The upcoming 2018 FIBA World Cup is a premier global women’s basketball tournament featuring some of the biggest names in the game. But with a date falling in a crowded mid-September sports calendar and a host site in the far-flung Canary Islands, cutting through the clutter is a challenge for the event and participant Team USA, especially in a non-Olympic year.
“It is no secret that the marketing around the women’s game is way behind the men’s side,” said Jim Tooley, CEO of USA Basketball, which operates the men’s and women’s national teams. “We are trying to bring attention to it. We get a lot of attention on the Olympics, but not as much on the World Cup level.”
This year’s FIBA women’s World Cup is set for Sept. 22-30 in Tenerife, the largest of Spain’s Canary Islands. ESPN has the rights to the tournament with most games to be streamed on ESPN+ and the championship game to air on ESPN. The network has not yet identified which of its platforms will carry the semifinal and quarterfinal games. The gold-medal game between the U.S. and Spain in the 2014 event drew 204,000 viewers on ESPN2.
The 16-team tournament brings the best women’s teams from around the globe every four years, with the U.S. national team dominating the competition by winning nine of the 17 world championships. The FIBA World Cup for men is set for next year in China.
Val Ackerman, former FIBA board member and current Big East commissioner, said the women’s World Cup should have a greater presence in the U.S. despite competition from other sports.
“I am surprised that the event isn’t more visible given the caliber of the talent on Team USA and the reach of the game globally,” she said. “I would hope the event would be a bigger deal.”
FIBA Secretary General Patrick Baumann wrote in an email that the popularity of women’s basketball trails that of the men’s game, which “translates in the level of interest expressed by broadcasters, other media and the corporate world.”
He wrote that the World Cup is challenged by competition from other sporting events, the five- to eight-hour time difference between Tenerife and the U.S., and the remote location for people to travel to the event. But he also wrote that “FIBA is convinced the competition will be a huge success” in part because the Spanish Federation successfully hosted the 2014 World Cup and that Tenerife provides strong local support and that a very active promotional program was deployed before the event and along with some activations to take place on site:
To help promote Team USA and its run-up to the World Cup, USA Basketball this month scheduled a three-game domestic tour leading up to the event, with games in South Carolina, Connecticut and Washington, D.C., all of which aired on NBA TV.
“We had invitations to go overseas but we wanted to have games set here domestically to bring as much awareness here in the states,” Tooley said. “We are also getting some of our partners to activate around the games.”
A major asset for USA Basketball is having the NBA responsible for securing sponsors for both the men’s and women’s national teams. The NBA lists 14 sponsors for both the men’s and women’s USA Basketball teams, with Anheuser-Busch, Brown-Forman, Gatorade, Nike, Pepsi, State Farm and Verizon activating around the exhibition tour. Sponsors are supporting the team through social media and digital campaigns, as well as hospitality and in-arena fan activities, according to Diane Gotua, vice president of NBA global business operations and USA Basketball.
FIBA controls all marketing efforts around the World Cup. A total of 20 companies and organizations will activate on site, Baumann said.