Q&A: Soccer Legend Christie Pearce on Why the Future of the Women’s Game Looks So Bright

Olympic gold medalist and World Cup champ talks Lifetime's league sponsorship and more

Matt Furman for Adweek
Headshot of Christine Birkner

Soccer star Christie Pearce knows a thing or two about winning. From 1997 until early this year, Pearce (formerly Rampone) was part of the legendary U.S. Women’s National Team that won three Olympic gold medals and two FIFA World Cup championships in addition to inspiring a generation of girls to play the increasingly popular sport and cheer on their newfound heroes. At the same time, Pearce rode the wave of women scoring major sponsorship deals, and currently counts Adidas, Jif, Smucker’s, Chevy and Sports Authority as partners.

Pearce, 42, retired from the USWNT in February, having been its longest-serving team captain, and will soon hang up her cleats for good after finishing this season with the National Women’s Soccer League’s New Jersey squad Sky Blue FC—close to home, where the Garden State native lives with her two daughters ages 7 and 11.

On the heels of the U.S. women’s team’s 2015 FIFA World Cup win and the team’s public fight for equal pay last year, which led to a substantial pay hike, women’s soccer is set to gain even more visibility thanks to NWSL’s partnership with A+E Networks. In April, A+E’s leading women’s media brand Lifetime became an official sponsor and broadcast partner of the league as part of a three-year deal, airing matches every Saturday throughout the season.

In between practices, games and chauffeuring her daughters, Pearce caught up with Adweek to talk about her storied career and soccer’s burgeoning popularity.

Christie Pearce can see herself coaching someday.
Matt Furman

Adweek: How will the NWSL’s partnership with Lifetime increase visibility of women’s soccer?
Christie Pearce: It allows players to see that there’s stability within the league and a higher visibility for the league. Having that support will make players want to play in the league [longer]. It lets them make a career out of soccer versus just staying a year or two.

What will it take to ensure that interest in women’s soccer remains high beyond World Cup and Olympic years?
It’s about the players continuing to get their voices out there—especially on social media—and showing their passion and commitment for the sport. It helps grow the league when people feel like they can understand the personalities of the players and link on to certain players. That’s what will keep everybody anticipating the next season.

What impact did the fight for equal pay have on the game?
As women, you have to keep striving and pushing for the best, and the girls did an excellent job of staying united, sticking together and fighting for what’s right and deserved. The demands on the girls are very high. Winning gold medals and World Cups is what’s expected, so they need to be paid for that. And not only to be paid for that, but also their living conditions have to be raised, from flights to hotels to how they eat and travel. It affects their play on the field and the outcome of games. They’ll never play a world event on turf again, so the message that the standards weren’t good enough was heard loud and clear. The girls did a great job, but there’s more room to grow and they still have to keep fighting.

Pearce likes to work with brands that are close to home.
Matt Furman

How have endorsement opportunities changed since you joined the women’s national team in 1997?
It’s changed tremendously. In ’97, there were only a few players getting endorsements. Now, with the success and popularity of the team, social media and more awareness, more girls are getting multiple endorsements, which is nice to see, because it supplements [their income]. It allows them to feel more relaxed and be able to train and compete at the highest level. It’s awesome to see more girls making money on the side.

How do you choose which brands to work with?
I like to work with brands that are close to home. I’m living where I grew up [in New Jersey]. I’m a local girl and wanted to stay connected. My dream was always to be with Jersey Mike’s. I grew up on it while playing all of my sports: soccer, basketball and field hockey. When I got [that endorsement], I felt like I made it. Working with Jif and Mondelez makes sense too, since I’m a mom. I’m not going to endorse a sponsor I don’t believe in, so having those connections is key.

Do your daughters play soccer?
Yes, they’re into soccer. They play soccer and basketball and also dance. It’s really whatever they want to do—they’re not stuck to soccer just because their mom plays soccer, but it was a starting point. I coach my oldest daughter’s soccer team, which has been a lot of fun. It’s great for kids to be involved in sports, because it teaches you so many life lessons about working with others and having good days and bad days. It’s great for their fitness and health, too.

You have a crazy schedule. How do you decompress?
I don’t have a lot of downtime, to be honest, but when I do, it’s about relaxing with the girls. It’s staying home. I always feel like I’m a taxi driver after 3 p.m. when they get home. Just being able to sit down and have dinner together or watch a movie or TV show is how we chill.

Are you really ready to retire from soccer?
I’m ready. This year was about enjoying it and having fun. There have been a lot of younger players in the back line, so it was about getting them prepared and ready for this season and next season so I could step away from the team in a better place than I found it. I’m a player-coach, in a way. We definitely have a lot of rookies on the team who have so much potential.

Do you see yourself coaching someday?
I do, but I’m not sure at what level yet. I want to give back to the game, since the game has given me so much. It’s a matter of  whether I go to the college level or help out at the pro level. Do I stay on the female side or challenge myself by going into a male coaching role? I’m always up for growing the game and increasing my knowledge about it.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten, either on or off the field?
That life isn’t fair. No matter how hard you work, sometimes things don’t go your way, but it’s through adversity and taking on those challenges that keep you going. If you love what you’re doing, your best self will come out.

This story first appeared in the June 26, 2017, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@ChristineBirkne christine.birkner@adweek.com Christine Birkner is a Chicago-based freelance writer who covers marketing and advertising.