Through partnering with the right brands, generating innovative and interesting content, and collaborating with non-sporting celebrities, women’s sports teams can build their own profiles and generate a large fan following
Izzy WrayIzzy Wray is a consultant in Deloitte’s Sports Business Group and leads its research and work in women’s sport. Her experience includes strategic and events related work for a variety of sports organisations.
Jessy Tremouliere's last-minute score for France inflicted England’s Red Roses’ first loss in rugby union’s Women’s Six Nations tournament this year. The narrowest of results (18-17) paved the way for France to lift the Grand Slam title the following week, but the match was notable for another reason: the crowd of 17,440 at the Stades des Alpes in Grenoble was a Women’s Six Nations record.
That weekend also saw Harlequins beat Richmond 14-12 in the Tyrells Premier 15s attended by 4,542 fans at the Twickenham Stoop in London, which was a British women’s club rugby record attendance and a 203-per-cent increase on the competition’s previous record.
Rugby union’s recent records in attendance are indicative of wider trends: women’s sport has been growing in popularity in recent years, with increasing attendances, TV audiences and social media following. It’s a similar picture for women’s football: the 2015 Fifa World Cup in Canada saw global viewing figures grow by 40 per cent compared to the 2007 competition, with a total of 764 million people tuning in across the globe.
Women’s cricket has also flourished: the 2017 World Cup saw a 300-per-cent global increase in total viewing hours, with a staggering 861-per-cent increase from South African viewers and 500-per-cent increase from viewers based in India. Meanwhile, the 2017 WNBA Final series between Dallas Wings and Phoenix Mercury carried an average television audience of 559,000 across the five-game series, with the final game viewed by 904,000, a 71-per-cent increase on the final game of 2016.
The growing television audiences are critical, and particularly impressive when considering the multitude of other entertainment distractions and on-demand content available to consumers, which are putting audience figures under pressure for sports and TV programming more generally.
Climbing the social ladder
The growth in profile and following of women’s sport via traditional viewing is also translating onto social media platforms. Social media is becoming an increasingly important tool for sports to generate interest in their game.
People enjoy being part of a conversation and social networks make it easier for fans to engage with live sport events and feel part of the action through real-time discussion online. At the same time, interest is growing from the social media platforms themselves, which are experimenting with making the content as accessible and immersive as possible. The WNBA grasped this opportunity by partnering with Twitter to live-stream 20 games in 2017 as part of a three-year deal. The platform achieved 1.1 million unique viewers for the very first game and averaged more than 800,000 unique viewers across all 20 games last season.
Alex Morgan, the US soccer captain, is leading the way with 5.1 million Instagram followers, demonstrating the impact that creating interesting and regular social media content both on and off the field of play can have on an athlete’s following.
Social media is becoming increasingly important for sports teams and brands. Among 18-to-34-year-olds, media consumption on mobile devices surpassed TV for the first time in 2016, and adults are watching video on their smartphones five times more than they did in 2012. Crucially, the ubiquity of smartphone adoption has enabled social media platforms to deliver greater media value to sponsors than had been the case previously.
There is a clear opportunity for sports and brands to gain exposure and to influence fans on social media
There is a clear opportunity for sports and brands to gain exposure and to influence fans on social media. Women’s sports rights-holders should capitalise on the opportunity by developing and implementing a strategy for proactive social media marketing in order to maximise commercial impact and fan engagement. But what are some of the social media strategies that can be adopted by women’s sport?
One way is for rights holders to create their own content and distribute it through their own social media channels, thereby providing an opportunity for women’s sports teams and competitions to communicate directly with their fans and drive higher levels of fan engagement through creating their own exciting content. Social media can then be used by rights holders to build stories about their athletes and provide virtual ‘behind-the-scenes’ access that creates a deeper connection between the fan and their team, its players and the wider brand.
Furthermore, rights-holders can use social media to instantly communicate with fans by, for example, producing highlight clips of a game moments after the action has taken place. Once again, this is an excellent way to drive fan engagement, in particular to an impatient younger audience.
Of course, it is not just rights-holders that can generate social media interest. The athletes themselves can often command a more powerful influence whilst using their social channels, in order to represent their team’s or sport’s wider brand. The unpolished authenticity of a player’s social media is attractive to fans and the social platforms create a sense of accessibility and a direct communications channel between the athlete and the fan.
Partnerships and promotion
To gain significant traction women’s sports rights-holders therefore need to be innovative in how they promote their sport on social media. Collaboration between sport stars and celebrities is nothing new but it is a strategy that could work for the social media era, and has already been adopted with some success in women’s sport.
For example, before Euro 2017, a video featuring the group Little Mix, their hit single ‘Salute’ and the England women’s team was used to generate interest and drum up fan engagement. A campaign that includes the brand, female sport stars and well-known female celebrities could therefore be the perfect recipe for commercial and marketing success.
This could be an attractive proposition for prospective commercial partners such as sports apparel brands targeting the valuable female consumer and buyer segment of the market. It could also be attractive for brands that might have historically struggled to market directly to female consumers, including car companies, despite research showing that women typically have the deciding say for 80 per cent of car purchases.
However, it is vital that women’s sports rights-holders have a commercial strategy in place to assist them in partnering with the most appropriate brands which also share their values. Coupled with a sponsorship activation strategy that builds both the profile of and sentiment towards the sponsor’s brand, this will enable the value of the partnership to both parties to be maximised. Any brand that is considering entering the women’s sport sponsorship market should carefully assess the most appropriate women’s sport, club, league or event to partner with and how to approach such a partnership.
The growth of television audiences and live attendances in recent years signals a greater interest in women’s sport. Combined with the rising media value that can be generated through social media channels, there is therefore a growing opportunity for women’s sports rights-holders, distributors and brands to capitalise on the trend. Through partnering with the right brands, generating innovative and interesting content, and collaborating with non-sporting celebrities, women’s sports teams can build their own profiles and generate a large fan following. This will, in turn, result in a virtuous circle, leading to greater media and commercial interest and potentially exponential growth in fans, commercial opportunities and revenues.
Women’s sport organisations could even prove more agile than traditional, larger male sport properties with established legacy ways of engaging, in coupling their rapid growth to these opportunities.