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NWSL whiffs with #PassTheBall campaign by refusing to sell its core product — great soccer

A new ad for the league featuring celebrities is strangely branded as a “PSA” and showcases no soccer.

The National Women’s Soccer League has a new marketing campaign out on Wednesday called #PassTheBall, using celebrity voices in an attempt to get the word out about the NWSL. It is, sadly, not an advertisement for the league at all. Instead, it’s a cavalcade of celebrities espousing tired tropes about women’s sports.

Watch as Ellen DeGeneres, Julia Roberts, Zendaya, Reece Witherspoon, David Beckham, and James Corden play all the hits you know and love:

Role models!
As A Father Of Daughters!
I Said Athletes, Not Female Athletes!

DeGeneres even frames the ad as a “PSA,” treating the league as a charity, before her friends tell you why you need to be donating your time to Save The Soccer Players.

Contrast this message with that of the WNBA, a league that does not devalue itself and beg for your time. Instead, it presents a compelling argument for why the WNBA is good sports. It intense, ultra-competitive, and the athletes kick ass. While DeGeneres says the quiet part loud and strips the message of its power — “notice she didn’t say female athletes!” — the WNBA actually presents female athletes as great athletes and makes no apologies for what it is. The WNBA is not a charity that you have an obligation towards, it’s a sports league that kicks ass because it’s good sports.

The WNBA’s ads also end with a simple and direct call to action — Here is what we are, here is what we do. If you like this, come to a game. While NWSL undoubtedly benefits from getting a push on Ellen and its social media channels, it fails use that platform to effectively advertise something tangible. The video features the date and time of the Championship game, briefly flashes the channel it’s on (Lifetime) at the very end — after the date and time disappear, rather than alongside it for some reason — and features no information on how to buy tickets. There’s also no mention of the playoff semifinals on Oct. 7 and 8. The idea seems to be more about spreading awareness rather than getting people interested in tuning in short-term, which is a strange strategy given that there are only three weeks left in the season.

Even more strange is that the ad features zero NWSL players and zero clips of soccer being played. It asks people to support something without introducing a personality or skill. The WNBA’s ad grabs your attention and gives you a reason to be interested in Maya Moore in less than 10 seconds. There are endless clips of amazing plays that could have been cut into this video. The players have awesome personalities that will draw people in if showcased. NWSL has so much good material that it can use to grab people and make them want to see more, but chose to use none of it in the #PassTheBall video.

NWSL’s marketing strategy makes me feel like the people in charge don’t believe they can get people interested in the product itself. Not only did they resort to celebrity endorsements and tired cliches about women’s sports, they hid the athletes. That’s garbage. NWSL is a good soccer league with cool players that stands on its own merits.

It’s time for NWSL to drop its inferiority complex. Last year’s NWSL Championship is one of the best soccer games I’ve ever seen. My reason for watching NWSL and encouraging my friends to watch it too is simple: I like soccer and a lot of women are great at soccer, therefore I watch women’s soccer. If that idea becomes mainstream, the stuff about role models and inspiration for young girls is sorted out for you. The league can start that process by believing in itself.