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World Cup Win Fuels Nike’s Focus on Women’s Sports

Nike may be the only sports dynasty more powerful and longer-lived than the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team—now back-to-back winners of the World Cup—and it plans to keep that throne by continuing to invest in the sporting world zeitgeist, today defined by the growing popularity of women’s soccer in the U.S. and abroad.

Nike stock has risen steadily over the past week, up 4.4 percent despite yet another national controversy caused by either the offensiveness or inoffensiveness (depending on who you ask) of an Independence-Day-themed Nike sneaker. Some would say this reflects the sportswear empire’s unimpeachable mindshare, as Nike is a company always on the tip of the nation’s tongue.

But Nike says its impressive sales growth is a result of the attention it is paying to a long-underserved consumer group in the performance category: women.

“It’s hard to overstate how important this year has been to the evolution of the women’s offense at Nike. The business grew double digits in fiscal ’19, accelerating in the back half of the year,” Mark Parker, Nike’s chairman, president and CEO said in the company’s most recent conference call. “Our momentum in women’s is a great example of how our renewed focus is really moving the needle through thoughtful designs, powerful brand messages, and digitally led distribution. You’re obviously seeing it now with all the energy around the World Cup.”

Since the U.S. women’s soccer team reclaimed the World Cup trophy four years ago, Nike has increased its investment in the sport, sponsoring 14 out of the 24 teams invited to the World Cup in 2019. The impact of that investment can be seen in Nike’s World Cup revenue this year, with sales in gear pertaining to the tournament up 150 percent over 2015, according to the brand.

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Nike’s clear support for the U.S. women’s team also led to its official jersey being the best-selling soccer jersey ever on Nike.com—for both men and women—over the course of one season. Other teams that Nike sponsors, like France, England, Nigeria and Brazil, saw their women’s jersey sales climb by 200 percent over 2015.

Now that more countries have joined the U.S. in selling its women’s teams jerseys in men’s sizes, Nike said the number of men’s jerseys sold has nearly doubled, too. Parker said the brand continues to be bullish about the “opportunity” it sees in the women’s category going forward.

But, it wouldn’t be enough for Nike to simply sponsor successful teams like the U.S. women. The brand has also put its full weight into the distribution and marketing of women’s products. Nike’s marketing team released an ad celebrating the U.S. team’s victory over the Netherlands on Sunday almost immediately after the game was completed. On Twitter, the video has been viewed more than 20 million times in just a day after its release.

Nike has also used its social media clout to boost the public profiles of some of the top athletes in the tournament, including American stars Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, and said the move helped provide its online accounts with a “significant bump” in followers. Using this strategy, Nike said its own social media channels grew by six figures every week of the tournament.

The brand plans on leveraging that increased interest into additional areas, including products for what it calls “everyday athletes.”

“Across the portfolio, we’re serving women in more dimensions. This quarter we claimed the number one position in market share for bras in North America for the first time in Nike’s history,” Parker continued. “Distribution is often one of our biggest barriers. And we continue to find that when we present product in a more future-forward way, we’re able to take the female consumer someplace new. And they’re responding.”

One of the ways Nike is doing this is by paying attention to and serving a more inclusive consumer base. During the call, Nike said it would be releasing region-specific women’s apparel based on research conducted on the Asian market, providing options for a variety of body types and sizes that are more common in the area.