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Women’s Sports and Brands: the Seismic Shift Expands

Brands are connecting with a broader range of women's sports on a greater level than ever. 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.


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. The number of dollars committed to women’s sports is dwarfed by what is spent on traditional sports.

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.

Women’s World Cup: A Bold Step

Some evidence includes CBS, which has added the WNBA (@WNBA) to its portfolio for the first time. Platforms like Bleacher Report 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. The focus will be on elite women and girls, and the stories and brand power tied to them. It begins with the shift and engagement around the Women’s World Cup (@FIFAWWC).

The brand shifts towards women’s soccer have already made this year’s gathering in France one for the sports spending ages. It’s a huge, positive step for anyone looking to safely and dramatically up the ante for women’s sports.

SUM Takes Action

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. 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. This should resonate well after a WWC Champion is crowned in July.

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Women's Sports“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. It is opening the door and showing 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). The banking company’s portfolio of players includes Megan Rapinoe, Abby Dahlkemper, Rose Lavelle, Jessica McDonald, Adriana Franch, Becky Sauerbrunn and Mal Pugh. They all participate in a national campaign based around thematic of “women everywhere chasing their goals.”

Then there is Volkswagen of America. The company launched a partnership in January 2019 with the “One Goal” thematic. The campaign centered around addressing the shortage of female coaches (and opportunities) across both the men’s and women’s games. 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.

More to Come

Also, there is Coca-Cola (@CocaCola). Its U.S. Women’s National Team led platform across the Coca-Cola Summer Campaign included an expanded player portfolio with Alex Morgan, Kelley O’Hara, Abby Dahlkemper, and Crystal Dunn. The campaign features across all major Coca-Cola Company brands leveraging Women’s National Team.

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. They adopted a #NoGoalsNoGlory theme to tell the USWNT stories of dedication, success, and women empowerment across all their social and digital channels.

Women's Sports
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 others can do to raise the visibility of women in sports. It is not limited to events like this that come around every so often.”

The Beginning

Will this continue on beyond World Cup? Will it grow into a more engaged WNBA series of activations and then on into the winter at the NCAA level and through to Tokyo next summer? It 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 appear, 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.”

Women's Sports“At the end of the day, we need to keep moving forward. We need to make sure the next generation of fans and consumers 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. We do this 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. It 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 infused by brands and media companies across the board for women’s sports will be key to expanded opportunities and engagement. 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. Is there still an 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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