Soccer’s Next Frontier: Latinas

With the ninth edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup taking place this summer in Australia and New Zealand, women and sports will once again be in the global spotlight. 

In 2019, over one million fans gathered in France to experience the matches firsthand; that’s more than double the amount when compared to its 1991 inception. With momentum building and fan interest higher than ever, women’s soccer continues to help solidify the case of the importance of investing in women in sports. 

Did you know? 

  • US Soccer became the first Federation in the world to equalize FIFA World Cup prize money awarded to the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) and the U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT) for participation in their respective World Cups.
  • According to Yahoo Sports, from 2016 – 2018, the USWNT World Cup soccer games generated approximately $50.8 million in revenue, almost $1 million more when compared to the $49.9 million generated by the USMNT games. 
  • Attendance for the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) was up about 80% in 2022, while ticketing revenue grew more than 125%. 

As two-time Olympic gold medalist and two-time FIFA Women’s World Cup champion Carli Lloyd once said, “Investing in women in sports is investing in the future leaders of this country.” So from a U.S. perspective, what opportunities are there for brands today as they look to invest in this segment? 

Here’s the answer, and the biggest white space for them to consider: Latinas in soccer. 

More than 50 years since Title IX’s inception, investment in women in sports has continued to rise, most recently in 2022 with the 20% year-over-year increase in sponsorships. However, in today’s world, there is still an enormous lack of diversity in sports – soccer included. In the latest World Cup rosters for the USWNT (2023) and USMNT (2022), only 3 out of 26 players identified as Latino. While Latinos below the age of 18 make up 25% of the U.S. population within that age group, they comprise only 12.3% of male and only 7.4% of female NCAA soccer players. With soccer being the most popular sport in the Latino community (trailed closely by baseball), it is a wonder why so few go on to play at a college and at the professional level. But investing in Latino youth and soccer isn’t only about a pipeline to the U.S national soccer team; as former San Antonio Mayor and USLA Founder Ed Garza mentioned in a 2017 Aspen Institute article: “It’s about creating healthier lives, pathways for college education and more integrated communities.” 

While the challenges are unique, they result in some large opportunities for brands to step in and support. 

According to the Aspen Institute, the gap speaks to both the structure and the culture of the game. Whereas in many countries around the world, where soccer remains an egalitarian game that’s accessible to low-income populations, in the U.S, families may spend $5,000 a year for access to club teams and tournaments in the chase for a college scholarship. This pay-to-play model is where talented Latino youth get left behind. 

Beyond the economic barriers, the Aspen Institute also reported that there are a number of challenges in getting and keeping Latino youth in the game, including few safe viable places to play in low-income communities, language barriers, immigration concerns (such as the fear of providing documents), lack of transportation, shortage of trained youth coaches, too few Latino coaches trained in key competencies, and more.

For Latinas, the challenges are even greater. According to Diego Zegarra, Development and Special Projects Manager at the Park City (Utah) Community Foundation, more Latinas are interested in soccer. But there’s still a stigma that soccer is a ‘boy thing’.* In addition, other factors that have presented hurdles include: 

Traditional family values and roles: Although times have changed and there has been progress made for women and girls, it is surprising to see how many young girls are still tasked with household chores and duties, while their brothers are given a soccer ball and a free pass to go out and play. 

  • In the 2020 Latinos & Latinas in American Sport book, Paul Cuadros, Associate Professor for University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, depicted the life of a local Latina soccer player, Amelia. Although she had a passion for playing and support from her parents to play, she often missed practices to take care of her little brother. This feeling of being tethered to the house or frustrated to participate in activities only by accommodating around her household duties, is a familiar feeling for many young Latinas these days. 

Lack of representation: From soccer to basketball, the sports community lacks female role models and mentors for young girls, especially young Latinas. Female coaches, particularly Latina coaches, are few at all levels and divisions. Former Notre Dame head women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw said it best during a 2019 Final Four news conference: “We don’t have enough female role models. We don’t have enough visible women leaders. We don’t have enough women in power. Girls are socialized to know when they come out, gender roles are already set.” – and for Latinas these gender roles are even more pronounced.

Gender Preference: According to a 2021 Sage Journal, men continue to dominate the highest ranking roles in men’s club soccer, despite women’s significant presence within the sport’s workforce.

  • Top coaching licenses can easily run $10,000 and the process is oftentimes lengthy and labor intensive. However, male coaches sometimes have teams and leagues willing to take care of the bill and provide the time to complete the courses, which is something not typically done for women coaches.

There is such an enormous opportunity to support young Latinas and fuel their passion for soccer, but who is going to step up to the plate? How can leaders and brands leverage the power and enthusiasm for this sport to improve the lives of Latino youth and build trust with this community? 

This is how brands can help:

Celebrate current Latina sports leaders and athletes 

Latinas continue to break gender role barriers in sports. Now is the time to embrace and celebrate current Latina sports leaders and athletes. A great example is the NFL Super Bowl LVII commercial for the “Run With It” campaign, which focused on young women’s involvement in sports and featured Mexican Women’s National Flag Football team quarterback, Diana Flores, along with other popular football stars. The commercial ended with the line, “To the women pushing football forward, we can’t wait to see where you take this game.” This empowering campaign recently won a Sports Emmy for Outstanding Public Service Content at the 2023 Sports Emmys. 

Empower Latina athletes through their local communities 

Supporting local community efforts through improving parks, providing equipment and sponsoring minor league teams, especially those tailored to female athletes, provides an opportunity for young Latinas to have the resources they need to further develop their talent. For instance, in 2016, Nike launched a dedicated fund that targets and supports sports in local communities. The Nike Community Impact Fund provides grants to local organizations to help develop sports in their communities and give kids an opportunity to experience quality play, while encouraging participation by both boys and girls.

Another great example is PepsiCo’s Team of Champions program, which debuted in 2021 and committed $1 million over the course of three years to help create transformational change for Hispanic and Black youth, with an additional focus on recruiting more women-athletes to the sport. As part of the program launch, PepsiCo partnered with renowned international soccer player, Javier Hernandez (aka Chicharito), to bring together 9,000 athletes and coaches and provide coaching education to improve the skills of young and aspiring soccer players. 

Make Latina athletes part of the narrative 

A well-known discrepancy in media coverage exists when comparing women’s sports teams to men’s sports teams. In fact, according to a recent study by USC/Purdue, researchers found that 95% of total television coverage, as well as the ESPN highlights show SportsCenter, focused on men’s sports in 2019. With media playing a significant role in the promotion of sports events and sponsorships, it is important to showcase the diversity of sports and players to motivate and inspire future Latinas to chase their dreams. In November 2022, Alphabet’s Google unveiled a long-term partnership with sports website The Athletic to devote more staffing and resources to women’s sports coverage, with a focus on basketball and soccer.

Raise awareness of the challenges faced 

Brands can take a bold stand for the challenges Latinas face. An example of a campaign that described challenges facing girls is Gatorade’s 2012 “Keep her in the Game”, which aimed to raise awareness about keeping girls in sports in honor of Title IX’s 40th anniversary. In partnership with the Women’s Sports Foundation, this campaign came to life based on the insight that although boys and girls participate equally between the ages of 6 and 12, girls by age 14 drop out of athletics at twice the rate of their male counterparts. Although this campaign was not one highlighting challenges Latinas face, brands can build campaigns based on the unique insights faced by this cohort specifically. 

Education through day-in-the-life profiles of Latina athletes

With the rise of documentaries portraying the lives of notable athletes such as Colin Kaepernick and Lionel Messi, as well as those featuring sports teams with university-focused storylines like “Last Chance You,” this is the time to bring women athletes into the mix to spotlight their stories. 

Whether it’s a Netflix Original or a specific brand content series, providing women athletes a platform to share both the rewards and the challenges that come with playing at a professional level gives young Latinas an opportunity to learn what it takes to get to the top. In 2021 the Women’s National Soccer team was featured in “LFG,” an HBO documentary that chronicled their fight for equal pay – all of these efforts provide unique ways of profiling the great stories of triumph that exist among Latina athletes. 

Partner with soccer organizations 

Investing in initiatives, programming and teams that empower Latinas in sports not only positions brands as pioneers in championing diversity, inclusivity and the growth of women’s soccer, but also provides them the opportunity to tap into a strong network within the soccer community to make a difference. 

There are multiple organizations such as FIFA and the MLS, among many others that support the sport locally, nationally and globally. By tapping into these partner organizations, brands can collaborate in order to offer better resources to promote gender equality in soccer, while supporting future female athletes. From access to coaching and mentorship, to scholarships, these opportunities provide young Latina players a place to showcase their talent at the local, regional and international levels. By investing and partnering with these leading organizations, brands can create a sustainable pathway for young Latina soccer players to flourish, empowering them to become role models and ambassadors for gender equality both on and off the field.

The rise of women’s soccer has shown great potential, but there is still a significant lack of diversity, particularly in the representation of Latinas. To address this gap, brands have a unique opportunity to step up and support the growth of Latinas in soccer. By celebrating current Latina sports leaders and athletes, empowering Latina athletes through their local communities, amplifying their stories in the media, investing in their future, and collaborating with local, national and global organizations, brands can stand out and build trust with this important community. It’s time to invest in Latinas and witness the transformative power of diversity on and off the soccer field.