The new era for extraordinary athletes, organisations, and brands

James Masters, Senior Planner

Here we are. In the now. No more history lessons.

We believe that we are at the start of a new era. One where women’s sports are arguably some of the most compelling partnership opportunities out there – valuable audiences, innovative rightsholders, big futures, compelling narratives, great value for money.

No doubt, the pandemic has been traumatic for many women’s sports organisations and athletes. However, the resilience across the board has been remarkable and the longer-term trend is continued growth. According to the Women’s Sports Trust, women’s sport could generate more than £1bn per year by 2030.

At the heart of this potential growth is the step-change in the way that rightsholders are approaching women’s sports. It is now the strategic priority – The ECB and The Hundred being the perfect example of having both growth and commerciality at the heart of the plan. Meanwhile, Paris 2024’s commitment to a gender equal partnership would have been unimaginable to the 22 women who competed in the city’s 1900 edition.

Women are still largely under-represented in leadership positions in the sports industry, but we shouldn’t under-emphasise the progress that has been made; notably, Debbie Hewitt becoming the first ever female Chair of the FA. And, across the pond, Angel City FC have set the gold standard with their majority female leadership team.

Angel City FC are indicative of the entrepreneurial freedom and innovation we’ll see in Women’s Sport 3.0. Unlike the majority of NWSL teams they are independently spirited, with no structural affiliation to a nearby MLS team. They don’t even define themselves in ordinary sporting terms, they are “lifestyle, apparel and [thirdly!] sports organisation” according to leading founding investor Alexis Ohanian.

One example of this is their sponsorship model that, with the purposeful mindsets of Gen Z’s front-of-mind, ensures that potential partner’s corporate missions are aligned with theirs and that 10% of every deal going to community programmes.

Of course, not every women’s sport organisation will be so forward-looking (… or be able to boast of LA sunshine and star investors like Serena Williams). However, Women’s Sport 3.0 is a ripe time for any rightsholder and/or brand partner to capitalise on the attitudes that the previous decade worked hard to shift.

Indeed, we’re at a time when, says Nielsen, 84% of sports fans are interested in women’s sport and 51% of male sports fans engage with it. Moreover, the likes of regular WSL matches on free-to-air TV will only further add to the 69% of people, according to YouGov, who support gender-equal media coverage of sports.

We are kicking off Women’s Sport 3.0 without many of the commercial flaws and baggage of men’s sport. Betting partners, for example, are on the rise – especially in the USA – but rightsholders’ commercial models aren’t overly dependent on them, as is the case with many lower-level Premier League clubs and their (likely to be banned) front of shirt partners.

The new era of women’s sport, therefore, is starting not only from an innovative baseline but a reputational clean slate. One where, as various studies affirm, female athletes are seen as more favourable role models than their male counterparts.

Combine this all with the lack of commercial saturation and strong core of deeply connected fan communities, and you have a compelling place for brands to play.

It should be no surprise, therefore, that three quarters of people interested in women’s sport can name at least one brand involved with it (from Nielsen) and women are significantly more likely to look favourably on brands supporting women’s sport than men’s – 36% vs. 26% (from YouGov).

We don’t know what the era of Women’s Sport 3.0 will bring, what strides forward will be made, or how we’ll look back on it in years to come. What we do know though, is that we stand at the start of a seriously exciting time.

A time for brands to join the fold or upweight their involvement. To capitalise on the progress that’s been made and the opportunities that lie ahead. And to do so before their competitors fill the white space.

Part 1: Welcome to Women’s Sport 3.0

Part 2: Women’s Sport 1.0: Playing in the Dark

Part 3: Women’s Sport 2.0: Bursting out of the Shadows