Three misconceptions about women’s sport, and why brands should pay more attention

Marie Binet, senior account manager at Publicis Media Sport and Entertainment, shines a light on a few misconceptions and misunderstandings about women’s sport and explains how they’re holding back the commercial development of the sector.

With England winning the recent Women's Cricket World Cup, the Uefa Women’s European Championships ongoing in the Netherlands, and the upcoming Women’s Rugby World Cup in Ireland and Northern Ireland, women’s sport is under the spotlight like never before.

However, women’s sport is still struggling to develop and attract sponsors even though both media and rights holders are starting to understand the potential of investing in women’s sport. Why? It is hard to break the vicious circle of minimal media coverage (according to Women in Sport, women’s sports make up only 7% of all sports coverage) leading to a lack of awareness, which is then followed by a lack of investment and brand interest.

The truth is that we need to stop comparing women’s sport with men’s sport. It is not a question of whether women are as good as men when it comes to playing soccer, rugby or cricket, and we must look at women’s sport as we would any other sport: the best players competing at the top of their game, and training hard to achieve success. More importantly, brands should be looking at it as a marketing opportunity that considers the audience reach and profile.

Men are traditionally harder to reach in the media world, as they consume less media and are therefore an expensive target ­– twice as expensive as women in fact. The sponsorship of men’s sporting events is appealing to brands for the quality and scale of its audience: men, and a lot of them! Sport sponsorship is often considered as a cost-effective way to reach a significant male audience.

If brands were to take a new perspective, however, they’d soon realise that women’s sport could represent, or indeed offer, similar routes to that all elusive male audience, and beyond.

England celebrate their victory at Lord's in the final of the Women's Cricket World Cup

So, here are three misconceptions on women’s sport that brands must overcome:

1. No one watches or cares about women’s sport. There is no scale and it’s not worth investing.

Wrong: Women’s soccer is doing well ­­– England’s group stage matches in the Euros were each watched by 1.4 million people. This is as much as a Sky Sport Premier League game featuring the top six teams and twice as much as a premiership rugby game. The quarter final on Sunday against France reached an average audience of 2.4 million (11.8 per cent share), which was more than any audience of the previous two female Euro championships. The women’s cricket final last month was watched by an average of 360,000 people through the day but, when the closing stages of the match drew closer, that audience topped 900,000 viewers who tuned in to see the English team lift the trophy. And this was the highest peak audience across cricket programming on Sky Sports this season. How’s that for scale?

2. Women’s sport is watched by women.

(For a marketer, female audiences can be reached through other media at a lower cost. Brands targeting women will therefore have more cost-effective options than sponsorship to spread their message and will opt for less risky solutions.)

Wrong: The audience for the Women's Cricket World Cup final was 68 per cent male, which is the same as the men’s cricket programmes. This is also observed with the women’s Euros, where 63 per cent of the audience is male. In reality, the audience is the same whether its men or women on the pitch. Women’s sport therefore has an audience as valuable as men’s sport.

3. As women’s sport is watched by women, it should be used to promote female products.

Wrong: Brands getting involved in women’s sport must stop trying to talk exclusively to women. As discussed in the previous point, women’s sports’ audience is often more male. This should help to avoid condescending and patronising messages like the laundry app, Mr Jeff, which put its logo on the shirts of the women’s team of Spanish soccer side Valencia CF.

The opportunities for brands are real, as rights holders keep raising their standards and investing in their female teams. As marketers and sports consultants, we know that there are great opportunities in women’s sport, and there is space for brands to get involved and be part of that journey. McDonalds saw this when it signed on to sponsor Channel 4’s coverage of the Women’s Euros in the UK. This deal allows the fast food chain to avoid the clutter from other sponsorship properties and get involved in sport for potentially low entry cost and high-value return.

Those involved in selling women’s sport must stop pushing it purely as a CSR box-ticking exercise. While pushing young girls to get active is inspiring, women’s sport is more than just a “good cause” to support. It is an opportunity offering sizeable reach, with interesting audience profiles and the potential for content creation based around strong values. As such, women’s sport should be a higher priority for brands and marketers and viewed as a valuable marketing platform.

The success of women’s sporting teams is leading to greater audience numbers, which is helping to break the cycle. Where audiences are, advertisers will follow and so will sponsorship.