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The Women’s Sports Revolution Will Be Televised

Amid a record-setting year for women’s sports, Ally Bank’s Head of Sports and Entertainment Marketing Stephanie Marciano speaks to Boardroom about the myriad ways to invest in growing the women’s game.

In 2024, we are actively witnessing a revolution in women’s sports. In the last month alone, the following headlines have greeted sports fans:

Women’s sports have taken the A-block on marquee sports programs, and athletes across women’s basketball, soccer, and more are finally getting the recognition that they deserve.

However, these attention-grabbing moments are more than just that. Together, they’re the collective evidence of a movement. The generational talent of female athletes has ushered in historic milestones. Meanwhile, a number of companies behind the scenes have helped elevate the opportunity for fans to lock in with their favorite athletes and teams.

From media equity to centering athlete voice, Boardroom sat down with Stephanie Marciano, Head of Sports and Entertainment Marketing at Ally Bank, at the U.S. Women’s Open Presented by Ally at Lancaster Country Club to break down the various levers that have collectively contributed to the revolution underway in women’s sports.


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Pledging Allegiance to Women’s Sports

In 2022, Ally unveiled its 50/50 Pledge, which promised that the financial institution would commit equal spending to advertising across men’s and women’s sports by 2027. According to Marciano, the initiative was a natural directive given the makeup of the company’s leadership team.

“It really starts with the fact that so many of the leaders at Ally believe in the power of sport for our business. So many of the leaders at Ally are former women athletes,” she said. “We have always known that the product’s tremendous. It’s really been just about what levers do we pull to kind of help this industry go forward.”

Quickly, the company identified a four-pronged approach to ensure that its investment had an outsized effect. First, the company identified media equity as the most critical area for growth. The product was undoubtedly top-tier; however, fans struggled to get easy access to the women’s games.

“If fans can’t turn the TV and see the live games, it’s hard for them to get access to the product,” Marciano said.

The company’s impact has been enormous. Ally has been a key player in pushing the industry to create opportunities for people to tune into women’s sports, reflected in the likes of the NWSL’s historic media rights deal and the expanded streaming package for WNBA fans this season.

Emily Sonnet to Boardroom on the importance of the NWSL’s history-making media rights deal.

Second, Ally is committed to helping enhance the ecosystem of journalism surrounding women’s sports. Marciano spoke to the power of the storytelling around female athletes that was frequently overlooked by the traditional sports media. The company’s strategy, therefore, extends beyond the broadcast and highlights the power of emerging media companies, including Just Women’s Sports, The Gist, and others, to help enhance the storytelling opportunities that served as a megaphone for the women’s game.

Third, the company took a thoughtful approach to the traditional brand ambassadorship model. In addition to inking sponsorship deals with Las Vegas Aces favorites Sydney Colson and Alysha Clark and No. 2 ranked golfer Lilia Vu, Ally brought together a number of athletes in an advisory capacity.

“That athlete perspective is so critical to us,” Marciano told me. “It really helps when a player or an athlete believes in the work and can help us advance the work.”

The fourth priority? Showing up.

Teeing Off a New Chapter

As we sit in the media center at Lancaster Country Club, Ally’s fourth strategic priority surrounds us. The company committed to identifying key events on the sporting calendar to create an outsized presence. This year, that included its debut as the presenting sponsor of the US Women’s Open. The event marked the first major moment in the company’s new multi-year relationship with the USGA.

“[Entering a partnership with] the USGA ended up being a really easy decision for us because they share our values. They had an entry point for us to partner on the men’s side and also partner on the women’s side with this presenting partnership, help impact the purse, and keep it the highest in all of golf.”

The event had an ever-present buzz, as it was actively rewriting history for the women’s game, yet again. The 2024 US Women’s Open boasted the highest purse in the history of women’s golf at $12 million, a $1 million increase from the same tournament in 2023.

The impact was evident to all, fans and athletes alike.

“It’s really awesome to see a company like Ally really take the initiative in women’s sport and in women’s golf, too,” Ally athlete Lilia Vu said to me via phone, as she was kept from competition by a lingering back injury. “They really are doing different stuff from what other people say. They walk the talk as well. They really commit a lot of time to media equity, so that’s really cool to see.”

And it was clear that the investment was more than a one-off. As a veteran of the tour, Vu commented on the steady progress that she’d observed.

“Growing up and seeing all the purses get bigger and bigger every year. And I think most of us golfers take our job really seriously. We view ourselves as a business, so it’s really cool and endearing to see other companies see how important it is to us,” she said.

2024 US Women’s Open Presented by Ally champion, Yuka Saso (Chris Keane / USGA)

Fellow golfer Gabi Ruffels echoed this sentiment: “Women’s sport is just elevating, not only golf but other sports as well, tennis and basketball. It’s really going on an upward trajectory and it’s just thanks to brands like Ally for investing and supporting women’s sports.

“I feel like women’s golf as a collective, the strength of the field is getting better. It’s tough. These girls are good and the depth is getting better as well. It’s nice to see companies like Ally recognizing that and putting money and support into women’s golf and having the record purse this week is just a huge step forward for women’s golf. And hopefully, it encourages other companies and other brands to invest in women’s golf because it’s a good product.”

In the spirit of being present, throughout the major women’s golf event, Ally created bespoke moments for every type of fan. From a premium clubhouse spread to pop-up competitions for even the youngest attendees, the company made its mark in a thoughtful way and ensured that fans’ attention was never far from the athletes who served as the anchor for the marquee event.

For the company, the partnership was more than a vanity placement on the signage around Lancaster Country Club.

“When we partner with someone, we activate, we lean in,” Marciano clarified. “We don’t just write a check and partner; we show up in every single area, from hospitality and our customers to the fans … We activate at 100%, and that matters to us.”

Leveling Up

In the first two years since publicly taking the 50/50 Pledge, Ally has seen major returns, proving that investing in women’s sports is simply good business. However, Marciano and her team still have a mountain of work to do. This includes working with other companies investing in the space to create a new blueprint for the future and inspire others to join them.

“We truly believe that there are so many brands investing well in women’s sports, but sometimes brands are just showing up for the tent poles, such as the Women’s World Cup, Olympics,” she said. “We need brands, bigger brands that have bigger budgets than us, to come in and do longer-term deals. Because when you write that check and you’re around for the long term, it allows us to project out how’s this industry going to grow.”

Marciano is clear that the opportunities to make an impact are abundant. While Ally has focused on media equity as a primary driver of the future of women’s sports, she notes that there are various ways that other brands can show up.

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Regardless of the lever, she points to the importance of core values such as accountability and transparency at the heart of the change.

“If you’re intentional, it’s not always about writing the biggest check, but it’s about how you do it, how you’re changing the status quo, how you’re being disruptive,” Marciano said. “We really kind of coined this term over the last couple of years about build an accountability model so that you can every single day hold yourself accountable and then be transparent with the work.”

And, as the industry continues to evolve, Marciano anticipates that more and more female athletes will drive the work in its next chapter, not only with their contributions to the game but also as key voices driving the business.

“I think a ton of athletes are going to come out as they retire, she said. “Hopefully, in their retirement, they’re better off because they were paid better. And hopefully, as a brand, we can continue to knock down that door. But I think many will out and be coaches and be executives and be on the business side of things.”

Amid the records and the outsized financial opportunities, Marciano reflects on the motivation behind the entire effort. Pausing, she says:

“For young girls to see this change and to go into sold-out arenas and to turn on the TV and see the coverage, they’re now seeing a path for themselves and there’s nothing more important than that.”

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Bernadette Doykos

Bernadette Doykos is the Senior Director of Editorial Strategy at Boardroom. Before joining the team, her work appeared in ELLE. She previously served as the head of evaluation for a nonprofit where she became obsessed with systems and strategy and served as the curator of vibes and extinguisher of fires for the design thinking firm Stoked. She is constantly plotting a perfect tunnel ‘fit and a playlist for all occasions.

About The Author
Bernadette Doykos
Bernadette Doykos
Bernadette Doykos is the Senior Director of Editorial Strategy at Boardroom. Before joining the team, her work appeared in ELLE. She previously served as the head of evaluation for a nonprofit where she became obsessed with systems and strategy and served as the curator of vibes and extinguisher of fires for the design thinking firm Stoked. She is constantly plotting a perfect tunnel ‘fit and a playlist for all occasions.