Brands who are creative win at women’s sports

Women’s sports and their fanbase are exploding, says WPP’s CMI Media Group. The opportunities for brands are vast, but it’s creativity that will be the differentiator

Women’s sports are growing 40% faster than general sports. And it’s not just women who are watching. With fans across all communities, the opportunities for brands are clear, says CMI Media Group.

And the field is wide open, but we cannot compare women’s sports today with all that has gone before. Yes, the sporting prowess associated with today’s women athletes is world-class – that is not new – but the opportunities for brands to be associated with the sheer joy emanating from these audiences have never been seen before. That is why there is so much scope for brands to be creative, do something original and be unique. 

Momentum has been building 

“This is not a flash in the pan phenomenon,” says Melanie Lysaght of CMI Media Group. “Building this momentum has been a labour of love by women athletes.” The pandemic has been a factor. “During that time, people still craved that excitement of competitive of sports,” she says. “So, when the restrictions were eased, there was huge pent-up demand.” 

Amy Litt, also of CMI Media Group, adds: “Let’s not forget that this shift in attention to women athletes was more than 50 years in the making. Women have been fighting their way to visibility in mainstream sports for decades.” 

She continues: “It's been fascinating to see the cultural momentum of women breaking down their own taboos, showing up much more authentically, pursuing whatever goals that they want to pursue, and overcoming all the cultural limitations around how women are supposed to look and how they’re supposed to behave and how aggressive they’re supposed to be.” 

Litt points out that, when the gatekeepers to the business of sport fell away after the pandemic, a space opened in which women athletes could shine, and the public wholeheartedly bought into it. “The audience was ready,” she says. And the audience is pretty evenly split between women and men. This is not a fringe phenomenon; it’s mainstream. What is clear is that if you like sports, you are largely going to like male sports and you are largely going to like women’s sports too. 

“It’s been a very long time coming,” concurs CMI Media Group’s Toby Katcher. “Some of it is generational and some of it is timeliness. Covid changed the landscape in many ways and the popularity of women’s sports is one of these.” 

What is so interesting is that all of this is happening at a time – according to the data – that participation in sports (especially by women) is declining, and interest in sports is declining too. But, as Lysaght points out: “Those who may not have been interested in sports are now seeking out female sports because they're seeing it as more egalitarian, and something new.” 

The halo effect 

And why wouldn’t brands want to get in on the action? According to Fubo, the fastest-growing TV audiences are for women’s sports. Forbes dubbed women’s sports as the “fastest-growing TV audience at a time when most linear audiences are shrinking”. And live sporting events aren’t slowing down any time soon. 

What does all this mean for brands and their positioning? “There’s a halo effect of placing yourself, as a brand, adjacent to women's sports,” says Litt. “The numbers are there, and the audience is very receptive to brands who are positioning themselves in this space. Women’s sports are communal. They’re collaborative. There’s a moral, ethical, social positioning to it.” 

That is not to say there are not stand-out amazing singular women celebrities too – clearly there are. But there is also the opportunity for brands to borrow from this mutually supportive, more inclusive, more affordable environment associated with women’s sports that works so well for brands in certain categories, especially health. 

Investment is piling in 

Savvy investors are already on it. In 2022 alone, the LPGA inked 940 brand deals, including household names such as Coca-Cola, Rolex and Epson. According to a SponsorUnited report, women’s sports sponsorships increased 20% in 2022

Hedge fund manager Marc Lasry recently announced his new fund, Avenue Sports Fund, a new endeavour focused on women’s sports teams in the US. What is more, Disney is pitching advertisers on a new framework for women’s sports sponsorships. Called Level Up, it requires certain spend and content commitments

The appetite is there, and the need for investment after decades in the shadows is obvious. No one is worried about “too much money” in the game. 

“But what’s going to be very interesting is that we expect brands who invest in women's sports, regardless of industry, will be much more creative,” says Litt. “We’re at a very interesting inflection point for advertisers. And women’s sports could be a springboard for a lot of narrative creativity, brand-building and demonstration of values.” 

Lysaght says: “Brands who get in on the game now have a long runway of opportunity ahead of them. Brands can really get in on the ground floor at this moment, both as an agency and as a client, make a huge splash and achieve a very high rate of return compared with a lot of other spaces.” And the timing is perfect as planning for 2024 is on table with the Paris Olympics around the corner. 

Ultimately, women’s sports are entertainment. And brands know that this entertainment has tremendous value to a significant audience. “It’s going to be interesting to see who will be first to own a significant chunk of this space,” says Litt. “I hope it's one of WPP’s clients.” 

CMI Media Group

published on

14 August 2023



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