In the last decade, we have seen the popularity of women’s sport grow in the UK, with this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup a prime example of this. A record-breaking 28.1 million people, equating to almost half (47%) of the UK population, watched the BBC coverage of the event on television and online. This is more than double the audience size for the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada and makes it the most-watched women’s football competition. However, despite the success of this tournament, research has identified that more promotion is needed as the demand soars, not only for women’s football but for women’s sport in general.
Although this tournament in particular has seen widespread coverage, fans are struggling to keep up to date with numerous other women’s sports as very few mainstream British broadcasters offer access to this content. Not only is the lack of availability a missed opportunity for broadcasters, but it’s also a missed opportunity for brands, with numerous women’s football fans having stated they’d be more likely to support a brand that supports women’s sport. But how can brands tap into the growing women’s sports fan base and what are the potential outcomes of doing so?
According to research, women’s sports sponsorship accounted for only 0.4% of total sports sponsorship between 2011 and 2013. While sponsors may be right in assuming that women’s teams are unlikely to generate the same return as men’s teams do, this perception is leading to missed opportunities for smaller or less traditional brands. In fact, there are a number of benefits to sponsoring women’s teams, not least that brands come up against less competition to do so, whereas with men’s teams, there are often several brands all competing and trying to target the same audience. This arguably has led to a saturated market and diluted the significance of sponsoring a team.
In recent years, we have seen some brands begin to recognise the potential of supporting women’s teams as demonstrated by Avon becoming the first female-focused brand to sponsor a women’s professional football club. Avon’s three-year shirt sponsorship deal with Liverpool FC’s ladies team in 2017 represented an evolution in female sports marketing and was the first time that the ladies squad gained a shirt deal independent of the men’s team. For Avon, this was a significant move – allowing them to tap into a market that had so long either been ignored or lumped in with the men’s team when it came to sponsors. As Avon’s key demographic is female, the sponsorship provided an opportunity to engage with and inspire female audiences in a new way. With only three-fifths (60%) of top-flight women’s football clubs globally having front-of-shirt sponsors that are different from the men’s equivalent, there is plenty of opportunity for brands to follow Avon’s lead.
According to Deloitte, inspired by the success of England’s Lionesses, the number of women in the UK over 16 years old who play football at least twice a month in the UK will increase by 7% by the end of the year. While globally, it estimates that the number of women playing football regularly in 2023 will increase by 21% from 2018. This growth in popularity of women’s sports, both in terms of watching and playing, presents brands with a chance to engage a vital audience. Additionally, with more money made available to these teams through sponsorship deals, women’s sports will have more funds to market themselves in order to attract a larger audience. With the means to generate a larger fan base, the brands sponsoring these teams will then benefit from more exposure and the ability to reach completely different audiences.
Those brands that do embark on partnerships with women’s teams could then capitalise on the content generated by these sports, using existing footage for marketing and advertising purposes to drum up more interest. With the appeal of women’s sports continuing to grow, ignoring the wealth of existing video available would be a mistake. Brands or broadcasters could use this content to create a narrative for trailers and adverts to increase awareness of the women’s team and upcoming events. This is something demonstrated by Nike’s campaign for this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, where footage of the U.S. team was interspersed with footage of young girls taking part in a range of sports. In doing this, Nike was able to create an emotive campaign that raised awareness of both the event and the brand in a way that wouldn’t have been possible without making use of the video footage available to them.
While women’s football has dominated the headlines in the past few weeks, other women’s sports are also going from strength to strength with the 2017 Cricket World Cup seeing a 300% global increase in total viewing hours. However, it seems audiences aren’t satisfied with the coverage of women’s sports with research finding that 71% of UK adults agreed that showing more women’s sport would be good. Additionally, according to sports viewers, the main barrier to watching more women’s sport is the lack of coverage, not the quality of the sport being played. We’ve certainly come a long way, as shown by the BBC’s coverage of the Women’s Netball World Cup this summer, but these findings highlight a vital need for broadcasters to answer the demand for a wider range of women’s sports to be televised and more regularly.
In the last decade, the way society consumes media has changed and this is something that could work in broadcasters’ and brands’ favour when it comes to tapping into the women’s sports market. According to Google’s Sports Viewing Survey, 30% of sports fans have live-streamed sporting events on their smartphones or tablets – a clear indicator of the fact broadcasters no longer need to stick to the traditional method of televising sports on regular channels. Streaming sporting events online would allow broadcasters to continue to serve mainstream audiences on their main channels, while also catering to fans of more niche women’s sports. Additionally, it may allow them to grow their audience base further by attracting viewers who are yet to have been exposed to women’s sports.
Finding a way forward
As the popularity of women’s sports continues to rise, they present a real opportunity for brands and broadcasters to attract new audiences. While we’re seeing some brands recognising the financial benefits of sponsoring women’s sports, such as Visa which invested as much into the Women’s World Cup this year as it did the men’s last year, women’s sports fans remain a largely untapped audience. Sponsoring or covering women’s sports will allow brands to engage with a ready-made audience and increase their brand’s exposure.
While the Women’s Football World Cup is well and truly over, it has put a spotlight on the nation’s growing appetite for women’s sport and there is a suggestion that the BBC and BT are now going to go head to head for the rights to the Women’s Super League. It’s clear to see, therefore, that brands are making progress in their treatment of women’s sports and are beginning to tap into the growing fan bases for them. However, there is still a long way to go. Ultimately, brands and broadcasters lending their support to these sports will not only benefit women’s sports enthusiasts, but also the sports themselves by making them more accessible and visible, and the brands themselves who will benefit from increased exposure to new audiences.