Women's sport sponsorship: A new dawn?

How brave brands can benefit from supporting the female game

Elysa Hubbard, Account Manager

With the first ever standalone Women’s World T20 (WWT20) tournament underway, women’s sport is once again in the spotlight. The sixth edition of the WWT20, hosted this year in the Caribbean, is a seminal moment for women’s cricket. For the first time in the tournament’s history, it will not act as a curtain raiser to the men’s World T20 competition, but rather stand on its own two feet on cricket’s centre stage.
 
All previous WWT20’s have been staged alongside the men’s tournament to try and help grow the profile of the women’s game. It was designed to increase interest, allow tournaments to share commercial sponsors and, ideally, convert the sceptics. This is a model that has worked particularly well in Grand Slam tennis.

However, with sports such as cricket, double-headers have fostered a culture whereby women’s matches are viewed as warm-up acts before the main show. Tight time constraints resulted in teams being hurried through their overs and matches being shortened to ensure the full men’s game could still be played. With women’s cricket’s global potential fan base now estimated to be 46m, this standalone WWT20 has the potential to capture the sole attention of many cricket fans, offering a significant opportunity for all commercial partners involved. [1]


 
This tournament is symptomatic of a wider revolution in women’s sport, the growth of which, from both a participation and commercial standpoint, is one of the most exciting trends in the sports industry. Crucially, women's sport represents a new commercial proposition that can engage fans and communities in a different way to more traditional sport sponsorships.
 
The last 18-months have been monumental in the growth of British women’s sport in particular, with the England women’s cricket team winning the 2017 World Cup in front of a sell out crowd at Lord’s. The Lionesses also reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Women’s Euros, the Red Roses reached the Women’s Rugby World Cup final and the England Women’s Netball team beat favourites Australia to win gold at the Commonwealth Games. Add to that the fact that the 2018 SSE Women’s FA Cup final at Wembley attracted a record crowd of 45,423 (10,000 more than in 2017), and that ticket sales for England's 2018 Vitality Women’s Hockey World Cup matches were oversubscribed by 40,000, and the signs of growth are plain to see. [2]



All of these achievements resulted in standout attendance, broadcast and engagement rates. England Women's Cricket World Cup final win against India last year was watched by a peak audience of 1.1m. That’s higher than any viewing rates for their male counterparts' matches in 2017 and greater than an average men’s Premier League football match. More broadly, attendance for women’s sport in the UK has grown 38% year-on-year since 2013, with a 49% increase from 2017-2018. [2]
 
Yet, brands remain reticent to embrace the opportunities on offer in women’s sports at a commercial level. Female sports account for a mere 0.4% of total sports sponsorship. [4] That is a strikingly low figure, but the flipside to this is that it reveals a huge opportunity for future investment. The Women’s Sports Trust partnered with Nielsen Sports to help build a business case and highlight the value of women’s sport to sponsors. According to this analysis, 84% of global sports fans have an interest in women’s sport, of which 51% are male, confirming that women’s sport offers the opportunity to engage with both male and female sports fans. [1]
 


If we focus on the UK again, of the 59% of sports fans who are interested in at least one women’s sport, 51% are female and 49% male, with people aged 16-24 most likely to enjoy women’s sport. This is a more gender balanced demographic than the average sports fan (65% male: 35% female), demonstrating that for any brand targeting a gender-neutral, millennial audience, women’s sports properties could be a great fit. The most recent confirmed WWT20 sponsor is ridesharing giant Uber, who claim their partnership with women’s cricket is based around shared values; Uber is a ‘globally recognised brand committed to the empowerment of women around the world’. [6]
 
Research also shows that consumers see women’s sport as more progressive, less money-driven, more inspiring, family orientated and cleaner than men’s sports – all values that most brands strive to be aligned with. It is therefore not surprising that the number of women’s sport sponsorship deals increased by 47% between 2013 and 2017, with the average deal size rising by 38%, but the opportunities for further growth are vast. [1]
 

Brands like Vitality (England Women’s Hockey, Netball and Cricket), SSE (Women’s FA Cup), 02 (England Women’s Rugby), HSBC (World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series), Kia (Women’s Cricket Super League) and Investec (England Women’s Hockey) have all blazed a trail in women’s sport and reaped the rewards. Investec’s sponsorship of England Women’s Hockey has not only achieved ROI through exposure in a market less cluttered than its male counterpart, but it has also offered the brand a chance to make a transformational difference on the sport. Investec has been credited with turning hockey into a commercially serious sport.
 
Brand badging is fast losing importance in the industry, with a greater emphasis on fan engagement to really influence consumer decisions. The ECB saw great success with their ‘Go Boldly’ campaign in the lead up to the 2018 Cricket World Cup. This featured video content of players’ parents discussing how their daughters became involved in cricket and a more in-depth interview into wicketkeeper Sarah Taylor’s ongoing battle with anxiety. Tapping into this idea that women’s sport has greater integrity and authenticity amongst fans, this content heroed and promoted the character of the England players, making them more relatable to the general public. [3]



As price points are still low, women’s sport also provides a fantastic opportunity for smaller and emerging brands looking to make meaningful connections with consumers. The next 12-months offers numerous high-profile women’s sporting events in Europe, most notably the Women’s Football World Cup in France and the Netball World Cup in England. Now is a great time for brands to be brave and take the leap to sponsor women’s sport. 

Looking further ahead, the next edition of the men’s and women’s WT20s will be held in Australia in 2020. Once again they will be held as standalone events, 3 months apart. Both tournaments’ key messages have already been defined around promoting ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’. So, with the 2020 WWT20 final occurring at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground on International Women’s Day, and a potential record-breaking capacity of 100,000, the script is written for women’s cricket to affirm its relevance at a time when sports fans worldwide are becoming increasingly receptive to the female game. Alongside that there will be a vast array of commercial opportunities for brands. For now though, it’s time to sit back and let the cricket do the talking! [5]

Sources:

[1] 'Women and Sport', Nielsen

[2] 'The business case for women's sport sponsorship', Marketing Week

[3] 'Why brands must rethink their approach to women's sport sponsorship', Marketing Week

[4] 'Why women's sport sponsorship is an opportunity brands are missing', Forbes
 
[5] '
Women get equal billing at World Twenty20 in Australia', The Guardian

[6] 'ICC dial up Uber ahead of Women's World T20', Sports Pro Media