Athletes as product endorsers are everywhere you look in advertisements. Athletes are endorsing everything from athletic equipment, soda, cars, and clothing. Some athletes are making multimillion dollar endorsements and even having an impact on Wall Street. A large part of athlete endorsements are male athletes and when females are used they are shown suggestively or partially clad. Many media studies have shown that women athletes are underrepresented in magazines, newspapers, and television and this underrepresentation gives the impression that females are absent in the sports world (Grau, Roselli, & Taylor, 2007).
When an athlete or celebrity is used as an endorser it will attract attention to the product, leading the consumer to purchase the endorsed product because of their aspirations to be more like the athlete or celebrity. A consumer will base their aspirations of a purchase on physical attractiveness, trustworthiness, and expertise. Research has shown that highly credible sources have been able to produce more positive attitude changes and induce behavioral changes more often than less credible sources (Grau, Roselli, & Taylor, 2007). The degree of physical attractiveness of the endorser necessary for effectiveness may vary depending on the product being endorsed. The athletes’ attractiveness leads to more positive attitude towards the advertisement and higher spokesperson credibility. Physically attractive communicators are more successful at changing beliefs than are unattractive communicators. This is important to endorsers since prior research and current advertisement suggests that females are usually chosen for their sex appeal as opposed to their athletic ability (Grau, Roselli, & Taylor, 2007).
Women have made strides over the past few decades and are finally being recognized for their athletic ability; however, are these women really being recognized for their athleticism or for their beauty as a female. The media has been a significant factor in the way women have been portrayed as athletes. Women athletes who have endorsement deals are often used for their physical appearance or their fashion appeal. Unlike male athletes, female athletes will have a shorter career and do not have the chance to participate in popular professional sports leagues. Companies that feature female athletes as endorsers tend to show a more personal side of the sports figure (Veltri & Long, 1998 ).
As of 1998, over 200 female athletes had signed endorsements with various companies, while the National Football League (NFL) alone had 250 male athletes had endorsement deals with Nike and Reebok and 400 male athletes from football, baseball and soccer. One possible explanation for the lack of female athlete endorsers involves attitudes of women toward female athletes consistent with the gender schema theory (Grau, Roselli, & Taylor, 2007). Although female consumers may contribute to this situation by not indentifying with female athletes in the same manner those males identify with male athletes. Men look up to athletes like Michael Jordan and other male athletes as role models and will typically buy products that they endorse. However, women are not influenced the same way and sports are not the focus of their lives. Many advertisers may fear that women could view female athletes as too masculine and could react negatively to this image (Grau, Roselli, & Taylor, 2007).
Despite Title IX and peoples’ views of women in general, consumers are presented with an inconsistent view of female athletes, one that is athletic and feminine. Participation in sports is a norm for boys, while girls’ participation is considered exceptional. People are surprised when a girl is athletic or if a female is knowledgeable about sports. In society boys are supposed to be athletic, where beauty and popularity are ideal characteristics for girls. The female athlete is often portrayed first as a woman and second as an athlete, whereas male athletes are just portrayed as an athlete. This can be seen in a popular Nike commercial featuring Maria Sharapova, a professional tennis player who has won Wimbledon. The ad starts with Maria walking to a tennis match and people along the way singing “You’re so pretty”. Maria Sharapova reaches the tennis arena while you hear people singing “You’re so pretty” and the ad ends with her playing tennis and silencing everyone because she shows how talented of a tennis player she is. However, the ad first portrays Maria as a beautiful woman then as an athlete.