Michelob Ultra is making a $100 million commitment to women’s sports over the next five years. As part of the pledge, the Anheuser-Busch brand said it intends to achieve gender equity in its advertising, media and sponsorship spends, in hopes of increasing visibility for women’s sports.
The company’s commitment begins immediately, starting with media. Male and female athletes will be represented equally in all of Michelob Ultra’s future advertising campaigns, and 50% of the company’s media inventory will now feature women’s sports and female athletes (good for a 40% increase). Its endorsement deals and sponsored athlete roster will also be balanced by 2025.
The beer brand, which said it is 10-20% more likely to have a female drinker than its competitors, cited the small amount of media coverage dedicated to women’s sports—a tide that is changing but still lags far behind men’s coverage—and the resulting lack of visibility for the leagues and athletes involved. Those, the company believes, are primary drivers of the substantial and persistent pay disparity in the sports industry.
Tennis stars Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams, for example, are the two highest-paid female athletes in the world, according to Sportico’s analysis, but they’re also the only two women within the top 1,000 highest-earning athletes. Gymnast Simone Biles, the third highest-paid female athlete, at $6 million, falls well outside the top 1,000 earners.
“We’re looking to attack the root cause of the challenge here, which is visibility,” Michelob Ultra VP of marketing Ricardo Marques said in an interview. “So the $100 million commitment will go toward getting more eyeballs in sports. With more eyeballs comes more coverage on TV, which then leads to more endorsements [and] more dollars overall, which will affect salaries and create a positive, virtuous cycle around what we’re trying to address.”
The beer brand’s announcement comes on Women’s Equality Day, and on the heels of the Tokyo Olympics, where female athletes saw much of the spotlight. It also comes as Michelob Ultra—the official beer sponsor of the WNBA as of 2021—looks to expedite its investment in women’s sports, which has increased over the last 18 months. The company also signed Williams and USWNT star Alex Morgan to its influencer roster last year in an effort to increase female representation among its sponsored athletes.
Not expecting the pay or media coverage gaps to close in short order, the company made all of those agreements multi-year deals. “This is a long-term commitment because it should be a long-term commitment,” Marques added. “You cannot go and embrace this challenge for one campaign or a short period of time.”
To kick off its nine-figure pledge, Michelob Ultra is adding a trio of new faces to its roster in WNBA star Nneka Ogwumike, NCAA track and field champion CeCe Telfer and former Tennessee women’s basketball star Andraya Carter, now an analyst for ESPN. The three will star in a new advertising spot highlighting Michelob Ultra’s new “See It, Save It” campaign, launching in conjunction with its commitment.
The campaign encourages consumers across the U.S. to help increase the visibility of female athletes by saving women’s sports content and highlights on social media. Social media engagement theory suggests that saves, one form of engagement alongside shares, likes and comments, are valued highly by social media algorithms, helping the creator gain credibility on the platform and thus find their content featured more prominently. On Instagram, for example, tapping the save ribbon on content featuring female athletes will encourage the app to prioritize posts about women’s sports.
“It’s not just about making a statement today,” Ogwumike, who also serves as president of the WNBA players’ association, said in a statement. “It’s also about setting goals and taking actionable steps toward gender equality on and off the court, which is why I’m proud to be a partner of Michelob Ultra and will continue to support their commitment to women’s sports equality.”
Michelob Ultra said it doesn’t anticipate being alone in its push to increase female athlete endorsements and women’s sports sponsorships. The beer maker hopes its program sparks a chain reaction among other brands.