May 24, 2024

KT Business

The Business Servicess On for You

Advertising exec Laura Correnti was made for this era of women’s sports

5 min read

This story is the seventh in a series on women leaders in sports and sports marketing. Read the rest of the profiles here and keep reading Marketing Brew for more profiles to come.

In 2019, the US Women’s National Team won its fourth FIFA World Cup title, and as the players prepared to accept their medals, the stadium in France erupted in cheers. It wasn’t to chant “USA,” though—fans began to shout “equal pay”; earlier that year, the USWNT had filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against its governing body, the US Soccer Federation, seeking to be paid equally to the men’s national team.

Laura Correnti, a longtime media planner and partner at full-service ad agency Giant Spoon, remembers it well. She was watching the game from the Jersey Shore with her best friend, with whom she’d grown up playing soccer, and says she got goosebumps at the historic moment. Not long after that, she began to wonder about the commercial viability of the NWSL, the league in which many of the USWNT players compete stateside. Correnti says she went to its website and found just four brand partners listed.

“In that moment, I remember thinking that if this set of brands doesn’t evolve, and the investment doesn’t increase, I don’t know how this league, and this system, or this infrastructure, can support the demand that we’re seeing from consumers,” Correnti told Marketing Brew.

So she set out to do something about it. After years of testing and planning, Correnti in January opened Deep Blue Sports + Entertainment, a firm that she hopes will become “the leading agency of record for women’s sports,” she said, providing clients like MassMutual, the UCLA women’s basketball team, and Ally Financial strategic counseling and other services as women’s sports becomes an increasingly significant part of brands’ marketing plans.

Nowadays, the women’s sports landscape looks quite different than it did in 2019; for one, the USWNT eventually prevailed in its suit against the US Soccer Federation and won pay parity. As athlete pay has increased and viewership has surged, brand interest in women’s sports has grown, and there are several other companies in addition to Deep Blue dedicated exclusively to women’s sports. But when Correnti first started thinking about the concept that would become Deep Blue, the business case for women’s sports was less proven.

During the early Covid era, Correnti spent her free time learning about the business of women’s sports firsthand: In 2021, she helped found Paisley Athletic, a women’s pre-professional soccer team based in Kearny, New Jersey, where where Correnti grew up, that competes in the USL W League.

“I was so pumped to be back in and around the field experience,” said Correnti, who played Division I soccer at American University. “There’s nothing like that.”

Getting reacquainted with sports at the youth and grassroots level made Correnti optimistic about the possibility of creating organizations and systems that support women athletes, and affirmed to her that a firm like Deep Blue focused on increasing marketing and media investment in women’s sports could show women and girls that “there’s opportunity here should they play and stay in sport,” she said.

Before debuting Deep Blue, Correnti continued “pressure-testing, thesis-building, [and] data collection,” which included speaking with CMOs who played collegiate sports and attending women’s sports conferences. Many of the conversations that were happening at the time, Correnti said, were focused on lessons learned in the years since Title IX was enacted in 1972, but she also wanted to foster conversations about the future of women’s sports.

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So last year she started her own conference, the Business of Women’s Sports Summit, alongside Reddit co-founder, Angel City FC investor, and husband of Serena Wiliams Alexis Ohanian.

This year’s summit, held in late April in New York in partnership with Axios, featured a lineup of athletes like Sue Bird, Aliyah Boston, and Kiki Rice, plus marketing execs including Google’s Kate Johnson, State Farm’s Patty Morris, and MassMutual’s Jennifer Halloran.

Halloran said she’s been working with Correnti for almost seven years, as Giant Spoon was MassMutual’s media agency of record even before Halloran and her team enlisted further help from Deep Blue on MassMutual’s women’s sports strategy.

“It’s been a great opportunity for me, and for all the brands who have been trying to figure out where and when we can really authentically play” in women’s sports, Halloran told us at the summit.

Deep Blue clients have access to Correnti’s guidance, and they can also enlist the help of former and current pro athletes: Bird is a partner at Deep Blue, its chief strategy officer, and sits on its athlete advisory council, along with a who’s who of other women sports legends, including six-time Grand Slam champ Rennae Stubbs, former Australian women’s national cricket team member Mel Jones, former Colombian women’s national soccer team member Melissa Ortiz, and American pro golfer Shasta Averyhardt. The council members help provide strategic and creative insights for Deep Blue clients, Correnti said.

Deep Blue is an affiliate company of Giant Spoon, where Correnti still serves as a partner. They share a CFO/COO in Nikita Malhotra, and Giant Spoon’s co-founders provided Deep Blue’s seed investment, according to Correnti.

Though she has the support of that larger agency, Correnti said she’s “willing to bet [her] career” on Deep Blue. Brands and media companies are increasingly spending more on women’s sports—the NWSL in particular saw a 98% increase in commercial revenue from 2022 to 2023.

Deep Blue is looking to eventually get into the branded entertainment space, and might also get involved with venture capital. “Who’s to say that Deep Blue couldn’t own a women’s sports team at some point?” she said. On Tuesday, Correnti announced at the summit that the firm partnered with iHeartMedia on a soon-to-debut Women’s Sports Audio Network.

In the meantime, though, Correnti’s focus is to “keep the conversation moving” around women’s sports at events like Cannes and the Paris Olympics.

“We will be successful if in fact, at the end of this year, more money via brand dollars moves into the women’s sports space than when we started,” Correnti said. “That is the ultimate marker of success.”

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