Women’s sport remains one of the few largely untapped commercial territories in sport
Lou Johnson
Lou Johnson is managing director EMEA of Fuse, part of the Omnicom Media Group.
Women in sport
21st April 2017, 08:32

It would be churlish to deny the growth in interest, participation and overall quality of women’s professional sport. Indeed, 2017 represents a landmark year of women’s elite international events that includes cricket and rugby world cups, as well as European soccer and field hockey championships.

From a commercial standpoint, these platforms present a fantastic marketing opportunity for brands that have made the strategic decision to invest in women’s sport.

The likes of Nissan (Netball Australia, Manchester City Women, ICC Women’s World Cup) and SSE (Women’s FA Cup) are notable examples of brands that recognise women’s sport as both a viable marketing solution and an opportunity to engage with different audiences relative to the more established and traditional, male properties. The professed reality, however, is surely not without a sense of contradiction?

Despite the positive narrative, government support, emotive marketing campaigns and the increasing effort made by right holders to establish women’s properties as commercially viable entities in their own right, there seems to remain a significant discrepancy between the perceived interest in women’s sport and the current scope of partnership and sponsorship investment.


There seems to remain a significant discrepancy between the perceived interest in women’s sport and sponsorship investment


Strategies based largely on assumed insight are just not acceptable in our data-rich world. One of the greatest misconceptions around women’s sport, for example, is that the key audience is mostly women. This simply isn’t the case.

Gerhard Fourie, Head of Global Brand Strategy at Nissan, says: “We questioned some default assumptions around women’s sport, including audience. For example, there are many more families or fathers with their children attending the matches than what we previously thought. The unique fan behaviours in women’s sport definitely offer interesting opportunities for brands to engage.”

Ongoing assumptions that reach, frequency and media value form the basis of effective partnerships are increasingly incongruent with trends suggesting that consumers are ‘switching off’ from traditional, passive brand communications.


Strategies based largely on assumed insight are just not acceptable in our data-rich world


Strategies grounded in action, meaning and purpose, rather than one-way, brand-led stories, are increasingly considered as more effective methods to capture the imagination of key audiences and shift the needle.

Identifying the ‘credible role’ doesn’t need to be limited to a literal application of a product to the partnership property. Identifying a connection point starts with dissecting the brand. If a brand stands for excitement, empowerment, aspiration or even irreverence, then identifying that all-important synergy with a potential partner becomes a much more achievable task.

In a culture where corporate cynicism is pervasive, it is easy to understand why brands are resisting the temptation to stray off the beaten track. And, when it comes to women’s sport, the tonality of execution needs to be spot-on, for obvious reasons.

However, a fear of the consequences approach is highly inauspicious. And, when it comes to the highly cluttered sponsorship and partnership space in particular, a degree of boldness and bravery is required to achieve real differentiation.


When it comes to women’s sport, the tonality of execution needs to be spot-on, for obvious reasons


Sometimes, it’s our own limitations as humans-cum-marketers that prove problematic. Our de facto deference to the ‘shinier’, typically male, sporting events, our sense of trepidation when dealing with the unknown or the new. And innate prejudices around women’s sport that remain prevalent in some quarters.

As our own understanding of the opportunity evolves, one truism stands above all others - women’s sport remains one of the few largely untapped commercial territories in sport. This is by no means a reason to get involved it its purest sense.

However, it would be imprudent to deny that the benefits of early mover advantage still loom large for those willing to take the plunge.

Sportcal