The big winners in English sport last year were women. The women’s cricket team won the World Cup; in rugby, women won the Six Nations Grand Slam and reached the final of the World Cup; in football, women reached the semi-finals of the Euros and in tennis Johanna Konta went one better than Andy Murray at Wimbledon to compete in the semi-finals. The country and the media woke up and recognised what our female sports teams and stars have to offer. Contrast this to the slender hopes given to England’s men at this summer’s FIFA World Cup and could it be that we’ve reached a genuine tipping point for women’s sport?
Women's Super League champions Chelsea Ladies are to rename themselves as Chelsea Football Club Women.
When our professional sportswomen succeed, thousands of British women and girls are inspired to follow in their footsteps or follow as supporters. Women now make up 25% of Premier League attendances at football games and a whopping 4 million tuned in to Channel 4 to watch the England Lionesses in the Euros semi-final. Last summer the Women’s Cricket World Cup final was a sell-out at Lord’s to a 50% female crowd. The number of women actively playing all kinds of sports from cricket to athletics, last year reached a record high of over 7 million.*
But the number of women playing still lags woefully behind the men. Sports business and brands remain deeply entrenched in male culture and sexism abounds.
Women’s sport makes up only 7% of all sports coverage in the UK, and accounts for just 5.4% of the value of all sponsorship deals.**
When you look at the barriers to more women becoming actively involved in sport, a reason quoted time and again is that there aren’t enough female role models. Brands won’t invest without the personalities to promote, but it's a catch-22 if the media won’t take a chance on covering women’s sport more extensively.
Sports Personality of the Year nominee Anya Shrubsole highlighted the extra pressure sportswomen are under to grab media attention: “Yes, we need to win, and we want to win, but the more we play in a way that people want to watch, the more coverage we’ll get. Sports executive and “First Lady of Football” Karren Brady famously put it this way, “In sport a woman has to be twice as good as the men to be thought of as even half as good”.
This is where brands can step in and lead the charge, using their influence to champion women’s sports and helping to raise a new wave of inspirational female role-models, all of which will generate exciting opportunities to connect with female customers. At a time when over 85% of all purchases are made by women and 91% women say brands don’t understand them, the time would seem to be right to embrace a change.
Gareth Griffiths O2: ““We’re a mass consumer brand and we don’t care about gender. The men and women appear together in one, standalone piece of creative to represent our England Rugby partnership. That was really innovative.”
Women are hard-wired to seek out points of shared passion and want brands to do more than just sell them stuff. As Gabby Logan, sports presenter describes: “We are more likely to feel we belong to a brand, or that we have loyalty if they are aligned with what we support and believe in. Women’s sport and its prominence is so important to a healthy society that to me there can be nothing but positivity if you align yourself to those values. We know that the power of sport is huge, with women’s sport it feels like we have barely tapped into that power.”
The most successful brands will bring something new to the table rather than copying what’s already been done in men’s sport. A different perspective and a fresh female voice. Key will be authenticity and showing women’s sport in a new light. There are decades of negative stereotyping, social stigma and sexism to overcome but for the brand trailblazers, that just makes for a richer creative vein to tap into.
ECB’s ‘GoBoldly’ campaign for the 2017 Women’s World Cup told the stories of how the England players got into the game.
A few big brands have invested in this idea and are reaping the benefits. Samsung’s recent sponsorship of Netball Australia, successfully challenged the industry to ‘rethink role models’. The campaign delivered a 100% increase in brand mentions as a result. P&G teamed up with Jessica Ennis-Hill for Thank You, Mom, which took a moment to recognise the role of mums in helping to raise the female athletes of today and represented another fresh angle for female athletes. The personalities and stories are all there and creative brand storytelling holds the power to unlock them and capture imaginations. Last year, global beauty company Avon signed to Liverpool FC, becoming the first female-focused brand to ever sponsor a professional women’s football team. With the FA planning to double female participation in football by 2020 and UEFA recently claiming that "the time is right" to embrace women in football, now is the time to plan a marketing campaign that engage this powerful audience. It will be interesting to see whether Avon invests in leveraging the creative potential of this incredible partnership in 2018.
Advertising has the power to inspire the next generation of athletes and we know that consumer attitudes are shifting as more and more women choose to watch and play. Driving this momentum by fuelling the grass roots fan base, the lifeblood of any sport, remains vital for women’s sport. Role models will be pivotal in doing this, and brands can be the ones to tell their story in creative and inspiring ways. But if the governing bodies, media and crucially, brands don’t capitalise on the moment and amplify these amazing achievements, the momentum could easily be lost. And such a great opportunity may not come along again.
*Sport England’s Active People Survey.
**Women in Sport Survey