Olivia Moultrie is a sign of the times

Olivia Moultrie is a sign of the times
by J.R. Eskilson
February 27, 2019

Olivia Moultrie signed a professional contract with Nike when she was 13 years old. That was the big news in the soccer world this week. Wasserman Media Group, Moultrie’s agency, announced the deal on Monday, a day after the barely teenager briefly appeared in a Nike commercial that aired during the Oscars broadcast. 

The terms of the deal were not disclosed. However, Moultrie’s agent, Spencer Wadsworth, told the New York Times that the deal was worth more than a possible scholarship to the University of North Carolina, where Moultrie had given her verbal commitment when she was 11 years old. 

If you sense a pattern here, you are on to something. Moultrie is usually early or the first to do something. She was the first female player to play in the Boys Development Academy when she suited up for Total Futbol Academy in 2016-2017. She scored 10 goals in 30 appearances that season with TFA. 

She made another splash when she was 11 and gave her word to North Carolina that she would be a Tar Heel when she joined the college ranks seven years later. In typical Moultrie fashion, it was through social media that she announced the early decision

Her latest conquest was signing a ‘professional’ contract at the tender age of 13. However, it is not a professional contract in a traditional sense. Or, as some argued, not a professional contract at all. Even though, she is giving up her scholarship to UNC to pursue this professional endeavor with Nike. 

She is not signed to a club. She signed an endorsement deal with Nike. Her club career will stay in the youth ranks, as OregonLive.com reported that she is moving to Portland to play for the NWSL club’s academy. She previously played in the Girls Development Academy with Beach FC - she was a 13-year-old playing in the U16/17 bracket, which is common for a Youth National Team player. 

Moultrie is not signed to a contract with the first team at the Portland Thorns as of yet. (Edit: The original draft of this article stated that she could not sign with the league prior to turning 18, but that is not the case.) 

Moultrie’s endorsement deal makes her the face of a movement now. She is the test pilot of this idea that social media influencers in the sports world can be beneficial to a company in search of every possible way to reach the next generation of consumers. 

She carries a healthy and growing social media following. As of Feb. 27, she has over 92,000 followers on instagram - and it, unsurprisingly, has been steadily growing since she became an internet sensation on Monday with the news of a 13-year-old signing a ‘professional’ contract. 

Nearly every article after the news broke has described Moultrie as a phenom, which seems like an apt word. However, this is considerably different from the last youth soccer phenom, Freddy Adu, who signed with MLS/D.C. United when he was 14 years old. Adu was a marketing gimmick for the fledgling league, but there was a tangible way to judge his success. His impact on the field. Moultrie won’t have that same standard as she is far removed from the public scrutiny of her development as she toils away in the youth ranks for the foreseeable future.

Relevance will define Moultrie’s success, which seems absurd to say about a young girl who will turn 14 years old later this year. The initial wave of buzz has probably been a massive sigh of relief for the sports company, which weathered any negativity about signing someone so young, and even enjoyed some positive press. 

The highlight video of Moultrie training on her family’s custom backyard soccer pitch has surpassed over a million views since Monday. It’s a jaw-dropping figure for a brief clip, which elicits more similarities to a basketball trainer throwing mattresses at a player than much practicality on the field. However, it is this type of influence that made Moultrie different from the other phenoms in the field. 

She stands alone in a world of likes and views. Even when most didn’t know her name, she built a following with these training clips or highlights of her besting the competition. She grew an organic brand that made her an attractive piece to the Nike portfolio, and perhaps an indication of where soccer (especially women’s soccer) is headed in 2020 and beyond. 

The era of influence on the field might be slightly diminished in the realm of who you can reach in the virtual space. Moultrie’s value is clearly showing that proving your worth on the pitch is secondary to what you can bring in front of a camera. 

It’s not a knock on her as a player. She is terrific for her age group, and has shown she is among the best in her birth year at many Youth National Team camps. However, she has not proven much on the international level because she has not been given the chance given her age. 

Consider her peer Allyson Sentnor, a player born in 2004 who is also an early North Carolina commit. Sentnor, only one year older, is currently in England playing for the U.S. U18 Women’s National Team. She’s already made appearances with every other U.S. Youth National Team and barely missed out on a spot on the U.S. U17 WNT for the 2018 World Cup despite playing up three age groups. 

Sentnor is not a professional and all indications are she is not headed that direction in the near future. Perhaps part of the reason could be her name recognition. Despite her success in the girls club soccer world, she only has 3,400 followers on her instagram profile, which is private. 

There was no New York Times article about Sentnor’s careful college decisions even though she also made her verbal commitment very early on. 

Comparison is the enemy of joy, and there is plenty of room for both players to be successful in the soccer world. The differences between the two point out what is valued from an advertising viewpoint and where the business of sports marketing is headed in the future. 

Moultrie is terrific in her own right, and she can stand above her peers thanks to the countless hours she has devoted to the game. Her dedication to the ball made her a sensation at the youth level, and her parents decision to homeschool her at a young age removed distractions from outside influences. 

On the field, she has a long journey ahead of her. The early microscope will make everything more difficult, but Nike providing her shelter in Portland could be a sign of a company investing in a person rather than an idea. Or it could be a sign of a company wanting to keep an asset close to maximize exposure. 

The hope for all will be that Moultrie continues to find joy in the game, and spreads that happiness to all of her followers and new fans. Any longterm success will depend on her smile staying bright and the feet staying grounded. 

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