Sponsoring Women’s Sports: A Golden Opportunity (Part 1)

Gina Lewandowski in action in the UEFA Women’s Champions League semi-final against FC Barcelona, April 28, 2019, in Barcelona, Spain. Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

With the FIFA Women’s World Cup approaching, which will be hosted in France this summer, brands and broadcasters are taking advantage of unparalleled interest in the sport. 

The past few years, we’ve witnessed a major shift in public perception of women’s sports, despite a severe lack of funding among most of the teams. 

Sponsorship deals have been on the rise, which indicates that the situation is changing and will continue to do so in the coming years. But many have asked the legitimate question: are women’s sports worth the sponsoring investments? Let’s see 

A very Slow Start

Women’s sports have been neglected for decades in terms of investment and coverage and are well behind men’s sports. Havas Sports and Entertainment revealed that between 2011 and 2013, investment in women’s sport accounted for less than 0.5% of the value of all the sponsorship deals. Women’s sports sponsorship suffers in terms of the total sum of investment as well as the length of commitment. Most of the top deals for women’s sports and sportswomen are signed for one to two years, whereas contracts of five or more are much more common for men. 

The brands with the biggest budgets are more likely to back the most recognisable stars and teams. And with some exceptions, Serena Williams for example, these tend to be men. Many are sceptical and believe women’s sports are not commercially viable and have always been more of an afterthought when it comes to sponsorships. Men’s sports have always dominated the field and it often feels like the Wimbledon and Olympics are the only games in which female athletes are taken as seriously as their male equivalents. 

Serena Williams winning the Wimbledon Championship in 2016. Photo by Getty Images

Women have even been completely excluded from certain tournaments. Augusta National Golf Club benefits from some of the most storied moments in golf competitions, but women have always sat on the sidelines. Until now. In fact, this year’s inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship marks the first time women have ever competed at Augusta. Same goes for the Tour de France for which organisers agreed five years ago to stage a women’s race, La Course, on the last day of the men’s event. The automobile manufacturer Škoda pushed even further by supporting last year’s campaign that highlighted the lack of an official women’s Tour, by sponsoring 13 female cyclists to complete the race.

The Turning Point

Although women’s sports have not received the same broadcast exposure and advertising as men, the landscape is changing. Women’s sport is thriving and there are many reasons for this, most notably, the success of women’s teams and athletes in various tournaments, as well as growing audiences. Viewers are demanding greater exposure and coverage of sportswomen. 

There’s an increasing appetite from the fans which is reflected in attendance: women’s football matches are filling Premier League stadiums. In 2015, the FIFA Women’s World Cup recorded a total stadium attendance of more than 1.35 million spectators and a record 750 million TV viewers. In 2017, the UEFA Women’s Euro was the most watched tournament in its history, surpassing the 2013 audience by more than 50 million viewers. 

One argument often preventing female sports from receiving more coverage is that there is no demand from audiences. There is a major misconception that both men and women have an interest in men’s sport, whereas only women have an interest in women’s sport. Statistics show this argument is completely false. According to Nielsen, of the 84% of sports fans with an interest in women’s sports, 51% are male. Another statistic shows that 56% of the TV audience for the Women’s Rugby World Cup final were male versus 44% female, and 58% of the Women’s Euros semi-final viewers were men. There are even 6 out of 10 sports fans who want to see more live coverage of women’s sport on TV, demonstrating that the women’s game appeals to both genders in almost equal measure.

Keeping up with the Global Trend

Promoting gender parity is one of the strongest movements of our time. 

Some brands have understood the importance of being attractive to both genders. Tools brand Stanley Black & Decker, for example, a traditionally male-focused brand, has decided to extend their FC Barcelona sponsorship to feature on the front of the women’s shirt. There is a real shift in male-facing brands that were previously hesitant to sponsor elite level sportswomen but are now realising the potential of a female market. 

Budweiser has also decided to follow the trend by becoming the official beer of the England Women’s team as they prepare to participate in the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019. The partnership is designed to help break down social stigmas and barriers for women wishing to enter the sport. It is also a way for the brand to get closer to their female audience and debunk the misconception that beer is a male-only market. 

An increasing number of leading broadcasters have also increased their commitment to women’s sport and have integrated it as a major part of their editorial program. Following their coverage of the Olympics, the BBC created the position of Editorial Lead for Women’s Sport and have given extensive airtime to events like the 2013 European Football Championships and the Winter Olympics. 

UEFA's football marketing platform Together #WePlayStrong is aimed at getting more girls and women to play football. 

We are witnessing a new avenue of sports sponsorship open to a selection of brands who may previously have dismissed sports as being almost exclusively male. Brands that align with and genuinely care about this agenda will be rewarded by one of the most economically powerful segments of society: women. 

What opportunities do brands have to keep up with the trend and get closer to their female consumers? 

To be continued…

A The Consultancy Group article, written by Justine Gilliot

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