Volleyball Star Gabby Reece On How Brands Should Approach Partnerships With Female Athletes

Despite persistent sexism in pro sports, Reece sees unique opportunities for female athletes

Gabby Reece took the virtual stage at the Brandweek Sports Marketing Summit Adweek
Headshot of Diana Pearl

Gabby Reece has seen the ins and outs of the sports marketing world.

After graduating from Florida State University, the athlete spent years on the professional volleyball circuit. That career led her to high-profile partnerships with brands like Nike and launching her own fitness brand, XPT Extreme Performance Training with her husband, professional surfer Laird Hamilton. She’s also penned multiple books, including My Foot Is Too Big for the Glass Slipper: A Guide to the Less Than Perfect Life.

Along the way, Reece has learned quite a few lessons in how brands should approach marketing partnerships with athletes—in particular, female athletes. Reece opened up about those lessons—and how she’s managed her own businesses during the ongoing pandemic—at the Brandweek Sports Marketing Summit this week.

Despite the sexism and gender imbalances that still persist in the world of professional sports today, Reece said that there are unique opportunities available to female athletes. In part, that’s because there are fewer women than there are male athletes at the top levels of sport.

“If you can be a good female athlete, the landscape is yours because there are a lot less women doing it,” she told Adweek senior editor Terry Stanley. “We’re drawn to women athletes by more than just their performance. We want to know more about her. There are opportunities for these female athletes to inspire, just by their stories.”

There are opportunities for brands, too. But what’s needed for a unique, individualized approach “Women are navigating different terrain than male athletes,” she said. “For brands who want to partner with women athletes, it’s more about: ‘What is the brand, what are you trying to sell, and how do women connect with that?'”

But like everything, opportunities for female athletes have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, as events have been put on pause and advertising budgets have shifted. However, new opportunities have presented themselves, and Reece said it’s important for athletes to “get out there and just start connecting and communicating with brands.” Those who are able to take advantage of what comes at this time and make the most of this moment, she said, will be those who come out on the other side in a stronger position.

“It’s all it’s who’s going to be able to transcend into this big shift,” said Reece. “That’s where the people who can really stand out and sustain are going to certainly thrive.”

Reece said that in her own career, it was working with and watching brands and agencies like Nike and Wieden+Kennedy that served as a crash course in storytelling and brand building that’s served her own perspective in the years since.

As she said: “I learned that whether it was just an image or a spot, that telling the story correctly and beautifully was really powerful.”

@dianapearl_ diana.pearl@adweek.com Diana is the deputy brands editor at Adweek and managing editor of Brandweek.