Softball was the foundation of Athletes Unlimited’s four-league, mini-empire of women’s sports. But sports fans’ increased interest gave the company marketing riches far beyond the softball diamond. 

The company was co-founded in 2020 by former Soros Fund Management executive Jonathan Soros and ex-New York City FC president Jon Patricof. The idea behind Athletes Unlimited was simple: give women’s softball players a place to play professionally in the United States. 

Executive and player ranks grew quickly. Former National Pro Fastpitch commissioner Cheri Kempf was brought in as a vice president. Rosters expanded with top-tier talent including Olympic gold medalist Cat Osterman. Almost overnight, Athletes Unlimited positioned itself as an alternative to Japan Softball League and other overseas options.


When Adweek last checked in on Athletes Unlimited in August, it had just added both volleyball and lacrosse leagues. Coverage of its events came through a patchwork of CBS and Fox broadcasts. Streams on YouTube and Facebook rounded out its reach. In October, it started a women’s basketball league to give WNBA players and others a place to play and earn more money—without flying over an ocean and showing their passport. 

Athletes Unlimited joined the Marshall Plan for Moms organization’s National Business Coalition for Child Care to provide benefits and services to athletes with children. In total, it now has more than 200 athletes playing across four leagues. It established itself as a Public Benefit Corporation (PBC), eliminated sports team owners, gave athletes a voice in league affairs through player executive committees and amplified the stories of BIPOC athletes. 

Jennifer Davis, CMO at college sports marketing company Learfield, notes that more than 50% of college softball fans are women. According to Davis, women who follow college softball are more likely to be college educated than the average, are more likely to have household incomes over $150,000 a year, are typically younger and have a higher engagement on social media. The AU has provided fans a chance to take their passion—and buying power—to the next level. As a result, Athletes Unlimited has fostered partnerships with major brands including Gatorade and GEICO—and landed a media rights deal with ESPN as they realize the purchasing power of the women’s sports audience. 


Today, on the 50th anniversary of the Title IX education amendment of 1972 prohibiting federally funded schools from discriminating based on sex, Athletes Unlimited’s AUX Softball league will be the only women’s sport that ESPN televises nationally. As its leagues draw more fans and its purpose becomes clearer, it makes a strong pitch to marketers seeking undervalued audiences.

“We made a big investment in creating a really world class professional league that would take care of the athletes and ensure a great experience for them—but also deliver games to fans and provide them with a lot of different experiences,” Patricof said. “So we’ve now done that for two years, and I think people are taking notice.”

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