Charting the rise of women’s sport

James Masters, Senior Planner

Women’s sport, it’s been on one hell of a journey.

It’s had its time in the dark, the long years of the 20th century when amateurism and the apathy of potential sponsors loomed large.

Yet, in the past decade, it has gone through a period of extraordinary growth, having smashed through countless barriers and made remarkable commercial gains – empowered by a collective spirit across the sports and sponsorship industries.

Women’s sport is stronger than ever. Indeed, at CSM, we believe that we stand at the start of a new era for athletes, organisations, and brands.

Women’s Sport 3.0.

The era where women’s sports should be considered as some of the most compelling partnership opportunities out there.

To illustrate the progress made, let’s take women’s football in England, for instance. Even its most ardent advocates would have found Barclays’ £10million title sponsorship deal with the Women’s Super League (WSL) unimaginable at the turn of the century.

This is a game that has gone from being banned from the pitches of football league clubs – from 1921 to 1969 – to filling Wembley, as 77,786 fans packed in to watch England (nicknamed the Lionesses) play Germany in the wake of the 2019 Women’s World Cup. An event, by the way, that glued 28.1m viewers in the UK to their TV screens.

And now, in the time of Women’s Sport 3.0, women’s football – to continue this example – is more than these landmark events. Everton v Manchester City on the opening weekend of the 2021/22 WSL season was the first free-to-air women’s football league match on network TV in the UK.

Attracting an audience of 800,000 (making it the most watched programme at that time on any channel in the country) its significance, counter-intuitively, was because it was not the Euros or a World Cup. It was simply Saturday afternoon football, treated as such, and with the power to draw a decent audience.

Football does not stand alone. In the UK, The Hundred has supercharged women’s cricket and Emma Raducanu could redefine what it means to be a tennis superstar. In rugby, the Women’s 6 Nations, in its very own April window, saw massive uplifts in coverage in 2021. The ambition for a gender-equal Olympic Games at Paris 2024 nearly came to fruition three years early in Tokyo with 49% female participants.

In this new era, things are not perfect… just ask the Norwegian beach handball team – who were fined for refusing to compete in bikinis in July. However, coming out of the worst days of the pandemic, the momentum behind women’s sports is unparalleled and unendingly exciting.

The audiences are larger and more valuable than ever, the commercial opportunities are bigger and more frequent – the growth potential is enormous.

This week we will take you on a whistle-stop tour of the three eras of women’s sport, pausing on Thursday to reflect on why, in our opinion, this is the perfect time for brands to upweight their involvement, or get involved for the first time.

Then, join us on Friday, as we conclude by breaking down the seven roles that brands can play in women’s sport. From the ‘Equalisers’ who focus on gender parity and the ‘Biz Leaders’ who use sport as a tool to tackle industry challenges, to the ‘Visionaries’ at the vanguard.

Part Two: Women’s Sport 1.0 – Playing in the Dark

Part Three: Women’s Sport 2.0 – Bursting Out the Shadows

Part Four: Women’s Sport 3.0 – In the Spotlight

Part Five: Women’s Sport 3.0 – What Role Will You Play?