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Early investors reaping benefits of women’s sport star power


Australian women’s hockey team celebrating

Brands are reaping the benefits of women’s sport.

Women’s sport is providing compelling stories and the brands involved are reaping the benefits.

The original AFLW sponsors took a considerable risk in an untested market, with no guarantees it would work.

A recent study found that AFLW sponsors received all of the marketing power and extra corporate benefits associated with the club at a far cheaper price than sponsoring the men’s team.

The financial barrier to entry is still much lower for women’s sport. In addition to the commercial benefits, the pioneering corporate sponsors were lauded for their social responsibility, both externally and by their staff.

A watershed moment

In terms of professionalisation, commercialisation, media coverage and public interest, 2016-2017 was seen as revolutionary period for women’s sport in Australia.

The women’s rugby 7s team won gold at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, new pay deals were announced by Cricket Australia and the W-League and the era of AFLW commenced.

The opening AFLW match saw unexpected crowds, with the ground reaching maximum capacity (over 24,000) and thousands of fans being turned away at the gate. In the first weekend, the broadcast of the four games reached 2.6 million viewers.

Statistics are showing an increasing appetite for women’s sport globally. Neilson found that 84 per cent of general sports fans are interested in women’s sport and of those, 51 per cent are male. During the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, a combined 1.12 billion viewers tuned into official coverage across all platforms.

As viewership and broadcast of women’s sport rises, so too does commercial sponsors’ interest. From a marketing perspective, the women’s sport industry presents an enticing platform for brands to reach new markets.

A shifting relationship

The relationship between women, the global sport economy and sport fandom continues to shift.

The Nielsen Sports survey found that women’s sports are generally viewed more favourably than their male equivalents. They are seen as more inspirational, less money driven and less prone to corruption and cheating.

As well as being progressive, women’s sport also reaches a key demographic for marketers, the 16-24 age group.

In marketing we know that more so than ever, consumers are looking for substance and authenticity from brands.

Women’s sport presents an opportunity for reaching new audiences, connecting with the story behind the athletes and teams.

Consumers want authenticity from brands and female athletes are bringing personality to the market.

Darren Birch, General Manager - Commercial Operations at AFL recently discussed the emotional connection of AFLW players, the lack of off-field scandal and the depth and value of their stories “With men players we shut down stories. With women players we let the stories flow.”

Growth in sponsorship

According to Neilsen, the value of women’s sport sponsorship deals rose 47 per cent between 2013-2017.

Despite this growth, questions remain over the commercial viability of investing in women’s sport.

The ostensible lack of long-term data and research into women’s sport marketing and specifically sponsorship may deter brands from entering the market. Some brands struggle to break out of the history of male centric sport.

However, forward-thinking brands who have entered the market are proudly promoting their investments.

Visa for example became the first ever UEFA sponsor dedicated to women’s football. As Visa Europe’s CEO, Charlotte Hogg, stated, "It is an exciting time for women's football. Twenty-one million women and girls participate in the beautiful game across Europe and at Visa we want to celebrate every single one of them. We are proud to announce Visa's ground breaking partnership with UEFA”.

Dr Ashlee Morgan is a sports marketing researcher from the ECU School of Business and Law.

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