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USWNT balances off-field work to promote World Cup

REIMS, France — The commercial lasts 55 seconds.

Players walk out onto the field, faces straight and focused. A deep voice in the background booms, “You come at the queen, you best not miss.” Graphics take over in a video-game-like blur. Carli Lloyd to Tobin Heath. French player nutmegged. Megan Rapinoe on the ball. Julie Ertz: “Push up! Push up! Push up!” Becky Sauerbrunn tackle.

The CGI-ed, explosive “All Eyes On Us” campaign debuted May 8 by Fox Sports portrays a strong, fierce United States women’s national team competing in a World Cup — and looks nothing like the long, sweaty and tiring reality it took to create.

U.S. players worked tirelessly on the field to become the reigning world champions they are, but they also work long hours behind the scenes to create the promotional material everyone sees on a daily basis during the 2019 Women’s World Cup.

For those less-than-a-minute series of commercials, players spent three days in Tampa, Fla., shooting on location during a hot and humid week in late February. 

That stadium full of fans seen in the commercial was an empty NFL Raymond James Stadium. The French players taken down by the U.S. were actors. 

And that sequence of passing and jumping and shooting was the most difficult shot of the day, choreographed by soccer-movement specialist Andy Ansah of London and led by renowned director Joseph Kahn, whose portfolio includes the 2015 Women’s World Cup promos and music videos for Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez, among others. 

“When you play football, yeah you play in front of 30,000 people or whatever, but that’s a natural process,” Ansah said. “You just react and it happens. This, you’ve got everyone standing looking at you, it’s a forced atmosphere. And the problem you have there is, ‘Well what do I do?’ Because there’s nothing really moving, there’s no atmosphere. So we have to build that up around the player.

“And that’s the hardest thing, is to get a performance, because they’re not actors, there’s natural footballers.” 

Conception for the campaign began more than a year before the World Cup started June 7. Fox Sports executive vice president of marketing Robert Gottlieb spit out the water he was drinking in laughter when asked how many emails he’s sent in relation to that one promo shoot.

“A lot. Couple thousand?” Gottlieb said. “A server full.”

Members of the US women’s national team sprint toward the camera for a commercial scene. They spent a few days at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. in February filming a Fox Sports promotional campaign for the 2019 Women’s World Cup. (Aileen Perilla/Pro Soccer USA)

Gottlieb said the conversation surrounding the marketing and promotion of the Women’s World Cup was different than the first time Fox held the tournament’s rights in 2015 and much different than any conversations about soccer the company had in the past.

“Seven, eight years ago, it was a different conversation, maybe had to convince people, people ignored it,” Gottlieb said. “But now, if someone dismisses soccer, they really look out of touch. 

“As defending champs and really a dynasty in the sport, we recognized that coming into this World Cup really the eyes of the world would be on this team. There’s no question that’s true. Everyone in the world is going to be watching what they do, so that kind if drove our theme of ‘All Eyes On Us.'” 

USWNT forward Christen Press poses for portraits at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. The team filmed promos there with Fox Sports for the 2019 World Cup. (Aileen Perilla/Pro Soccer USA)

Conception was the easy part. The logistics of pulling it off were much more difficult, especially coordinating the more than 100 crew members at the stadium for the Tampa shoot.

Gottlieb would not disclose his marketing budget for the World Cup, only saying, ‘It’s a lot.” In addition, Fox Sports built an impressive studio on the patio of a restaurant that overlooks the Eiffel Tower in Paris for on-location coverage of the tournament.

Jennifer Pransky, coordinating producer of features for Fox Sports, is in charge of all the video production that goes into pregame, halftime and postgame shows. It’s her job to tell the players’ stories and bring those stories to the people watching at home.

“You just really start to appreciate what it takes for these players to get to where they are,” said Pransky. “Until you kind of get up close and hear them talk about, how much they’ve not done the things that we do in our daily lives, that they’ve given up to be able to go to a World Cup — it’s really getting a better appreciation of how they’ve had to live their lives, and the discipline is something that just continues to surprise me all the time.”

Alex Morgan, Mallory Pugh rest in between scenes. The USWNT spent a few days at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., filming a Fox Sports promotional campaign for the 2019 World Cup. (Aileen Perilla/Pro Soccer USA)

As the day wore on, the heat increased. Makeup artists waited on the sidelines to spritz players’ faces in between takes. Someone called for an umbrella and 10 minutes later a man walked out with one nearly the size of his body. He stoically stood holding it over Alex Morgan and Mallory Pugh as they rested on the grass between takes. 

“I’m tired,” Pugh could be overheard saying. “What time did they say we get out of here tonight?”

“Schedule said 10,” Crystal Dunn responded. 

In the months leading to the World Cup, the players worked these promotional shoots and appearances into their schedules that also included training with the national team, playing in friendly matches and playing for their club teams.

By the time they left for England at the end of May to enter a 10-day training camp before heading to France, they were ready to focus solely on the team and chasing a fourth title.

Each player has a different way to cope with the off-field demands they face. Morgan said she unwinds by ordering food from a delivery service and watching TV. 

“We all understand it comes with the territory, but each player has their own fine balance of off-field work that doesn’t become too exhausting or overwhelming,” Morgan said. “Opportunities do arise during the World Cup years that you wouldn’t get otherwise, which is fun to take advantage of, but you have to make sure anything you’re doing is not at the detriment of your play on the field.”

The USWNT spent a few days at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla in February filming a Fox Sports promotional campaign for the 2019 Women’s World Cup. (Aileen Perilla/Pro Soccer USA)

The off-field work has paid off so far.

Fox Sports has reported record viewership numbers for the Women’s World Cup. The USWNT’s 2-0 win over Sweden to close out the group stage Thursday drew 3.74 million viewers. The U.S. win over Chile delivered 5.4 million viewers, making it the most-watched Women’s World Cup group stage match ever in the United States and the most-watched English-language soccer match since last year’s men’s World Cup final, according to Nielsen Media Research. Metered market ratings through the group stage of tournament are up 10% over the 2015 Women’s World Cup.

With the tournament half over and the U.S. entering the round of 16 Monday against Spain, players have less marketing work to do but continue to make regular media appearances for broadcast, digital and print outlets.

“There is a lot of different pieces they have to juggle and manage,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said. “We need to make sure we manage that for the players, in terms of fatigue and stress and all those types of things.

“In a way, it’s not a bad thing because it means our sport is relevant.”

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