Ally's Andrea Brimmer on Taking a Stand for Women's Sports
In less than two years, Ally Financial has shaken up women's sports, charting a course for gender parity with CMO Andrea Brimmer calling the plays.
That announcement followed an unprecedented deal one month ago, when Disney/ESPN and Ally signed a multi-year, multimillion dollar pact. The company also became an official sponsor of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC)—and, through NIL agreements with female athletes, the digital financial services giant puts money directly into players' pockets.
In 2022, Ally made headlines with a groundbreaking pledge to advertise equally across men's and women's sports programming over the next five years.
Brimmer's passion for the cause runs deep. She played Division 1 soccer at Michigan State University on its first-ever women's varsity team.
Below, the exec explained her strategy for boosting female sports and athletes in 2023 and beyond.
Muse: What inspired the 50/50 pledge and the sponsorship deal with Disney/ESPN?
Andrea Brimmer: Last year was the 50th year anniversary of Title IX. And we knew a lot of brands would do something, but we thought it would be more tributary in nature. We wanted to do something that would be real, something that would make lasting change and help push parity. There were two insights that were interesting to us. The first was that women's sports receive less than 10 percent of the media coverage today. That was a staggering number to us. The second insight was that 94 percent of C-suite women played sports at some point during their life, and 54 percent played at the collegiate level, myself included. As a bank, with a focus on economic mobility, we felt this was a pivotal opportunity to build a pipeline of business leaders through sports. So, we came up with the idea of a 50/50 pledge. We put a five-year time horizon on that to shine a light on the unavailability of media, and to put some pressure on networks and other outlets to start providing more women's media for us to buy.
The first example was what we call primetime-ification. We worked with CBS and the NWSL to move the Women's Championship game to network primetime. That was a first for a championship game in any women's sport.
The second was the ESPN-ACC deal. If you think about the way media is typically purchased, especially in sports, you have to hit certain thresholds in men's programming, and that starts to unlock women's sports as value-added buy. We wanted the inverse of that. So we put together a multimillion-dollar deal where 90 percent of our spend is going to women's sports, inclusive of Sports Center and features, storytelling and the partnership with the ACC. It's a landmark. I don't think anything's ever been done like this before.
Can you explain how the primetime slot came into being—that's huge.
The very first conversation I had with Jessica Berman when she came on as the new commissioner [of the NWSL] was that the game needed to go primetime. The previous year, the championship was played in Louisville at 9 a.m. The numbers weren't great, for obvious reasons. Then we sat down with CBS and started to have conversations about how we could make it happen—and we were very persistent. There were a lot of annoying phone calls from me to people at CBS and to our media agency. We worked with Dan Weinberg [EVP of programming at CBS Sports] and his team. There was a lot of work that CBS needed to do to move around programming to make it happen—which they did. We built a holistic media package, which was awesome, because it gave us content like "The Road to the Championship Game." It gave us a segment that aired before the game and talked about the season. And then obviously there was the coverage of the game itself.
Why has it become your mission to create gender equity, using sports as the vehicle?
We know empirically that diverse companies perform better than companies that don't have diversity of thinking. For us, this has been a moment to make an impact. Last year, the move of that game to primetime was just the beginning of what will be systemic change.
What's going on in the world that's making this more viable?
All of what we're doing is meant to break what we call a vicious cycle. Media platforms aren't giving women's sports a big stage because they don't have the advertising dollars behind them. And then, brands obviously aren't investing, because they don't think the audiences are there—which means the leagues are undervalued vis-a-vis their male counterparts, and women players are underpaid compared to their male counterparts.
What are your ambitions for Women’s Sports Club?
This is about getting brands and media properties around the table to have real conversations about how to make systemic change. We will be discussing the most important issues that are facing women's sports today, and we are going to open up each other's playbooks, if you will, so that we can work together. Many brands, like Michelob Ultra and Nike, have supported this push. You finally have a lot of women who have a seat around the table, who are now decision makers, able to force this change, and who are willing to work closely and believe in what we're trying to do.
Can you talk about some recent Ally sports marketing campaigns?
One is "Watch the Game, Change the Game," featuring all female professional athletes, talking about this issue of parity. It culminates with Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris, two of the biggest stars to ever play in the NWSL. And then we have a whole series of content around that to shine a light on this issue, and to invite people to watch women's sports. We launched that campaign last June, around the time we made the 50/50 pledge. We're updating that creative now, and have a new brief in with the agency [Anomaly] around changing the focus to spark other brands and media platforms into action. That will be the next phase of it.
We have an entire series with the NWSL called "Mic'd Up," giving people an opportunity to hear the players live from the field and to follow their stories and their journeys.
And then we've got a big NASCAR campaign. We're an official sponsor of NASCAR, the league and the 48 car and Hendrick Motorsports. Our current campaigns celebrate 75 years of NASCAR, but with a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion depicting how far NASCAR has come in terms of becoming a more inclusive place.
What does spend look like?
We're obviously buying a lot of NASCAR media—races, etc. But the 50/50 is really more [about] general-market media, and we've made a lot of progress. With the ESPN/Disney deal, we'll probably get to about a 60/40 split between men's and women's media this year, which is incredible progress in less than two years.
You have said that you construct different types of partnerships with the organizations you support, like the Players Association that was connected to the NWSL. What are your goals with these varied partnerships?
If we look at NWSL and the NWSL Players Association, what's great about that sponsorship is it allows us to put money into the league, so that it gives a place for the players to play. The PA sponsorship allows us to understand the issues that players are facing as people, as human beings, to help them directly with some of those issues. So for instance, we've taught a number of financial literacy classes for players to understand how to manage their money.
We've established a fund which allows players to afford things that they might need, from healthcare and childcare to mental healthcare. We expanded the playoffs with our funding with the league so that we could give the players more opportunity to win prize money. When you come at it with different sides of the coin, you understand the issue from different perspectives. What we're trying to do with all of these different relationships is be as informed as possible, be close to the problem so we can hear directly from the players [and understand] what change that they want to see. Then we can. use the power we have as a sponsoring brand, to force the change that the players need.
What are you proudest of at this point?
The proudest moment was getting the NWSL championship game in primetime, it was a very emotional night for all of us. There were a lot of tears across across the team, as we stood on the field and the anthem was being performed. Just knowing that women finally had the big stage, and there was no going back on that.
What are you looking forward to?
I would love to get to the point where people didn't say, "I'm going to watch women's softball," or "I'm going to watch women's soccer"—it's sports. We've always said, this isn't a man versus woman thing. This is a men and women thing.