Female sports stars often don't get as much money, endorsements or respect as their male counterparts. But in a nice victory for women's soccer, Electronic Arts is poised to announce today that Alex Morgan will be the first female soccer star to appear on the cover of its EA Sports FIFA video game.
Morgan, the striker who helped lead Team USA to the 2015 World Cup title, will share the cover spotlight of the new FIFA 16 with Lionel Messi, the world's top male footballer.
This year will be the first year that EA Sports adds women soccer players to the FIFA-licensed title.
Gamers will be able to play as one of a dozen different women's national teams. They are USA, Canada, Brazil, England, Mexico, China, Germany, Australia, Italy, France, Spain and Sweden.
Morgan won't be the only female soccer star getting the cover treatment. Christine Sinclair, captain of the Canadian team, will appear with Messi on the cover of the Canadian edition. FIFA 16 goes on sale in North America on Sept. 22.
In a statement, Morgan said she's excited her sponsor EA Sports is "putting such an important spotlight on women's soccer." The two female stars are "perfect cover athletes based on their accomplishments," David Pekush Sr., manager of North American marketing for EA Sports, said in a statement.
Since launching in 1993, EA Sports's FIFA title has grown into one of the world's best-selling video games. Giving Morgan co-equal billing with previous male cover men such as Messi, Wayne Rooney and Ronaldinho is an important step for the sport.
International female soccer stars make peanuts compared to their male counterparts. For example, Messi annually pulls in around $80 million from salary and endorsements compared to $3 million or so for Morgan.
But the 26-year old Morgan is quickly emerging as one of the world's hottest athletic endorsers, landing a dozen sponsors including EA Sports, Nike, Coca-Cola and Chapstick.
Dubbed "Baby Horse" by her teammates for her speed and skill, Morgan could help put the women's game on equal footing, especially on Madison Avenue, where many marketers are fed up with scandals surrounding male endorsers such as Lance Armstrong, Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson.
Due to her outstanding performance in the World Cup Final against Japan, former Rutgers University standout Carli Lloyd will also score some lucrative new deals, say sports business experts. But sponsors are wary of goalkeeper Hope Solo due to her arrest on domestic violence charges, according to Michael Neuman, managing partner of Horizon Media's Scout Sports and Entertainment.
"I think there are enough players on this team for brands to gravitate toward without thinking they need Hope in their portfolio of athletes," Neuman said. "Hope, as part of a favored nations deal for the entire team, would be a safe way to use her. But I wouldn't advise any of my clients right now to align themselves with her."
Many female soccer stars felt disrespected when FIFA held this year's Women's World Cup on artificial turf rather than natural grass.
Claiming gender discrimination, U.S. star Abby Wambach and dozens of other women sued FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association, noting the men's World Cup is always played on grass. The suit was later dropped.
FIFA has come under fire for paying the U.S. Women's National team only $2 million for winning this year's tournament, compared to the $35 million the victorious German men's team received in 2014.