NEW YORK: ESPN’s sales pitch to advertisers is no longer so much about the sport as about the audience – and a female audience in particular – as new data revises some long-held assumptions.

The Wall Street Journal reported Nielsen figures that showed out-of-home ESPN audiences for the college football playoffs, which ended last night, skewed towards women more than in-home audiences.

And it noted that the female audience had seen a larger lift in viewing from out-of-home than the male, at a 9.4% lift over the in-home audience compared to 7.2% for men. The in-home audience for last season’s College Football Playoff was 41% women, 39% men.

Advertisers in categories ranging from such as financial services to movie distribution, are taking note and targeting their messaging accordingly.

“The perception was that [college football] was always more male in the past,” said Blair Rich, president of worldwide marketing at Warner Bros. Pictures.

“We used it for male-targeted films or broader films,” she acknowledged before adding that “evidence of what ESPN is showing” has brought about a rethink so that the studio used this year’s playoff final to promote Paddington 2, a family film.

But Jeremy Carey, managing director at Omnicom’s Optimum Sports, argued that advertisers which traditionally target women are not necessarily shifting towards sports because they think more women than before are watching sport.

Rather it is his case that general primetime entertainment ratings are simply declining faster than sports ratings, making sports a relatively better vehicle than it used to be and creative has been adjusted to be more gender neutral.

“If we took top programs that delivered females 18-49, historically you would have found a very large percentage of primetime programming,” he said.

In 2017, “about 75% of those programs are sports now”, he said, which marks a “drastic shift” around “where females are available at mass scale”. WARC’s Media Costs Database indicates that the cost of advertising to US women is rising. The cost per thousand (CPM) for a 30 second spot TV ad was valued at $69.57 in 2016, up from $56.08 in 2012. This compares with a TV CPM of $43.64 for all adults.

Sourced from Wall Street Journal; additional content by WARC staff