Athletes Unlimited Inks Gatorade Deal Ahead of Inaugural Volleyball Season

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Athletes Unlimited, a network of professional women’s sports leagues, has landed a new sponsor in Gatorade ahead of its inaugural volleyball season, set to start later this month in Dallas. The sports drink giant joins recovery technology company Hyperice and Mariner Wealth Advisors, both of which have extended their partnerships with Athletes Unlimited after the organization’s inaugural softball season last summer.

Athletes Unlimited declined to disclose financial details of any of the arrangements.

“When you’re a new sports property like ours that’s less than a year old, to add Gatorade, which is synonymous with sports, is an amazing new addition,” Athletes Unlimited CEO and co-founder Jon Patricof said in a phone interview. “What we were able to prove with Hyperice and Mariner with our softball season is that we can really integrate partners in a meaningful way into the league and into the fan and athlete experience, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do with all three [sponsors] with volleyball.”

Gatorade and Hyperice will provide Athletes Unlimited with physical product during the five-week season as part of the deal and participate in the league’s Athlete Innovation Lab—physical spaces on-site that feature branding and signage—something Athletes Unlimited argues is still valuable despite the absence of fans.

The league plans to use content created in and around those spaces to showcase its partners’ brands and products to fans and viewers, relying on digital assets created by its own in-house team, as well as Athletes Unlimited’s broadcast and distribution partners. Mariner Wealth Advisors will provide financial education for all athletes as part of Athletes Unlimited’s professional development programs.

The trio comprise Athletes Unlimited’s first national sponsors for the upcoming 30-match season, which will be the only indoor women’s pro volleyball league in the United States. Broadcast distribution deals with CBS Sports Network, which also carried the league’s softball season, and FOX Sports, as well as streaming platforms Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Twitch and Dailymotion were previously announced.

Combined, the partners will broadcast or stream all 30 matches.

“We’re obviously selling exposure,” said Patricof, formerly of the MLS club NYCFC. “What we’re hearing from our partners is that it is absolutely essential that we have a national distribution platform, but on top of that it’s really about integration and finding meaningful ways to work together. The way we activate for these partners right now without fans on site is through content creation and digital experiences that we provide.”

As a network of short, single-site seasons even pre-pandemic, Athletes Unlimited has still lost potential ticketing and site-related revenue streams after going fan-less—making corporate support even more important.

Six Olympians from five different countries are among those on Athletes Unlimited’s volleyball rosters, including Team USA members Jordan Larson and Karsta Lowe. Women’s lacrosse will follow this July, serving as Athletes Unlimited’s third sport, prior to the league’s second softball season.

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