Feature

Five ways brands can capitalise on women's sport

The England Women's cricket team's historic victory on Sunday underlines the untapped sponsorship opportunity offered by women's sport.

Five ways brands can capitalise on women's sport

The marketing opportunity afforded by a growing range of women’s sport cannot have escaped your attention this summer. With this in mind, M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment held an event this week to discuss the role brands can play in the rise of women’s sport.

The BBC's Eleanor Oldroyd hosted a panel of experts that included Maggie Alphonsi (former England Rugby player and World Cup winner), Gavin Makel (head of women’s football at Manchester City), Ebony Rainford-Brent (director of women’s cricket at Surrey) and Steve Martin (chief executive at M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment). Below are five key take-outs from the event.

1. Sponsors must plan to capitalise on big moments

The sporting calendar rarely gifts women’s sport with a clear window to engage with a national audience. This summer presents a unique opportunity for women’s sport. The England Women’s cricket team have already triumphed, winning the world cup in an historical moment at a sell-out a Lords. The England Women’s football team has had a flying start to its Uefa Women’s Euro 2017 campaign and England Rugby’s Red Roses are tipped to retain their title as the best in the world when they head to Ireland for the Women’s Rugby World Cup in August.

Sponsors need to anticipate the success of women’s sports teams and athletes, not only to capitalise on historical sporting moments, but also to ensure that the momentum that such great occasions have the potential to create is not lost once the men’s teams return to the field.

2. Male vs. Female sport: finding the balance

Direct comparisons with male counterparts often undermine the achievements and performances of female athletes. There are, of course, differences between the two, but sponsors can use these differences to create a positive narrative. For example, Women’s football is considered by many of its followers as a purer form of the sport, yet to be plagued with the gross inflation of transfer fees and wages so often seen in the men’s game. Female players tend to be more accessible than their male counterparts, and with less media scrutiny on them, their personalities tend to shine through. They also arguably have a greater understanding of their responsibility to market their sport to the next generation and help elevate it to the next level.

3. Shared sponsorship can work if brands maximise the opportunity

Shared sponsorships work well for women’s teams and athletes when brands choose to activate their partnerships with a clear purpose. The benefit is that it creates a unified message for the brand. O2 have consistently activated their #WearTheRose campaign across the men and women’s teams and uniting them under a common goal and shared call to action for supporters. The danger of shared sponsorships is that access to female athletes is often treated as an afterthought. The future of sponsorship could see a shift to individual sponsorship deals – a concept that saw huge success when the former chief executive of Newton investment Management, Helena Morrissey, spotted an opportunity to package the women’s boat race as an event in its own right, resulting in a landmark shift in scheduling and coverage of The Boat Race.   

4. Uncover personalities and untold stories

There is an opportunity for brands to raise the profile of female stars by uncovering big personalities and giving them a platform to tell their stories. The very nature of professional women’s sport and the work it takes to get there means that there are many fascinating and inspiring stories that could prove a powerful tool for sponsors. We only need to look to the Olympics to remind ourselves of the potential of female stars in capturing the hearts of the nation. Before London 2012, the names Nicola Adams and Laura Trott (now Laura Kenny) were largely unknown outside of sporting circles. Nearly five years on they have fronted national campaigns and been held up as the shining lights of women’s sport. This shows the potential of female athletes to become stars when brands spot captivating personalities and build campaigns around them.   

5. Brands should be bold enough to provoke debate

The way that sports brands market to women has shifted in recent years with global heavyweights like Adidas, Reebok and Nike realising the potential of the female market and creating bold campaigns to resonate with them.

More brands should look to follow suit by disrupting the status quo and provoking debate. Social media has empowered the public to call out campaigns that miss the mark through the misguided representation of female athletes. This should embolden, rather than deter brands to tell their own stories and carve out unique angles. Icelandair’s recent campaign in support of the Iceland Women’s football team ahead of Uefa Women’s Euro 2017 tackled gender stereotyping head-on with a brilliantly bold piece of content.


Alice Weekes is senior account manager at M&C Saatchi Sports & Entertainment.