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New NWSL CMO describes vision for ‘player-first sports league’ 

(Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports)

Julie Haddon spent five years working for the NFL, but she decided to make the leap to the NWSL because she sees the potential to create a new type of sports league.

The NWSL’s new chief marketing officer helped to build Super Bowl campaigns and grow the NFL’s digital footprint as the league’s senior vice president of global and brand marketing. She also has worked for DreamWorks Animation, eBay and Twitter, among other big-name stops on her résumé.

Haddon first got into the NWSL in 2021, when she bought a minority ownership stake with the Chicago Red Stars. Through that team, she got a front-row seat to the league’s reckoning: Red Stars coach Rory Dames resigned last November ahead of abuse allegations from former players, one of several NWSL coaches to have been accused of such conduct in the last year.

In the wake of the reckoning, the NWSL named a new commissioner in Jessica Berman, and she has sought to grow the league. Haddon was one of three new executives named by Berman on Aug. 17, alongside Tatjana Haenni, who will be the league’s chief sporting director, and Bill Ordower who will work as chief legal and operating officer.

When Berman approached Haddon about the job, she accepted in part because of the work that the NWSL has done to address players’ safety and their rights.

But it doesn’t just end there, according to Haddon, who sees the league’s players as the key to its success.

“The word is transparency,” Haddon told AdWeek. “We have an opportunity to build a player-first sports league. The players are the ones who capture the attention, the hearts, the minds, the spirits of the fans. The fans support the players, the clubs come into the mix, as well as the ecosystem of the sponsors and the partners around the league—and that’s how you get to engage with this league.”

That engagement will come across various platforms. Haddon sees opportunities to grow the league through licensing, content, the metaverse, NFTs and SportsBetting, particularly coming off the wave of next year’s World Cup.

For Haddon, the work in growing the league will start with the players and their stories.

“We have a highly coveted, avid fan: a lot of super avid fans that represent a high lifetime value and are super-ultra engaged,” Haddon said. “We’ve got something that’s magic for a lot of marketers: the top-of-funnel storytellers that come from the people who are organic advocates of their own.”