Brand Strategy

Birdies’ co-founder on the brand’s first-ever sports sponsorship

The shoe brand signed on with Angel City Football Club before the team’s roster was official, and the two have worked on several projects in less than two seasons together.
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Ira L. Black/Corbis/Getty Images

· 4 min read

For some brands (think Gatorade or FanDuel), sports marketing is a natural fit. For others, perhaps not so much.

That was the case for women’s footwear brand Birdies, according to president and co-founder Marisa Sharkey. But when she and her team first heard about Angel City Football Club—one of the newest National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) expansion teams that already has been the subject of an HBO documentary series, plus a celebrity ownership group that includes Natalie Portman—they were immediately excited about potentially getting involved.

“Even though we weren’t looking for a sports sponsorship specifically, we just really liked the idea of supporting women through sports and the way that the team and the leadership themselves talked about it,” Sharkey told Marketing Brew. “We thought it would be very unique and unexpected for a brand like Birdies, that was relatively small at the time, to even think about sponsoring a sports team.”

The team didn’t have a roster or a stadium locked in at the time, Sharkey said, so there were “a lot of uncertainties involved” in the process. Now, about two years into the sponsorship, Birdies and ACFC have already gone beyond adding the brand’s logo to the team’s kits, including collaborating on a shoe and setting up an internship program.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

What were some of the details you discussed with ACFC during early talks about the sponsorship?

We were both moving quickly and working with relatively small teams, so it probably wasn’t as complicated as many sports partnerships…They shared so much about their mission, about equity and equality and having women investors and women founders and [being] women-run, and that’s exactly what we were about at Birdies. We’ve always been about creating beautiful and comfortable shoes, we say to help women fly, and we’ve done a number of initiatives related to that. In particular, we love mentoring young women. We’ve done different programs to mentor young women and really help them fly. Hearing that Angel City, too, wanted to be able to do that, and 10% of the sponsorship—not just for Birdies, but for everybody that they work with—was going to go back into community-specific programs…it just was a natural, great fit.

What community programs is your sponsorship in particular helping to fund?

We started with them something that we call the Soar Internship. They recruit great young women, mainly from the LA area…and it’s a summer-based, paid internship program sponsored by Birdies…The women get to shadow all the different departments at Angel City as well as at Birdies for a different period of time…It’s really around introducing women to leadership, building their confidence, and just opening their eyes to career paths that are hard for any high school girl to even know about.

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Given the fact that this was your first time doing a sports sponsorship and that the team was so new, did that cause any nervousness or hesitation going in?

Of course. Anytime you do something new, there is that uncertainty that comes along with it, but it felt like a natural partnership and an easy relationship. Sometimes in building a company, you have these ideas, and then you’re lucky to work your way to get that potential opportunity, but as you’re moving through it, it just feels not as easy to do or not as easy of a relationship as you expected. I think in this case, we all saw eye to eye about what we wanted to do together, and so that helped to smooth over some of our fears.

What are your KPIs or general goals for the sponsorship?

Ultimately, our goal for a partnership like this is really to authenticate who we are and to be doing the types of things that we say that we want to be doing. We want to lift women up. Our whole brand was born out of our network supporting us and helping us get to the next step, the next opportunity, and it’s really critical to us to be able to do that for future generations. With that as a big-picture goal, certainly this partnership helps us achieve that.

Four Angel City players (including Ali Riley) are playing in this year’s World Cup. Is Birdies doing anything to engage with the tournament?

Angel City themselves are [hosting] the Equity House…in Sydney during the World Cup to bring women in sports, women and business, women in other leadership areas together to promote the impact of sports on women’s issues and how we can continue to push that forward. Birdies will be participating in some of those interviews and panel discussions. It’ll be really exciting to be there in person, watch a few games, and then be able to further the conversations with a lot of women who are interested in this topic.

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