The role of sponsorship in women’s sport

There is no doubt that we have seen a huge surge in interest in women’s sports and with the SSE Women’s FA Cup Final this weekend at Wembley, the momentum looks set to continue long past the World Cup fever.

Other team sports are now attracting attention from sponsors. Kia sponsored the Women’s Cricket team; Investec, the Women’s Hockey team and Microsoft have partnered with the Women’s Sport Trust. The most referenced case study is Newton’s sponsorship of the women’s boat race, which was a factor in the race, finally, on its 70th anniversary, taking place over The Championship Course on the Thames alongside the men’s race. Sponsorship really can be a game changer.

The Ladies European Tour has secured Omega as a tour wide sponsor, and is making strides with more global brands set to be announced – but it’s a tough ask compared to the values in the men’s game.

I believe sponsorship plays an important role in the morale of a team, as well as individual female athletes. More female players can become professional (whilst being aware of the gender pay gap), raising the profile of the games amongst audiences, therefore delivering higher value commercial rights.

We then start seeing a rise in powerful female role models – women with strong values of drive, professionalism and talent that the next generation aspires to follow. They inspire future sports professionals, business leaders and skilled women generally, whilst also promoting fit and healthy lifestyles.

Sport England’s ‘This Girl Can’ campaign aims to celebrate all ages and abilities to take up sport, and has been widely acclaimed. With two million less women active than men this can only be a positive if it works, and surely more profile for women’s sport and coverage will help. England Netball’s successful ‘Back to Netball’ campaign has been running since 2010, with over 60,000 women taking part and realising the benefits of getting involved.

However, for brands considering whether to sponsor women’s sports, it’s a chicken and egg decision. Sponsors like to associate with good reach, but sponsorship investment is pivotal in raising its profile to increase exposure.

So although interest is growing, the figures show we are still at an embryonic stage. Women’s sport still only accounts for 7% of all sports coverage, and 0.4% of the total value of commercial sponsorships. This will grow as broadcasters, such as BT Sport, pledge to increase their share and quality of broadcasts of women’s sports, and the BBC pledge 30% of all sport output which will hopefully engage more brands and revenues.

In the meantime, here are my five reasons why brands should get involved early:

  1. If they already sponsor men’s sports, the women’s team can extend reach cost effectively.
  2. The values of women’s sport may align with employee values. Many female business leaders talk of the importance of sport in shaping their personal development, for example. This is something we’re looking at more closely as we shape a sponsorship proposition with Women’s Sports UK.
  3. Combine with CSR as women’s sports are closer to grassroots initiatives. Reach communities and inspire the next generation of consumers, leaders and sports players.
  4. Less clutter, and more PR potential. Early investors in the sports will be seen as ahead of the curve.
  5. Benefit from the halo effect of good will and positivity. Male football players certainly don’t get the same media and online support that was given to Laura Bassett!