(BrandForward is a proud partner of Front Office Sports)
After a long absence, softball is returning to the Olympics at Tokyo 2020 after last appearing in 2008. Team USA recently named their roster for the event, featuring longtime standout pitcher Monica Abbott. The powerhouse left-handed pitcher has been described as the world’s most valuable player in fastpitch softball, with achievements including 17 different championship titles and recognition as the Most Valuable Player of National Pro Fastpitch and the Japan Professional Softball League a combined eight times. Also a member of the 2008 American team who won silver at the 2008 Olympics, Abbott has a dual goal set for Tokyo 2020: to bring home the Gold to the USA while also using this opportunity to encourage the next generation of softball players.
Over the last decade, global participation in baseball and softball has grown to more than 65 million people in more than 140 countries. This growth in softball’s popularity across the world can largely attributed to the sport’s increased coverage via traditional media coverage as well as social media. This, accompanied with the sport’s massive popularity in Japan, is a huge reason why softball is making a triumphant Olympic return.
According to Abbott, this is a huge step for the sport as well as women’s sports in general.
“It really makes a huge difference for women because there are more opportunities for us,” she states. “The Olympics is the highest stage for many women’s sports; we receive similar coverage to men’s sports and on a global level, “ she states. “For the sport of softball to be back in the Olympics, I’m hoping we can use this opportunity to raise visibility for the sport and encourage more young women to see the possibilities of a career in professional softball.”
Another reason for the game’s rise in popularity is due to the efforts of athletes like Abbott who promote and teach the game to amateur players. Abbott hosts about 16 different instructional clinics for children under the age of 18 across the United States each year. As demand for more clinics has gotten stronger, Abbott has planning to introduce an online academy to help her reach more youth. To be launched in the spring of 2020, the academy will feature video tutorials that go in-depth into the three focuses of Abbott’s pitching style: rise ball, power pitching, and basic mechanics and leg drive.
“I love the sport of softball and want to help young girls see the potential in themselves to follow their dreams in the sport, so it’s been really important to me to travel across the country and help teach youth in person,” she says. “ I hope that I can inspire them not only through clinics but also be helping them to see a pathway in the sport and how they can be the next face of softball.”
Abbott’s work with youth, as well as her championship pedigree, have helped her secure numerous partnerships, endorsements and signature lines of softball gear. This includes a signature line of gloves from Wilson, a signature cleat with Ringor, and T-shirts through The Loyalist featuring memes and sayings created from her social presence. But as she prepares for this Olympics, she wanted to ensure that she was fully maximizing the opportunity to reach as many people as well. To promote her clinics and partnerships as well as grow her digital presence, Abbott has partnered with BrandForward: an athlete brand strategy consultancy that works with professional, Olympic and Paralympic athletes across the country.
“As I continue towards 2020 and playing full-time, it gets harder and harder to do everything me do that. They’ve helped me find some new avenues to create impact, such as my online yourself,” Abbott says of trying to manage her personal brand with a busy schedule. “You need help, there’s no doubt about it. You need help to think more strategically about your brand and how to find the right opportunities for me, and they’ve been able to step in and help academy, as well as how to keep my online image and brand current and fresh. Steph and Patty (the founders of BrandForward) have been really good with that.”
Abbott notes that over the course of her career, she has learned two major lessons about growing her social presence that any athlete or brand should take heed of: be consistent and encourage a feeling of community amongst your follower base. Abbott and BrandForward put the latter concept into practice when they were able to give a name to her fans, now known as the “Moniacs.”
“We ran a contest on Twitter and people entered names that they thought it could be,” Abbott says. “So when I talk to people via social or we run contests or through a newsletter, we can address them so they know that we’re talking to them specifically. So now we’re starting to weave ‘Moniac’ into a lot of things and we’re going to come up with some different fun ways to promote it and my fans have really been excited about having their own community.”
Through all of these things, as well as her performance on the field, Abbott hopes to inspire more people, young women in particular, to enjoy the game of softball as both fans and players. And she knows that a gold medal can go a long way in creating even more excitement.
“I’ve played professionally in Japan for almost a decade, so I’ve seen firsthand how much the fans there love the sport of softball – it’s very much a baseball and softball-rich country. Japan put on such good events so I’m excited that we will be able to play in a country that will really make softball a highlight as part of Tokyo 2020. That means great things for our sport, and if we are able to walk away with the gold, it means great things for the future of the sport in our country.”
Catch Abbott and Team USA on the Stand Beside Her Tour in the buildup to the 2020 Olympics