Twitter Alex Morgan, still a college student in 2009, was quite new when he tried it. Soon Instagram came and he started posting there too.
“I got a little more innocent on social media,” he says. “It was just fun.”
Over the years, Morgan graduated from UC Berkeley to play for the U.S. women’s team, winning World Cups and Olympic medals, and began to mix business with pleasure.
Like many female athletes, the San Dimas native realized that his sport was facing an obstacle that was often overlooked by major newspapers, magazines and television. He saw a way out of the problem.
Social media helped promote women’s football by connecting her directly with her fans and telling her story. His number of followers reached 9.5 million, which made him attractive to corporate sponsors because he was at least three times more popular on Instagram than the Dodgers.
“I don’t have a salary like Ronaldo or Messi,” says Morgan, now with the San Diego Wave from the NWSL. “I think women have been able to use their platforms to get more financial opportunities.”
This week marks the 50th anniversary of the entry into force of Chapter IX, a groundbreaking law banning discrimination in all programs or activities in federally funded schools. Her anniversary has caused a lot of talk about numbers – a steady increase in participation in sports among women and girls, increased funding for their high school and college teams, and a gap with boys and men who still need jobs.
There is another element of the story outside the jurisdiction of the law, as female athletes continue to struggle for attention.
A decade-long study by USC and Purdue found that women made up only 5% of the highlights on nightly news, ESPN’s SportsCenter and other shows. The study noted similar discrepancies in print and digital news.
The USC-Purdue study found that “the Big Three of men’s sports, especially basketball, football and baseball, still account for the largest share of seasonal or off-season coverage.” “When a women’s sports story appears, it’s a ‘one and it’s over’ event, which is usually the only female sports story covered in many men’s stories.”
Female athletes are still unable to compete with Cristiano Ronaldo’s 455 million Instagram followers or LeBron James’ 124 million followers, but Serena Williams has 14.9 million and Simone Biles has 6.8 million. Years after leaving tennis, Maria Sharapova still has 8.4 million followers On Twitter.
“Women athletes need to be more creative,” says Cheryl Cooky, a professor of American Studies in Purdue. “When social media emerged and there was a change in the media landscape where content could be produced by anyone, it gave them more power.”
In the spring of 2021, a Stanford performance coach posted Instagram photos of the difference between men’s and women’s weight rooms during March Madness. Oregon basketball player Sedona Prince watched a viral TikTok video.
The prince told him to 3.1 million viewers, “If you’re not worried about this problem, then you’re part of it.”
The NCAA responded with an apology and rapid improvement.
The event focused on years of a trend – female athletes have mastered the marketing of themselves and their sports through a variety of images, from carefully planned to informal and personal.
Williams shares photos with Kim Kardashian and Kendall Jenner the night after the Oscars. Biles’ fiancé Houston Texans security publishes snapshots of a trip to the Houston Astros game with Jonathan Owens. Morgan’s teammate in the national team, footballer Ali Krieger shows pictures with his daughter Sloan.
Watching Likes and talking to his fans helped Krieger, who plays for Gotham FC at NWSL, determine which types of recordings resonate the most.
“People want you to share a little more because that’s how they connect,” he says. “They’re not just in touch with football; they actually communicate through your personal life and stories. ”
Social media plays a slightly different role for Liz Cambage, who secures her place in the fashion world and is in the advertising campaign of French designer Thierry Mugler. The 6-foot-9 Sparks Center calls it “my second job” to post and label photos taken in fashionable clothes.
“It’s part of being an athlete now,” he says. “Some people don’t like it.”
Exposure is very important for women who, like their male counterparts, do not have access to many trade opportunities. Even Williams, a familiar face on television, fills his account with articles for migraine medicine and a video of a sponsor cooking herbal eggs in the kitchen.
As one of the most famous footballers in the United States – male or female – Morgan says, emphasizing the mattress company and the sports drink it approves; “For many sponsors, this is a game of numbers. They look at the audience, the analysts and the reaction to the sponsored posts. ”
However, self-marketing can raise difficult questions. Twins Hanna and Haley Cavinder, who play college basketball in Miami, garnered 4 million viewers and made a number of lucrative NIL deals with a TikTok account showing them dancing in bikinis and tights.
“There’s still this expectation to adapt to a certain type of image or create a certain brand,” Cooky says. “She can be trapped, conventional notions of femininity, beauty or heteronormative roles.”
Research in the 1980s and 1990s found that the media tended to discriminate against female athletes by portraying them in sexual attire or writing about them as wives and girlfriends. The situation has improved, but remains a concern. He talks about the Cambodian archetype: “Instagram girl, pretty girl, always wearing eyelashes, pretty clothes.”
“It’s sad that I helped promote my shopping by buying it,” he says. “I think it’s more of a reflection of the world we live in.”
Some athletes insist on sticking to their daily routine. Family life, lunch dates, holidays. This approach has been valuable to Krieger, who has remained silent about his relationship with teammate Ashlyn Harris for years. As members of the U.S. list, they were anxious to withdraw.
“We weren’t sure how our sponsors or our team would react,” he says. “You have to understand that if you take that risk, you can lose your job.”
The couple decided to celebrate their 2019 wedding on Instagram. The alleged negative comments were overshadowed by thousands of congratulations and enthusiastic responses from sponsors.
“The support we received was incredible,” Krieger said. “I never thought about it for a million years.”
The presence of female athletes on social media has helped to expand efforts such as Athletes Unlimited sports leagues and the Just Women’s Sports website. Cookie sees the continuation of the alternative path to success.
“You have to cultivate an audience,” the professor said. “We need to build a market.”
It is not that the legacy media is completely out of the picture.
In 2018, the Nielsen survey showed that in the United States, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand, 66% of the population and 84% of fans are interested in at least one female sport. A recent report by accounting and consulting giant Deloitte predicts that more attention to television and print could lead to a boom in women.
But female athletes do not wait.
“Creating a brand is very difficult,” says Krieger. “You have to be strategic.”
For women who have learned to use social media, this means being diligent and skilled. This means that they will continue to do the work themselves.
Times staff writer Myah Taylor contributed to the report.