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How This Canadian Charity Highlighted the Wage Gap Between NBA Mascots and WNBA Players


Hard Work Club’s Meghan Kraemer and Fast and Female’s Gaby Estrada chat to LBB’s Josh Neufeldt about creating ‘Ally Hoop’, the equal pay mascot that debuted at the first ever WNBA game played in Canada

How This Canadian Charity Highlighted the Wage Gap Between NBA Mascots and WNBA Players

Here’s a statistic you probably don’t know: ‘Rocky the Mountain Lion’, the mascot for the NBA’s Denver Nuggets, is paid three times more than the highest-paid WNBA player.

It’s certainly not a great look for sports equality. Without disparaging the work of mascots, in a world where professional athletes, regardless of gender, put their bodies on the line and push to their limits daily, the pay in all instances should be better… not just for men. 

For this reason, Toronto creative agency Hard Work Club (HWC) and Canadian charity Fast and Female came together, seeking to call attention to the serious issue without creating something that detractors would tune out. The result was ‘Ally Hoop’, a brand new mascot for any team to use, who made her debut at the first ever WNBA game hosted in Canada. 

Showcased in a spot that sees an animated Ally dancing through some mascot-style dances, the campaign has been supported by OOH, various influencers, and professional athletes, including Canadian women's soccer player Janine Beckie, and Canadian WNBA player Laeticia Amihere.

LBB’s Josh Neufeldt sat down with HWC’s co-founder and executive creative director Meghan Kraemer, and Fast and Female executive director Gaby Estrada to learn how this work came to life. 

LBB> What can you tell us about Fast and Female? And how did the opportunity come up to design an equal pay mascot?

Gaby> Fast and Female is a registered Canadian charity on a mission to empower girls through sports and physical activity. In our endeavour to foster lasting involvement in sports, we host national and local events and programs - in-person and virtually - in collaboration with community partners and like-minded individuals. Fast and Female provides opportunities for powerful connection with ‘REAL’ (relatable, empowered, active leaders) role models from within the girls’ communities.

The opportunity to design an equal pay mascot came through great conversations with Hard Work Club. We had a chance to work with a predominantly female team that truly aligned with our values, and we had really engaging conversations on how to amplify this message and the work that Fast and Female does. The result was the agency sharing its vision and goal for Ally Hoop. Specifically, our team was shocked to learn how much some NBA mascots make compared to WNBA players! We instantly recognised how valuable this campaign could be, and how it could impact the youth we get a chance to work with and empower across the country. We want girls to see options for their future in sports, and that includes being professional athletes that are valued and paid!

LBB> Making a mascot is a big undertaking! What made Ally Hoop the perfect way to disarm the ‘haters’ in the comment sections of female athletes’ feeds?

Meghan> The brief started as a way to amplify and grow women’s sports ahead of the first WNBA game in Canada. The topic of inequality in sports has been making headlines recently, with prominent athletes from basketball to soccer speaking up about the issue. So, we knew early on that we wanted to focus on pay equity, but frame up the conversation differently. 
When looking at past work around equality, it’s often done with an earnest tone. For us, these campaigns can be tuned out by those who don’t want to engage in the conversation, and ‘haters’ who leave disparaging comments like ‘women’s sports suck’. On the other hand, a mascot is inherently fun, and perhaps tougher to argue with. A mascot’s job is to hype up fans, so Ally hyping up fans for equality felt natural, yet also unexpected!

LBB> Driving this campaign is a statistic - the fact that the mascot for the NBA’s Denver Nuggets is paid three times more than the highest-paid WNBA player. What was the research process like, and how did this insight gain factor into the creative process?

Meghan> There is a lot of nuance around statistics in sport, and a lot of justifications for inequality stemming from these stats. For example, look at how much money the NBA pulls in annually, versus the WNBA. This statistic, about the highest-paid mascots, made some headlines in sports publications last year, and was shared by some prominent voices in the space, but it didn’t really penetrate the mainstream. So, our team dug into reported earnings from different leagues and looked at a lot of sources for inspiration. When one of our account directors found this stat, we knew it was the angle we were looking for. It’s a bit absurd, which is precisely what makes it memorable. The creative idea flowed from it within minutes of it being shared in HWC’s slack channel.


LBB> The name ‘Ally Hoop’ is fun! What made you go with this choice, and as a whole, what was the design process like?

Meghan> ‘Ally Hoop’ was the only name we ever considered! Our incredible designer, Dameon Neath, came up with it, and designed the wordmark for it that ended up living on everything from merch to billboards. We all loved this notion that Ally was an ally for equality. The name is simple and punchy, but has great layers baked right in. 
In terms of design, we threw around a few different ideas for how Ally would look, and messed around a bit with AI to help us envision how she could come to life. Dameon did a few sketches of different concepts, and we all loved the one with an equal sign head and a little basketball net that was flipped to make a crown. A refined version of that pencil sketch is what made it into the campaign. It was shared with our animation partner, 1stAveMachine, who brought it to life in 3D. Animator Jon Lorenz made Ally Hoop real, and made her move and groove in record time. We are endlessly grateful that they wanted to jump on the project, and for how much love they put in to give Ally such a strong sense of confidence and personality.

LBB> The accompanying spot is also fun - what was the creation process like?

Meghan> The first step was creating a 3D translation of Ally’s 2D character design, which was a very exciting and open collaboration process that spanned time zones (we’re based in Toronto, our animator was in San Diego, and the 1stAveMachine team was in Buenos Aires). We considered a bunch of different ‘hype dances,’ ultimately landing on the well known ‘raise the roof’ and ‘running man’ sequence, followed by a more uniquely-Ally ‘shimmy shimmy shake’ as her finale. The pace of this project was incredibly quick, but it was fun to embrace those unexpected quirks and surprises along the way. When there’s so much passion and trust in a project, it makes moving fast possible.

LBB> The song choice is also perfect! How did you come to find it, and what made it right for the job? 

Meghan> Our head of production, Monika Ghobrial initiated a search based on the general tone and vibe we felt would be right. We wanted it to feel modern, but also have a bit of that ‘jock jam’ energy. We also knew we wanted the lyrics to pay off the idea in some way - whether that be about female empowerment or money, literally. The song we found, ‘Get That Money’, by K-pop artist Tinamina, was perfect. It passed the ‘can’t get it out of my head’ test, and captured Ally’s big mascot energy.

LBB> Since launching, Ally can be seen across multiple different media forms. What was the process of converting the creative like, and how did you ensure the message wouldn’t be lost in the transition? 

Meghan> The opportunities to bring Ally to life were endless. Video was going to allow us to tell the full story of the pay stat and how fans can support Fast and Female and the WNBA league. We also had digital OOH placements in superboards and in-restaurant, as well as influencer kits, merch, photography and social assets. We used a consistent design language that very much felt a part of the basketball world, and opted for headlines that could tell the story of pay and basketball succinctly, like ‘Nothing But Net Net Equality’ and ‘Making Bank Shots to Make Bank’.
Beyond that, all assets drove back to the Fast and Female website for fans to learn more about the initiative, and how to donate and support the cause.

LBB> Canadian women's soccer player Janine Beckie and Canadian WNBA player Laeticia Amiheree were spokespeople for the campaign! How did you get them involved, and what was the process of working with them like?

Meghan> We had amazing support in Hype PR, who handled influencer and spokesperson outreach. We pitched Janine and Laeticia on the idea and were so thrilled when they were enthusiastically in! They are both collaborative, fearless advocates who are also incredible athletes in their respective sports. Having them lend their voices to the campaign was so meaningful.

We also had about 25 influencers supporting the initiative. In fact, we had such positive responses and such great early interest from the sports community that sadly, we had to cap our outreach due to limited merch on hand.

LBB> What challenges have you faced during this project? How did you overcome them?

Meghan> Time was our biggest challenge. There were a lot of moving pieces in this campaign, and for us, hitting the week of the WNBA game in Toronto was critical. It involved a ton of coordination and communication across the full team to make it happen. It truly was a collaborative effort, and I’m so proud of the way everyone rallied to move quickly and decisively. By upholding transparency and empathy, and making space for a lot of fun along the way, sprinting to the finish line brought us closer together!
Gaby> I’d say the biggest challenge was feeling like we need to ‘prove’ something with this campaign, and ‘prove’ why Ally Hoop is important and why folks need to support women and sports - going beyond being advocates and instead, being active allies and fans. There are always naysayers and haters who want to offer an ‘alternative’ opinion that ultimately leaves you feeling angry or sad, but the beautiful thing, and what helped us overcome it, was working with Hard Work Club, and having an incredible staff team and community of supporters. They showed us the impact Ally had and will continue to have on girls in sport across the country.

LBB> Since launch, how have people reacted to this campaign?

Meghan> Reactions have been strong! We’ve had a ton of positive feedback from the initiative. On top of the social media engagement, Janine Beckie and Laeticia Amihere have appeared on national and regional TV, as well as print and radio across Canada, promoting Ally and speaking to equality. 

We’ve also had some pushback from a few detractors and NBA mascot fans who have been commenting with justifications for why the disparity between mascots and female athletes exists. We expected this, and we welcome the dialogue. We wanted the campaign to generate conversation (versus simply getting tuned out), which seems to be happening.

Gaby> Predominantly, the response has been incredibly supportive, excited, and proud. Especially in our Fast and Female community, you can feel the excitement to have such a fun and cool campaign to support and share. I think it had quite a few people really amped to see something new and fresh coming from Fast and Female – and something so bold too!

We’ve also had a few haters, but as mentioned, we have an incredible community to support us and remind us how important Ally and our work is! 

LBB> Is there anything you’d like to add?

Meghan> Part of our mandate in founding Hard Work Club two years ago was to do work that was meaningful to us, and campaigns like this one deliver on that dream. As a mother of two young daughters, this one hits especially close to home. I want my girls - and all girls - to see that they can move beyond the stands and onto whatever level playing field they choose, and to know that their wildest dreams are possible. Fast and Female does such great work and helps make an equal future for all self-identified girls possible. It’s such a privilege to bring awareness of their organisation and mission to more people.

Beyond that, while this campaign focuses on women in sport and has female athletes at its core, we want Ally Hoop to hype up all sports fans. Equality will take everyone cheering for female athletes, watching games and buying tickets. Celebrating athletes - regardless of their gender - is what true equality looks like!

Gaby> Ally Hoop is a great reminder that we all have the opportunity to create impact, one person at a time. Show up in whatever way you can! Whether that means watching women’s sports on TV, or in person, supporting your local club, volunteering for a girls and/or women in sports event, coaching, donating, buying team swag, liking, or sharing – it’s all right there. 

Specifically, to support Fast and Female, you can donate to us, as every single dollar matters! We do provide tax receipts as a registered charity, and we are always looking for champions to spread the word on what we do and why empowering girls through sport and physical activity is important. We are also always excited for the opportunity to collaborate with organisations and individuals across the country, so please, don’t ever hesitate to reach out!

But more than any of this, please know that while one single person’s support goes a long way, showing up also means displaying role model behaviour. It’s not just about being advocates, but active allies and doing the work. We can all make a difference; together, our impact and power to support girls and women in sports is unmatched. 

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Hard Work Club, Thu, 25 May 2023 16:10:45 GMT