Will the tide finally turn for women’s sport sponsorship in the UK?

It was great to read Marketing Week’s article last week outlining the business case for greater sponsorship in women’s sport. Personally, this is something I am passionate about and have previously commented on the need for brands to be braver to unlock a ripe opportunity.

Having data to back up what many in the industry have been saying for a long time will certainly go a long way to pique the interest of CMOs out there who, rightly so, need robust data in order to make substantial commercial decisions. However, sadly the data isn’t enough. There still needs to be a seismic shift in perception in women’s sport to stop the continual comparison to male counterparts. The opportunity to be a long term partner in women’s sport presents a totally different opportunity to that of sponsoring an established male equivalent. It will not, and should not, be considered as apples for apples.

If we look at football as an example, yes, the awareness and followership for the men’s game is considerably higher than that of the women’s, but arguably the ability to create cut through and shape the way in which a sponsorship can really meet a brands’ objectives can be more challenging in the cluttered and competitive men’s game…not to mention the price tag can put increasing pressure on ROI.

I completely agree with Nick Read, Vitality Commercial Director, who comments in the Marketing Week article that the real opportunity in women’s sport is to be brave and push governing bodies to experiment with new formats that fit better with a brand’s purpose and objectives. Getting true value out of a sport partnership is so much more than just slapping a logo on a team and thinking that the job is done. More to the point, sponsoring women’s sport should not be seen as an ‘add on’. This mentality will always result in less appetite to create robust activation campaigns versus just activating a basic rights package.

All this being said, it is hugely encouraging to see the recent data from Neilson as it does give tangible proof points that can help overcome some of the longstanding biases around women’s sport. Perhaps the biggest misconception has been that women’s sport is only watched by women – which the research has disproved by showing that 59% of the UK population is interested in at least one women’s sport, with 51% of this pool being female and 49% male.

So, how do we, as communications partners to some of the biggest brands, play a pivotal role in continuing to move women’s sport marketing and sponsorship forward?

  1. Dig deeper – the Neilson data just released will help in providing rationale for the audience potential BUT we also need to dig deeper. Speculative conversations with governing bodies, learnings (good and bad) from other markets and continual interrogation of client briefs/objectives will ensure that any recommendation we provide truly delivers impact.
  2. Think bold – it’s up to us to continue to be bold in our creative campaign planning and thinking, positioning women’s sports opportunities, supported by smart activation campaigns, as stand-alone lead ideas…not the ‘and finally’ at the end of the presentations.
  3. Brave counsel – Data and smart ideas may still not be enough to change embedded perceptions. We need to be brave in our counsel if challenged by clients, pushing back with confidence to help overcome the heightened sense of risk if venturing into something that feels ‘unknown’ or not ‘tried and tested’.

I’ll always be pleased to see women’s sports participation, viewing and sponsorship figures growing. However, there is more to be done to really turn the tide, and I for one am passionate about continuing to push the brands we represent, and find opportunities to encourage those that we don’t, to challenge their misconceptions and come up with smart, results-focused, impactful programmes focused solely on women’s sport.

Steph McDonald is Director, Ketchum Sports & Entertainment, London