Taking the stage on day three of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity were Olympic medalists Abby Wambach (football) and Ibtihaj Muhammad (fencing). The duo were joined by Casey Wasserman, chairman and CEO, Wasserman and LA 2028 in a session that was moderated by Jaymee Messler, president and co-founder, The Players' Tribune.
The panelists discussed the importance of storytelling and how athletes bring that authenticity consumers are looking for.
Wasserman set the tone for the session by saying how athletes go through a lot of failures before the success they achieve. He said, "Ultimately as fans of sport, we see athletes on the field of play. But like Abby has told me in the past, she failed all her life. That failure led her to be two-time world champion!"
Abby Wambach who won the FIFA World Cup along with the Olympic Gold for team USA, added, "I think that there are a lot of conversations about 'men versus women'. I don’t want to be compared to men. The women’s team is completely different and wins a lot! People like watching us because of that. All athletes, and especially women have great stories. And it is stories at the end of the day that relate to fans. Women have a unique ability to open themselves up."
Ibtihaj Muhammad, a Bronze Olympic medalist at Rio in 2016 claimed that sports has given her the platform. "I’m from a less renowned sport, but I think that I’ve been able to get my voice out" said Muhammad.
Wasserman built on Wambach's point of fans wanting to watch the females in action, as all of them are great athletes. "The USA Olympic team have more women than men in the contingent and they're great athletes. These athletes can be connected to brands because fans like authenticity and that's what athletes give us. Social media and other new media has allowed that. Athletes are now a network that have reach and frequency. They can be advocates for change."
The discussion moved to speak about the importance of having women in the top rung jobs worldwide.
Wambach said, "If we have equal levels of women to men in top levels, decisions will trickle down to the masses for women. For me, all companies and brands have to figure who they are value wise. And then that has to match who is endorsing this value. A lot of companies say they are supporting diversity, but that’s not really the case inside."
Muhammad then spoke about a brand and an association that’s doing just that.
She recently launched a hijab barbie with Mattel. “I played with Barbies till the age of 15! It allowed me to be anything I wanted to. Mattel was a company that decided to be on the right side of history by getting the hijab set of dolls. This is important for non Muslim kids too as it drives diversity."
The next topic of discussion was the FIFA World Cup.
Wambach stated that while the men's World Cup is just called the 'FIFA World Cup', the tournament in which the women participate is called 'FIFA Women's World Cup' and called for that to change. She also urged book writers and brands to stop portraying women as weak and stated, "It’s time to put our flag in the stands and claim the space we require!"
The session ended with Wasserman calling out for the Internation Olympic Committee to look at its sponsorship rules. He surmised, "Storytelling is based on experiences and that’s unique about it. The IOC can’t have these sponsors and tie-ups which limit this storytelling."