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The rise and rise of women’s sport

This article first appeared on The Drum on 23/02/2023

It seems every year the conversation around women’s sport gets louder and louder. All the old arguments of disinterested audiences, lack of quality and lack of accessibility are falling by the wayside, as we see crowd numbers growing exponentially year on year and advertisers scrambling to align themselves with popular and successful athletes and teams.

Serious interest is growing to the point where, the first game in the Women’s Football World Cup later this year in Australia, had to be moved to an alternative venue to meet the demand for tickets. We look at why women’s sport has exploded in popularity and what this can mean for brands heading into a packed summer schedule.

The silencing of women’s sport

There has been a bit of a chicken-or-egg debate when it comes to the question of why women’s sport hasn’t had the backing in the past that many people have felt it deserves.

What can clearly be seen, to borrow from Field of Dreams is, “if you build it, they will come”. Take the US Open tennis tournament for example; in 2019, the women’s final attracted higher viewership than the men’s final, as support for a US finalist was the bigger driver, regardless of gender.

So, the support and entertainment value are there, yet the women’s tennis grand slam events received 41% less coverage than the men’s events. This mentality has no doubt hindered the growth of women’s sport in the past.

There are arguments the pandemic accelerated change, and we have seen a significant shift over the last few years. Sponsorships for women’s sport increased by 20% in 2022; further proof that brands are keen to support and be aligned with female athletes.

Positive associations between brands and either teams or individual athletes can help to increase brand loyalty and open brands up to new audiences. And this year, there is no shortage of flagship events to get involved with.

The demand is there

Kicking the year off with Wimbledon, which is always a popular choice for advertisers, this year will see the Ashes hosted by England and the ECB are promoting the women’s series heavily alongside the traditional men’s tests. The Women’s Football World Cup, the Women’s Netball World Cup, The Solheim Cup will round out a year of championships, bolstering viewership across all channels.

Aside from the welcome increase in funding and support that comes with growing women’s sport globally, there is also a unique audience that comes with this boost in broadcast coverage. With audiences growing from 2021–2022, new viewers were also keen to watch more women’s sport.

8.4 million watched live WSL football in 2022, but did not see any live Premier League football, with 6.8 million watching both. This compares to 5.1 million only watching the WSL in 2021.

1.8 million watched the Women’s Euros but didn’t watch the men’s Fifa World Cup, 1.5 million only watched the Women’s Hundred, 4.8 million consumed both the men’s and women’s formats, and 1.3 million only watched women’s matches only at the Rugby League World Cup.

Out-of-home for the win

Getting in front of these new engaged audiences is a huge opportunity for brands, especially in the out-of-home (OOH) space. As we saw during the Super Bowl, live TV advertising is still a highly effective medium and one of the keys to that is the shared experience that comes from watching events as a group.

Couple that with the camaraderie that comes from supporting a national or local team and there is the perfect mix of brand trust, loyalty, and a sense of togetherness that most brands spend millions of pounds trying to achieve.

Televised OOH has proven to supplement the natural perennial drop in linear TV impacts by showcasing the big sporting events across the whole of the summer. With summer planning already underway, we anticipate large audiences as people try to combine the good weather with must-watch events.

Of course, supporting women’s sport on TV out of home is not a singular magic bullet for brand success. But as we can see, it’s an exciting space to get involved in – and the trend is set to continue.

By Sarah Hetherington | Marketing Manager