Approaching women’s sports sponsorship


Recently, I have realised that people debating whether brands must rethink about sponsoring women’s sport. It all started from UK, where female athletes were outstanding from the football team reaching the semi-final of UEFA Euro until winning medals in the Winter Olympics in South Korea. On the contrary to the slender hopes given to England’s men team in FIFA World Cup.

However, brands remain precautious to embrace opportunities of women’s sports. The most recent figures go back to 2013 in which only the 0.4% of total sports sponsorship goes to females. Simply in numbers: from 106,8 bn dollars, women took only 427m dollars. Result: massive opportunity for growth.

According to Nielsen figures, 149.5 million people watched globally the UEFA Women’s Euro and 87.4 million the ICC Women’s Cricket. Especially in UK, more than 4 million watched the semi-final compared to only 200,000 who watched the last tournament.

It shows that brands are not confident and eager to assess the opportunity of sponsoring women’s sports.

They’re looking for traditional metrics of sports sponsorship, but that’s completely changing.

In my opinion, if we look it at a wider perspective, it is much more accessible than men’s sport, producing much more interesting content. It provides a different perspective and is not another small CSR project. We should not forget that sponsorship is more about engagement than pure brand awareness. However, there are still brands confusing advertising and sponsorship. Here are some key elements that we need to have in mind when we speak about the specific topic.

Adapt early to see the benefits

A number of brands have got in early in the space. The ability of the organizer to bring a big game in a major stadium, automatically gives the ability to brands which sponsor the league or the event to make a statement. As a result, the impact in the investment makes a difference. If big brands sign deals, in UK for example the 4-year deal for Women’s FA Cup, led to grow audiences and negotiate deals such as for kids to go free to the final. Point that is always been forgotten: In women’s football there is a family feel and a different dynamic which is more inclusive.

Different metrics are used to measure success

Women’s sports sponsoring moves away from the traditional measures of success. The reason behind these changes is social media. The challenge of creating a women’s sport sponsorship deal equals different reach and the return will be made on the social footprint. It should be mentioned that, when brands invest, it needs to affiliate with their core values. Meaning that it should be engaging, meaningful and impactful.

A great example is Manchester City Women’s FC which was one of the first teams to stream a competitive game via Facebook. Leading to live stream Women’s Champions League, because the women’s team owns the marketing rights for the matches until the final. As  Manchester City head of women’s football, Gavin Makel explains:

“For the three games in the Champions League we played at home, we had a reach of around 12 million people [on Facebook Live], something that we did in partnership with Nissan,”

“We want to push the boundaries as a football club and we have an opportunity in the women’s game to do more. We put a mic on [team captain]Steph Houghton once in a pre-season friendly. Would we do that in a competitive fixture? Probably not, but it was an interesting piece of content.”

Understanding the audiences

It is common belief that female sports are not receiving TV coverage because there is no demand. It is even claimed that women’s football is less enjoyable. Statistics show both these arguments could not be further from the truth.According to Nielsen, the viewers of the Women’s Euros semi-final were split 58% male to 42% female.

In UK, a big push comes from Manchester City WFC, an integral part of the City Football Group. WHY? It is simple: The fan base contains a large proportion of male fans, as well as women and children. According to an interview, Mr. Makel mentioned that:

“It’s probably around 60% male to 40% female, so that makes us change our way of thinking when we are marketing the women’s team and making sure what we provide on match day caters for different types of audiences, whether that be families, a young girl or a core football fan.”

Concluding, sport competes with the broader leisure industry. Undoubtedly, the women’s sport sponsorship is a field that brands MUST invest as there are a lot of opportunities with great ROI. BUT we have to understand as marketers that audiences and metrics are different and we need to adapt on that.

You can read more at our author’s blog here.