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Time for female sports sponsorship to get off the bench

As marketing strategy has evolved over the last 30 years, the scope of the sponsorship landscape has changed dramatically. In particular, sports sponsorship has evolved from brands wanting to be seen as “cool” by association with on-trend events to one of the most important weapons in a brand’s marketing arsenal.

With more money being invested into sporting partnerships each year, perhaps it’s time for brands to take a step back and look at the opportunities in the emerging market of women’s sport and female sports fans.


Girl Power

Marketers have always acknowledged the power of the female purse, and with 70-80% of women driving consumer purchasing its difficult not to. Women also have the multiplier effect as they tend to purchase on behalf of others, making them multiple markets in one. However, the power of the female sports fan has not always received the same consideration.  Female contribution towards the global economy is also increasing so female spending power cannot be under estimated.  The global incomes of women are predicted to reach a staggering $18 trillion by 2018, according to global professional firm Ernst & Young.

In the past, being a sports fan may have been predominately associated with men, but women are increasingly consuming sports, both in terms of attending and watching sporting events. Also the number of women participating in sport is also on the up. Understanding which sports women watch and participate in, as well as the type of sponsorships that appeal to women is paramount to brands and potential sponsors.

Most brands have not yet figured out how the female market fully relates to their sponsorship strategies – understanding the make-up of sporting audiences and creating a story that transcends gender is key. Some brands have experienced the benefits of this and P&Gs “Thank You Mum” campaign which ran around the London 2012 Olympic Games, is a perfect example. The campaign engaged the key buyer of P&G products, mothers, in an emotive way that worked across different countries, cultures and importantly their brands. “Thank You Mum” was brought to life through TV, print, on-pack, PR and online videos which featured the mothers of some of the 150 P&G ambassador athletes, including our own Katie Taylor. In total the videos received 24.6 million views and the campaign generated an estimated $500 million in sales globally. What makes the “Thank You Mum” campaign stand out is that it tells a story that transcends race, gender and geography and by extension, it elevates the P&G brand as one that is both inclusive and progressive.


Stepping into the Spotlight

Women’s sport has routinely been side-lined in the past, but recently female sports stars have been receiving more airtime with the likes of Katie Taylor, Stephanie Roche and the Irish women’s rugby team reminding us of how influential women can be in a male-dominated space. And the appetite for women’s sport is growing – the 2015 Ladies All-Ireland Football Final had a record attendance of 31,083, making the game the highest attended women’s sporting event in Europe this year. Last year’s Women’s Rugby World Cup was also a record-breaker in terms of  TV viewing figures, media coverage and match attendances.

There is strong evidence to suggest that the return on investment for brands involved in women’s sport is better and more rewarding than the return for sponsorships with their male counterparts. Women’s sport is significantly cheaper to invest in, is a less cluttered space, resonates with communities and brings opportunities for large exposure outside of the regular channels.

When Newton Investment Management took up sponsorship of The Women’s Boat Race in the UK five years ago the athletes looked for just £30,000 of sponsorship money between them. The resulting partnership meant that the rowers no longer had to cover the high costs of their participation themselves and eventually lead to the BBC broadcasting the Women’s Boat Race live alongside the men’s race to an audience of 4.8 million in April of this year. According to the sponsors the boat race has brought threefold return since 2012, with the figure expected to rise between five and 10 times this year.

Helena Morrissey, Chief Executive of Newton Investment Management has been quoted saying “[Our] sponsorship of the Women’s Boat Race has more than paid for itself; we’ve had unequivocal positive PR and feedback and we have benefitted from the association with completely transforming something. There is also an appetite to be seen to be committed to gender diversity. Decisions about whether to invest cannot be made on existing viewing figures. Instead companies must consider what the viewing figures could be if there was an investment and meaningful partnerships between all concerned.”

Brands are continuously seeking out emerging and growing sponsorship properties that help them build brand love.  There has never been a better time to look upon the largely untapped market of women in sport.  Stephanie Roche may not have got her hands on the coveted Puskás Award but she definitely captured hearts and minds.  Support for women in sport can most certainly put brand love and loyalty in the back of the net.

Niamh Hickey is a Senior Consultant with MCsquared @ Murray, Ireland’s leading strategic brand communications agency.




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