Revealing 4 reasons Adidas bet on Hailey Van Lith and women’s college basketball, the fourth reason will surprise you. |T

Why Adidas is betting on Hailey Van Lith and women’s college basketball

Basketball is a big deal for the brand, especially during March Madness, and especially on the women’s side.

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Nike has Jordan, but Adidas has Hailey Van Lith.

College basketball has been on fire—especially in recent weeks, and especially on the women’s side. This year’s Elite Eight matchup between Van Lith and LSU and Caitlin Clark and the University of Iowa was the most-watched college basketball game ever on ESPN, according to the network. Adidas, it seems, saw the signs years ago.

The German sportswear brand has been shifting some of its marketing focus from pro to college hoops for the past several years as its NIL strategy and roster have developed, according to Chris Murphy, SVP of brand marketing. This year, Adidas ran a campaign in both the men’s and women’s tournaments, but spent more of its media dollars on the women’s side.

“We started a few years ago to see a rebirth or a growth in NCAA basketball, especially during this time period, especially on the women’s basketball side,” Murphy told Marketing Brew. “Our investment followed that trend.”

All hail Hailey

Van Lith was one of Adidas’s first NIL partners, and the brand has since used her in plenty of its marketing materials, according to Murphy. She was one of the faces of the Exhibit Select women’s basketball sneaker last year, and was involved in Adidas’s March Madness campaign in 2022 when she was playing for the Louisville Cardinals, he said.

Two years later, Van Lith is an ideal fit for the brand’s current campaign platform, “You Got This,” which is about promoting “fun, optimism, and joy in sport,” Murphy said.

“Hailey embodied that more than anybody else,” he told us. “We were looking to say, ‘Do we have a partner who embodies our brand really, really well at one of our [sponsored] schools that is doing well…and is on the women’s side, given the growth we’re seeing in women’s basketball in terms of interest.’”

The ad also stars three-time WNBA champ Candace Parker and the 2023 WNBA Rookie of the Year, Aliyah Boston. Van Lith recently entered the transfer portal again as opposed to declaring for the WNBA draft, so she’ll be playing at the college level and eligible for NIL deals for another year.

NIL for all

It was around 2019 when Adidas first started to notice an uptick in interest in women’s college basketball, Murphy said, but the 2022 tournament marked a turning point for the brand. That year was the 50th anniversary of Title IX, which gave Adidas added reason to “shine a spotlight on women in sports” with the launch of its NIL network and the signing of 15 women college athletes, he said.

More than 12,000 student athletes across sports, including basketball, football, volleyball, softball, baseball, and golf, have since participated in the network, which allows any Division-I athlete from a school partnered with Adidas to earn a percentage of the sales they drive for the brand, Murphy said.

“I thought that was a great way for us to help level the playing field a little bit when it came to NIL, to make sure it wasn’t, ‘Hey, we’re gonna give money only to the folks who are performing the best on the field,’” he said. “We can make it a much more inclusive space.”

Though Adidas activates the most around basketball during March Madness, given the heightened interest, the sport is a major pillar for the brand year-round, Murphy said. Interest in the men’s game has always been strong, but it’s on the women’s side where “we definitely see a lot of opportunity,” he said.

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