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U.S. women's soccer players start to cash in on licensing — that's using your bobblehead

Bill Shaikin, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Soccer

In 1999, when the United States won the Women's World Cup, the iconic pose was that of Brandi Chastain ripping off her jersey, celebrating in her sports bra. The photographs live forever.

In 2019, another U.S. victory featured two iconic poses: Megan Rapinoe spreading her arms outward, almost wider than humanly possible, after scoring against France; and Alex Morgan, delicately lifting her closed hand to her mouth, her pinky extended as if sipping a cup of tea, after scoring against England.

Those photos live on too, but now so does the memorabilia. Those images are reproduced and sold on bobblehead dolls, mugs and a variety of T-shirts, including ones with Morgan's name and the words "Tea Time" and ones with Rapinoe's pose and the words "American Badass."

The NFL players' union made all this possible.

Equal pay is not the only empowerment vehicle for the U.S. women's national team. When the USWNT won the Cup four years ago, the wave of commemorative memorabilia never followed, and the players subsequently asserted their marketing rights. The players' collective licensing revenue was $0 in 2015, but it is expected to top $1 million in 2019.

"The cool thing is that profits are going toward players," forward Christen Press said, "as opposed to most memorabilia that you can buy through the national team. That doesn't trickle down to the players."

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When the players negotiated their current collective bargaining agreement, they asked U.S. Soccer for control of the rights to their names and likenesses. The players had won the Cup, after all, but where were the player T-shirts?

Becca Roux, executive director of the USWNT players' association, said she understood that television rights and ticket sales drove the revenue at U.S. Soccer. The federation, she said, saw little value in licensing rights.

"Licensing is a pretty laborious thing to make money out of," Roux said. "But it's also a really great marketing tool.

"I always knew when the next Disney movie was coming out because of the Happy Meal."

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