In the era of #MeToo a dating app has teamed up with a storied sports team to “shake up” a predominantly male-driven industry.
In March, the Los Angeles Clippers broke ground by signing a reported three-year $20 million sponsorship deal with “female empowerment” dating app Bumble, where women initiate contact with men.
The partnership launched with a #strongerwithher campaign at a Clippers game — encouraging fans to honor women who impact their lives.
“There is a lot of fear that women are having in a time that women should have a voice, and having men who support that is incredibly important for us as women,” Emily Wright, Bumble’s associate director for global public relations, told CNN Sport.
“That’s what we’re trying to do. I think the ripple effects of that are very powerful. It’s really important to showcase the good guys,” according to Wright.
The Clippers — who hired Gillian Zucker as president of business operations in 2014, one of a small but growing number of women in the top ranks of US sports — are keen to promote their equality-driven message through the deal.
“This is a female empowerment brand and you are putting that brand on a men’s sport’s league jersey,” Clippers’ chief global partnerships officer Scott Sonnenberg told CNN sport. “That in itself is a story.”
The deal places the dating app’s logo as a patch on the Clippers’ uniform, but extends beyond just that, according to Sonnenberg,
“With Bumble we have core values that are alike,” he says, noting that the companies have worked on mentorship programs and creative programs for women in Los Angeles.
Although Bumble is best known for its dating app, it also features platforms for forming business contacts and friendships.
“We just thought it was a natural fit to open a partnership together for a common goal,” added Sonnenberg.
‘We don’t focus on the Lakers’
Sonnenberg, who is responsible for building relationships with corporate sponsors, recently moved to the Clippers after 14 years with the Chicago Bulls, a team that consistently led the NBA in home attendance.
He was attracted by the chance to work for Clippers owner and Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer.
“Steve Balmer wants to be the first at everything,” he says. “(He is) constantly pushing the envelope and challenging his executive team to do more and be better, and that is the kind of leader I was interested to learn from.”
Sonnenberg will have his work cut out.
The Clippers’ fan base has ebbed and flowed in its fourth decade in Los Angeles — save for superfan Clipper Darrell — and trading away Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan along with Blake Griffin over the past two seasons leaves the team without a single marquee player.
Meanwhile, their arena-mates at the Staples Center, the Los Angeles Lakers, acquired megastar LeBron James. How can the Clippers compete with that?
“Having a superstar in Los Angeles is not foreign,” Sonnenberg says. “We don’t focus at all on what the Lakers are doing, they are a great brand and a great organization.
“It’s certainly challenging, there are a lot of professional teams in LA and that makes it difficult to stand out for us.”
To help strengthen their identity the Clippers plan to build their own arena in the Inglewood section of Los Angeles.
“Steve (Balmer) has been very vocal about that,” adds Sonnenberg. “Part of building our fan base is having our own home.”
So far, the Clippers are still “exploring the possibility” of building the arena, which would open after its lease at the Staples Center expires in six years.
In the meantime, the Clippers, who missed the playoffs last season, need to put together a competitive team, Sonnenberg admits.
“With (experienced NBA executive) Jerry West and (coach) Doc Rivers and (basketball operations head) Lawrence Frank at the helm, we feel like we have the right people in place to help bring a championship team to LA,” he says.
He cites the team’s salary cap flexibility to sign free agents who come available after this season as something for Clippers fans to look forward to.
“We’re more focused on what we’re trying to do, and what we’re trying to do is build a championship caliber team,” he says.