Gabby Reece learned the ins and outs of the world of sports marketing.

After graduating from Florida State University, the athlete spent years on the professional volleyball track. This career led her to high profile partnerships with brands like Nike and the founding of her own fitness brand XPT Extreme Performance Training with her husband, professional surfer Laird Hamilton. She has also authored several books, including My Foot Is Too Big For The Slipper: A Guide to Life Less Than Perfect.

Along the way, Reece has learned a few lessons about how brands should approach marketing partnerships with athletes – especially female athletes. Reece spoke about those lessons at the Brandweek Sports Marketing Summit this week – and how she ran her own business during the ongoing pandemic.

Despite the sexism and gender imbalances that persist in today’s world of professional sports, Reece states that female athletes have unique opportunities. This is in part because there are fewer women than male athletes at the highest levels of sport.

“If you can be a good athlete, the landscape is yours because there are far fewer women,” she told Adweek editor-in-chief Terry Stanley. “Athletes don’t just attract us because of their performance. We want to know more about them. These athletes have the opportunity to be inspired by their stories alone. “

There are also opportunities for brands. But what a unique, individual approach it takes “Women navigate a different terrain than male athletes,” she said. “For brands looking to partner with women athletes, it’s more about: ‘What is the brand, what do you want to sell and how do women connect with it?'”

But like everything else, the Covid-19 pandemic has hurt opportunities for women athletes as events have been disrupted and advertising budgets have been postponed. However, new opportunities have emerged, and Reece said it is important for athletes to “get out there and just connect and communicate with brands.” Those who are able to take advantage of what is coming at this point in time and make the most of that moment will be the ones who come out on the other side in a stronger position.

“It’s all that will be able to overcome this big change,” said Reece. “There the people who really stand out and can persist will certainly thrive.”

Reece said that in her own career it was working with and observing brands and agencies like Nike and Wieden + Kennedy that served as a storytelling and branding crash course that served her own perspective in recent years.

As she said, “I’ve learned that telling the story correctly and beautifully is really powerful, whether it’s just a picture or a place.”