An online sponsorship platform aims to close the sports pay gap with one sponsored Instagram post at a time.
Parity, founded in 2020, connects female athletes with brands and puts money in the pockets of athletes that are often overlooked in marketing conversations. The company signed a partnership with the WNBA Players Association in 2021 and has nearly 800 athletes from more than 70 sports, with women playing in major professional leagues to minor Olympic events, working with more than 30 companies.
Parity is not a marketing agency or company. Rather, it’s a liaison that helps female athletes capitalize on the growing influencer economy.
“Our goal that we have set for ourselves as a company is to put billions of dollars in the hands of female athletes over time,” said Alana Casner, vice president of content and strategy at Parity.
The long-term goal could help bridge a cavernous pay gap between men’s and women’s sports. The current NBA minimum wage is the full $1.4 million salary cap for a WNBA team, but even in 1973, the NBA’s 26th season, the league was ahead of the WNBA at the same age. NBA players earned an average salary of $90,000 in 1973, according to the New York Times. Today’s equivalent of $637,000 is still five times the 2022 WNBA average of $120,648.
With the WNBPA partnership, players can opt for Parity’s service. Athletes complete a detailed survey, which is used to match them with the appropriate brands that pay for sponsored social media posts. Parity has also launched a NFT series for athletes and hosts professional career development opportunities.
Athletes receive at least one penny per subscriber, per campaign through Parity’s paid publications. For a player like Sparks forward Katie Lou Samuelson, who has 131,000 Instagram followers and an unprotected salary of $72,141, every dollar of a minimum $1,310 from a Parity partnership counts.
“It gives good opportunities, especially for athletes who don’t necessarily have that many followers,” said Samuelson, who wore a custom pair of shoes on the 50th anniversary of Title IX designed in partnership with Parity and artist Katie Shaffstall, who is also responsible for the company’s social media campaign. “They want to find that equality for everyone.”
While parity is open to all professional female athletes, it is not intended for the top 5%, Casner acknowledged. Top athletes who have already built strong endorsement portfolios may not need third-party support.
It’s for “everyone,” Casner said.
It’s especially helpful for many WNBA players because their salaries haven’t skyrocketed yet and most of the marketing dollars go to the league’s biggest stars such as former No. 1 Sabrina Ionescu and the most valuable player of 2020 A’ja Wilson. Role-playing veterans earned the least in 2020 collective bargaining negotiations, which raised the salary cap by 31%, but raised top player salaries by 83% and rookie salaries by 35.8 %.
It is these mid-level players that the union has kept in mind with the Parity partnership.
“We want everyone’s boat to be able to ride,” said Sparks forward and WNBPA president Nneka Ogwumike.
Casner said Parity currently works with about 50 active WNBA players. Brands range from large corporations like Microsoft or Morgan Stanley that want to diversify their sponsorship spend to smaller startups targeting female athletes to launch their campaigns.
In the 18 months since Parity launched, the growing number of brands looking to partner with women has been incredible, Casner said. It was never ‘cool’ to be a fan of women’s sports, she added, until recently when WNBA players led the way in 2020 both on the court with television ratings on the rise and off the pitch by becoming leaders for social justice.
While many companies are only just beginning to take notice, the recent success solidified what Casner and other longtime fans already knew.
“This stuff is awesome,” Casner said. “That’s where the money should be spent.”
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