“We will know we’ve had success when we stop talking about women’s sport and start talking about sport,” said Jill Douglas, the veteran ITV sports broadcaster, speaking at iris’s The Business of Sport event recently. (For more, read WARC’s exclusive report: Will brands put their hands in their pockets for women’s sport?)
The key difference between women’s and men’s sport is not qualitative. For the most part, it boils down to raw numbers. The pay disparity is directly linked to athletes’ positions as walking billboards – brands have traditionally used them to build awareness off the back of the stars’ fame.
But usually, “the last thing [brands] need is awareness, because people know who they are”, argued iris’s managing director Laura Weston. She gave the example of Chevrolet – “Putting them on the shirt of Manchester United isn't going to do much more for their awareness; it’s engagement and sentiment that brands are now after”.
If you are viewing sport exclusively “through the lens of commercial or media that you’re going to get out of it,” then women’s sport may not be for you, she noted.
In Australia, Korean electronics company Samsung began to sponsor across the country’s pro netball clubs as well as the national side. The effect was to bring consumers a new story about the brand, about its pursuit of progress by putting the brand’s name next to important role models. It wasn’t flashy, but it was meaningful.
Meanwhile, there is also the important position of women’s financial power, Sarah Horrox of Y Sport argued. As women tend to hold the family purse strings – alongside their own – this is a fundamental audience to speak to for most consumer brands.
No longer is women’s sport a minority pursuit. in the UK; the Women’s Euros semi-final, in which England played the Netherlands, drew 3.2m viewers to Channel 4. A similar number (2.6m) tuned in on a Saturday night to watch the finals of the Women’s Rugby World Cup.
“Finally,” said Weston, “we’ve got the proof.” But she added that progress is tempered by the fact that so many brands continue to be blind to the growing zeitgeist.
Sourced from WARC