How digital native fashion startup Birdies learned to let go of metrics to sponsor powerhouse women’s soccer team Angel City

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Unwanted advances push women off LinkedIn, gender parity in business leadership could come by the end of the decade, and a startup lets go of ad metrics for an important sponsorship. Have a great Monday!

– End goal. Before Angel City FC started playing in 2022, the cofounders of the women’s shoes startup Birdies got a call. They didn’t make athletic apparel, but Angel City’s president Julie Uhrman wanted to know if they’d be interested in becoming a sponsor of the new Los Angeles-based women’s soccer team.

It was a compelling—but unusual—offer. Birdies was part of the 2010s generation of direct-to-consumer startups. Founded in 2015, the startup has raised about $10 million in venture funding. Its founders were used to advertising mainly through Instagram and Facebook, with immediate metrics at their fingertips. Now, they were presented with the opportunity to have their company’s name on professional soccer players’ jerseys—a much harder-to-measure form of advertising.

Birdies is a sponsor of Angel City Football Club.

Courtesy of Birdies

“It is unusual when you look at it just on paper,” says Birdies cofounder and CEO Bianca Gates. “We’re not in the business of making athletic apparel.”

“You don’t see a lot of startup fashion companies sponsoring a sports team,” agrees cofounder and president Marisa Sharkey.

And yet, they decided to take the leap and signed a four-year, seven-figure deal. The Birdies name has been emblazoned on the sleeves of Angel City players since they first hit the field in 2022. The deal was part of the $5 million Angel City earned through jersey sponsorships—a number that reportedly pushes the boundaries of sponsorship revenue in women’s sports. Other jersey sponsors include DoorDash, Klarna, and Sprouts Farmers Market.

The startup’s entry into women’s sports went further this month when some of Angel City’s players competed in the Women’s World Cup in Australia. The Birdies cofounders flew to Sydney to participate in Angel City’s Equity House programming during the competition. Then, they rushed onto a flight from Sydney to Melbourne to see the U.S. women play—and ultimately, lose early—in the tournament.

Despite the U.S. Women’s National Team’s loss, the experience has driven home why Birdies decided to become an Angel City sponsor, part of a mission to support women’s empowerment. “We’re literally showing up on the sleeve as a brand that cares about this,” says Sharkey.

Bianca Gates and Marisa Sharkey, cofounders of Birdies—and sponsors of Angel City FC.

Courtesy of Birdies

Birdies’ sponsorship deal has prompted questions from other founders curious about advertising in women’s sports—estimated to be a massive opportunity. Venture capitalist and Angel City cofounder Kara Nortman launched Monarch Collective, a $100 million fund dedicated to investing in women’s sports.

For startup founders, taking on this kind of partnership can be “a bit of a leap,” acknowledges Sharkey. Many sports sponsors are legacy brands, less scared to advertise without immediately measurable results.

“For the founders that are looking to immediately see the impact financially, it’s probably not the right thing to do,” admits Gates. “It’s hard to measure it, but you just have to do it because it’s the right thing to do.”

Emma Hinchliffe

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