Morgan Stanley Is Winning With Serena Williams and Disney

When a brand like Morgan Stanley wants to help tell one of the most compelling stories in sports, it doesn’t need a man in the arena: It needs the greatest of all time.

Serena Williams retired from tennis in 2022 with 23 women’s Grand Slam singles titles, 18 Grand Slam doubles titles, four Olympic gold medals and nearly $95 million in winnings. This summer, Morgan Stanley signed on as the presenting sponsor of an eight-part ESPN+ documentary in which she reflects on her athletic career.

“Last year, we announced on our upfront stage that we began production on a groundbreaking project with world-class athlete Serena Williams,” said Mike Denby, svp of sales for Disney Advertising. “Disney continues to amplify women’s sports through our programming, providing unique opportunities for advertisers to intentionally commit to the growth of women’s voices in sports, and we are proud to collaborate with brands who are just as invested in this mission.” 

The docuseries, In the Arena: Serena Williams, debuted at the Tribeca Festival in June—which was also co-sponsored by Morgan Stanley—and serves as an extension of director Gotham Chopra’s series that kicked off with the Emmy-winning Man in the Arena: Tom Brady in 2021 and 2022. Launched at the festival with a screening and conversation between Williams and writer/comedian Amber Ruffin, In the Arena drops its first episode on ESPN+ today, with new installments debuting each Wednesday through Aug. 28.

“Serena is the epitome of someone with grit and determination and vision to see what no one else can see,” said Alice Milligan, CMO of Morgan Stanley. “Partnering with her made total sense: She herself has [the] Serena Ventures [venture capital fund] and does a lot around helping the next generation move forward—whether it’s in the sport or outside of the sport—and Morgan Stanley does a lot of that as part of our core values.”

Investment at fault

Morgan Stanley’s involvement comes at a time when brand interest in women’s sports hasn’t quite matched fan intensity. The company pointed to recent research from Deloitte forecasting women’s sports revenue to exceed $1 billion in the United States for the first time this year—despite receiving just 1% to 2% of total sports investment.

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