Women’s Sports and Brands: the Seismic Shift Expands

Brands Engaging Consumers through Sports

What: Brands are connecting with a broader range of women's sports on a greater level than ever.
Why it matters: With the US Women's National Team competing in Women's World Cup in France, WNBA, WTA and AVP in full swing, opportunities for marketing through women's sports are at peak time.

We have long seen and heard the talk: women’s sports, or better yet, sports where the competitors are female, are growing. Women control a growing influential segment of the brand decision making, girls who play and follow sports are more likely to do better in school, have higher self-esteem and on and on and on. Tremendous, powerful messaging and storytelling.

Yet, support on the spending side, be it in areas like prize money and salary or on the broadcast side, where many reports say only four percent of live sporting events are of women’s sports in the U.S., or most importantly on the brand side, where the amount of dollars committed to women’s sports are dwarfed by what is spent on traditional sports where men are the participants still show the chasm that exists despite all the data and anecdotal evidence that would lead to a different outcome.

However, that chasm now seems to be having a bridge built over it. Maybe it’s not one the size of say the Golden Gate Bridge, but it is a driveway which is signaling a shift in the minds of decision-makers with regard to the value of women’s sports.

...[T]he brand shifts towards women’s soccer has already made this year’s gathering in France one for the sports spending ages, and is a huge, positive step for anyone looking to safely and dramatically up the ante for women’s sports.

 

Women's World Cup: A Bold Step

Some evidence includes CBS, which has added the WNBA (@WNBA) to its portfolio for the first time, and platforms like Bleacher Report, which are now both creating more content and dedicating advertising dollars against women’s sports in ways that they had not before.

Then you have the growing climate of elite, must follow and must engage with events both ongoing and upcoming where the focus will be on elite women and girls, and the stories and brand power tied to them; and it begins with the shift and engagement around Women’s World Cup (@FIFAWWC).

Regardless of what happens with Team USA (@USWNT) in the knockout rounds, the brand shifts towards women’s soccer have already made this year’s gathering in France one for the sports spending ages, and is a huge, positive step for anyone looking to safely and dramatically up the ante for women’s sports.

At the cusp of all that activity is Soccer United Marketing, which has delivered on new partners for US Soccer tied to the national team, and the resonance around those brands, which includes what some may say is a nontraditional partner like Anheuser-Busch (@AnheuserBusch) for one, along with a much more robust engagement from companies ranging from Johnson & Johnson to AT&T (@ATT) and Volkswagen (@VW). The spends and the engagements are also not “add on’s,” as may have happened in the past; they are direct strategic campaigns built to target not just women, but men and boys as well, which should resonate well after a WWC Champion is crowned in July.

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“This is a moment in time in sports business which I think we will point back to and say that the way brands have targeted women’s sports as standalone engagement vehicles for a wide audience became mainstream,” said Jen Cramer, MLS SVP of Partnership Marketing. “The political and social climate has shifted to open the door and show that sports played by amazing athletes who happen to be women are now not just acceptable to watch and engage with, but are required.”

Who's Playing?

Some of the key examples in that expanded shift include first time or recent partners to U.S. Soccer like Visa (@Visa), whose portfolio of players includes: Megan Rapinoe, Abby Dahlkemper, Rose Lavelle, Jessica McDonald, Adriana Franch, Becky Sauerbrunn and Mal Pugh, all of whom are featured on a national campaign based around thematic of "women everywhere chasing their goals."

Then there is Volkswagen of America, which launched a partnership in January 2019 with the “One Goal” thematic, centered around addressing the shortage of female coaches (and opportunities) across both the men’s and women’s game. The summer campaign launched around the World Cup is based on the thematic of “Big. Bigger” and doing right by others and the environment.

Add in companies like Johnson & Johnson (@JNJCares), whose “Because She Can” campaign is a multi-brand initiative that centers around women’s empowerment, showcased through their partnership with U.S. Soccer and the U.S. Soccer Foundation. The campaign highlights how participation in sports significantly increases a young woman’s chance of achieving success in her career and becoming a leader in her community.

Also, there is Coca-Cola (@CocaCola), with its U.S. Women’s National Team led platform across the Coca-Cola Summer Campaign, with an expanded player portfolio including Alex Morgan, Kelley O’Hara, Abby Dahlkemper, and Crystal Dunn. It is featured across all major Coca-Cola Company brand leveraging Women’s National Team – Dasani, Powerade, and Coke, and has been picked up by seven major retailers.

Another growing voice in the space (no pun intended) is AT&T. The company wanted to connect the passionate, young, diverse fans of U.S. Women’s Soccer with the thrilling moments on the field and with who these players are off the field too and they adopted a #NoGoalsNoGlory theme to tell the USWNT stories of dedication, success, and women empowerment across all their social and digital channels.

Nicolette Martin, Credit: Robert Beck/AVP

“This support of the United States Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) is part of our ongoing commitment to standing for equality, which is a company value and something we have a long history of doing at AT&T, going back to 1972 when AT&T started the first women’s Employee Resource Group (ERG) in the nation," added Shiz Suzuki, AVP, Sponsorships and Experiential Marketing AT&T. "There’s a lot more that we and other advertisers, broadcasters, leagues, teams, players and influencers can do to raise the visibility of women in sports, and not just during events like this that come around every so often.”

Just Getting Started

Will this continue on beyond World Cup, and grow with say the NWSL when the women return later in July, or into a more engaged WNBA series of activations and then on into the winter at the NCAA level and through to Tokyo next summer, which could include a brand like the AVP? Many of the signs, and the voices of brand decision makers, seem to think so.

“Today, women are drastically underrepresented in media,” Suzuki continued. “When women are portrayed, it’s largely in a stereotypical, inaccurate way. As co-chair of the Association of National Advertiser’s SeeHer movement, our Chief Brand Officer Fiona Carter has initiated a discussion with leagues, broadcasters, key influencers and of course fellow advertisers to see what can be done to improve coverage and distribution of women’s sports. It’s called SeeHerInSports, and there’s much more to come on that."

“At the end of the day we need to keep moving forward and making sure the next generation of fans and consumers, both men and women, continue to see value in the stories and personalities of all athletes regardless of gender,” Cramer added. “The best way to ensure that is by continuing to move the needle with brands who are seeing ROI from the spend they are doing with women’s soccer. That will translate to other sports and become a self-fulfilling prophecy that is very exciting, and will make things so much better for that next generation. It’s steady growth, and the time is right to keep growing the pie.”

In it to Win it

Growing the pie, vs. reallocating the existing slices is going to be key as well. New dollars being infused by brands and media companies across the board for women’s sports will be key to expanded opportunities and engagement, and with that expansion comes a larger audience. The system expands as one, not as a segment.

Now is there trepidation that winning will only feed the success of the effort for women’s sports? Perhaps. But from a business perspective many of the initial ‘wins,” engagement, campaigns and audience are already in place, regardless of summer’s outcome on the court or field of pitch. Is there still area for growth and acceptance? Yes. But dollars and brands speak loudly, and this summer, they seem to be shouting.

Enjoy the ride across the bridge, it’s safe to cross over.

Cover Image credit: rawpixel

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Joe Favorito @joefav

Joe Favorito has over 32 years of strategic communications/marketing, business development and public relations expertise in sports, entertainment, brand building, media training, television, athletic administration and business. The Brooklyn, New York native has managed the day-to- day activities in strategic communications for: Two of the world’s hallmark sports and entertainment brands (the New York Knickerbockers and Philadelphia 76ers), the world’s largest professional sport for women (the WTA Tour), the world’s largest sports National Governing Body (the United States Tennis Association) and the world’s largest annual sporting event (the US Open). He also oversaw the strategic planning, investor relations, communications and digital business development of the International Fight League during its two year run as a Mixed Martial Arts venture and a publicly traded company. Favorito serves on the boards of the Weinstein Carnegie Group, New York Sports Venture Capital, the National Sports Marketing Network, the Drexel University Sports Business program, and Columbia University’s Sports Management program (where he is an instructor in Strategic Communications and Director of Industry Relations). Joe also maintains a well trafficked blog on the sports marketing and publicity field, “Sports Marketing and PR Roundup,” on the website joefavorito.com, as well authoring the first- ever text on the sports publicity industry (“Sports Publicity” published in August 2007 by Reed Elsevier and updated in 2012 by Taylor Publishing with a third printing coming in 2018), which is used in over 60 sports management programs in the U.S. He has been a guest speaker on sports marketing, social media and communications at a host of institutions, including Princeton University, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown University, the University of Florida Law School, New York University, the Stanford University Graduate School of Business and many others. He is also a frequent spokesperson on the industry for publications ranging from Ad Age and The New York Times to NPR and CBS News. A graduate of Fordham University, Joe, his wife and two children reside in River Vale, New Jersey.

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