Phoenix Mercury and Fry’s Food Stores team up to inspire young women throughout the Valley

By Cody Cunningham

Through the cheers after a Diana Taurasi 3-pointer or the boos following a questionable call by the officials, the Phoenix Mercury’s X-Factor holds true as one of the most passionate fan bases in all of sports.

Among those fiery fans is Vince Kozar, the Chief Operating Officer of the Mercury. He can always be spotted courtside, suited up and cheering as much as those around him.

In 2019, the last time the Mercury had fans in attendance, Kozar sat next to a family with two teenage daughters. Throughout the game, the mother wanted to talk about two things. One, the officiating, an always-popular topic. And two, her daughters.

Both girls were quite tall and athletic. But their mother shared her concerns with Kozar because, while these qualities were great on a basketball court, they caused the two girls to stand out in school as being different.

However, when the family attended Mercury games and watched a roster featuring some of the greatest basketball players in the world, those daughters felt a sense of inclusion.

“When they saw our athletes, it just made them feel like there are people who look like them and that it’s not a bad thing to be tall, to be athletic, to be different,” Kozar said. “I thought it was the perfect summary of Merc fans.

“There is passion for what’s going on on the court, and also there’s recognition of what representation from our athletes really means to adults, kids, men, women, boys, and girls.”

Inspiring others, accepting diversity and allowing for open opportunities are all pillars upon which the Mercury organization is built. Those same beliefs are shared by one of the team’s longest-tenured partners in Fry’s Food Stores.

That collaboration officially deepened this week, when the Mercury announced that Fry’s Food Stores is becoming their marquee jersey partner, beginning with the 2021 WNBA season. The Mercury will proudly display the Fry’s Food Stores logo across their uniform, as the two organizations join forces to amplify their voices for women empowerment.

When looking for the ideal jersey partner, Chief Revenue Officer & SVP of Business Innovation Dan Costello said that he couldn’t think of a better fit than Fry’s Food Stores.

“How Fry’s has embraced WNBA basketball and the important role that it plays in this community just continues to demonstrate who Fry’s is as a company,” Costello said. “It’s a dynamic relationship, really built on community leadership and stewardship. I couldn’t be more thrilled or proud of the way that these two brands come together.”

Fry’s Food Stores has remained a strong supporter of professional sports throughout the Valley over the years. But what has always stood out to Kozar is that the organization’s leadership has made sure that the Mercury remain a key part of that portfolio.

“They make a point to say that women’s sports in general — and the Mercury specifically — needs the attention,” Kozar said. “It needs the time and it needs the resources that the men’s sports are getting, as well. Obviously, that leadership comes from the top down.”

The Mercury named Garnes as the organization’s first-ever Believe In Women honoree, an award to showcase women throughout Arizona who are making a difference through business and philanthropy in the community.

“When we thought about the perfect person to honor — someone who’s participated in sports and supported sports, someone who is at the peak of her profession in business and someone who uses not only her personal time, but her business influence, to give back in our community —there was no better person to honor with the first one than Monica Garnes,” Kozar said.

Since then, the two organizations began collaborating on the award. Fry’s Food Stores signed on as the official sponsor, and has joined the Mercury to honor dozens of inspiring women throughout the Valley.

Research shows that youth sports have a substantial impact on gender equality, even if that woman does not grow up to play professionally. A 2017 Ernst & Young survey of high-level executives found that 90 percent of the women sampled played sports, while Fortune estimates that 54 percent of its female Fortune 500 CEOS continued so at the university level.

Just as Garnes transitioned through her life from an athlete to a successful executive, the Mercury and Fry’s Food Stores are working together to spread this message and further carry out this trend to fans, such as the two high-schoolers Kozar met courtside.

“We know the lessons that sports teaches you about yourself, about life, about perseverance, about improvement and about accountability,” Kozar said. “Fry’s’ continued commitment to us, wanting to be out front and being a leader in that space, has been inspiring for the lengths of their tenure with us. The fact that, when they had an opportunity to really expand that partnership and have us wear them on the front of our jerseys, they jumped at it, I think it says a lot about where their values are.

“We are going to be really proud to have Fry’s on our jerseys, just like we’re proud to have PayPal on our jerseys.”

Kozar believes that consumers and organizations vote with their wallets, and that where one spends their money says a lot about their true values. Fry’s Food Stores’ willingness and desire to invest their money to have their brand sewn into the purple and orange uniforms of the Mercury is a sign of them further investing in the empowerment of women and the youth in the Valley community.

“That says all I need to know about that organization.,” Kozar said. “But, it also means that their commitment is long-term and it means their commitment is across the board.”

“Our hope is that, for decades to come, when we look back on winning a championship — hopefully this year or the next or the next — that we’re looking back on doing it while wearing Fry’s on our jersey. That would be really exciting.”