make,"
She said she thought it was "cool" that Jordan, who has input in decision making at the brand that bears his name, "recognizes the talent and some of the intangibles that he looks for in an athlete, regardless of if they're male or female."