The National Women’s Soccer League and Delta Air Lines have agreed to a multiyear partnership that brings the global air carrier on board as the league’s first official airline and travel partner. The league did not disclose financial terms of the deal, which starts this year, but Delta described it as a “significant investment.”
Though there is currently no charter component to the sponsorship, the league and Delta will work together to “meet the travel needs of the teams,” an NWSL spokesperson said. “Details regarding travel will continue to evolve.”
Delta, the second-largest airline in the world, will focus on fan engagement and branding opportunities. It will also support NWSL athletes through what it describes as programming around women’s empowerment and diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
The deal represents Delta’s first major sponsorship of a women’s professional league and its first national league sponsorship deal.
“Delta is a champion for the growth of women’s sport in the U.S. and around the world,” NWSL chief revenue officer Mitch Poll said in a release. “We’re excited to welcome their team to the family and work together as we continue establishing the NWSL as the world’s premier women’s soccer league.”
Delta (NYSE: DAL) is also a partner of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, assuming the role from United Airlines as part of a massive eight-year deal with the USOPC and the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics’ organizing committee. The Atlanta-based airline chartered Team USA athletes to Beijing this year and is doing so again this month for the Paralympic Games, which start Friday. Delta’s sports sponsorship portfolio also includes a number of NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB clubs, as well as MLS’ LAFC and a handful of NCAA programs including Duke, Georgia and Georgia Tech.
“Joining the National Women’s Soccer League as its first-ever airline sponsor is a proud step in Delta’s work to support the teams and communities where we live, work and serve,” said Molly Battin, SVP of global brand marketing at Delta.
The news comes amid discussions around airline travel in women’s sports more broadly.
The WNBA, long criticized by its players for its travel arrangements and its required commercial airline use, came under fire this week amid a scandal in which it reprimanded the New York Liberty’s ownership group for violating the league’s CBA by chartering flights during the second half of last season. Owners Joe and Clara Tsai, who also own the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center, were fined and threatened with other potential penalties, including removal.
Tsai, who has been vocal about the need to address travel issues, advocated last season for a WNBA airline partner to help charter flights for all teams and even found a willing carrier, but an unofficial proposal didn’t receive sufficient support from other owners, according to the Sports Illustrated report.
Actress Gabrielle Union, a new investor in the NWSL’s Los Angeles-based club, Angel City, joined the chorus of critics, saying the news sounded like “an open desire by some owners to MAKE SURE that women athletes don’t have the same advantages as male pro athletes.”
The 12-team NWSL will kick off its 10th season with the 2022 Challenge Cup, which begins March 19. The league appears to have financial momentum heading into this year’s campaign, with the Washington Spirit selling for a record $35 million in the aftermath of a widespread abuse scandal. The NWSL’s search for a new commissioner is continuing after Lisa Baird resigned last fall, but under interim CEO Marla Messing, Delta has joined other significant sponsors in signing on with the league. In December, the NWSL inked a long-term partnership extension with Nike and added a multi-year deal with cryptocurrency brokerage Voyager Digital to its portfolio. The league described both deals as some of the largest corporate sponsorships in its history.
It also agreed to its first CBA with its player association, which came with a $100 million investment from the league’s owners.