The debate over the marketability of women’s sports and female athletes, compared to male counterparts, has been a long-standing saga that appears to be ongoing and has produced little progress in the past. While male athletes have dominated the world of sponsorships for decades, an effort continues to make progress in closing the gap in sports marketing inequality. Statistics that were developed last year indicated that women’s sports accounted for only .04 percent of all sponsorships. In the United States (US), female athletes represent 40 percent of the nation’s athletes but receive only 2 to 4 percent of media coverage. Much of the disparity is attributed to the lack of equal coverage by major television and broadcasting networks. But can it be that viewers are about to initiate a change to coverage?
Last Fall, ESPN’s coverage of the WNBA Finals garnered a 34 percent increase in viewership over the previous year’s event. The three-game competition between the Seattle Storm and Las Vegas Aces averaged 440,000 viewers. Caiti Donovan, SIL’s vice president of data and insights, said of the increase, “The quality of viewership occurring within the women’s sports ecosystem is present because we can see the fan behaviors, we can see the engagement; how deep it goes, and why it’s important for brands to tap into and the opportunity that exists from a revenue perspective because of it.” The Business Research Company predicts the global sports market will reach $826 billion by 2030, with Women’s sports capturing $200 billion of total revenue.
“Publishers need to step up their coverage of women’s sports” to attract more advertiser investment, said Kristi Wagner, director of Content+ at media agency Mindshare. “The ad industry has a long way to go before we see women’s sports receive even close to the interest that men’s does.” As progress continues to close the disparity, more brands are showing interest in marketing women’s sports. There is a growing belief across sports that women are one of the best investments in the industry as ratings rise due to increased attention from fans. “The stakeholders on the commercial side of sports are constantly searching for the next frontier, the next growth play,” says Dan Cohen, Leader of the Octagon’s media rights consulting division. “It is clearly women’s sports.”
However, it is possible that some brands may elect to miss out on the opportunity to embrace a new day in sports marketing. Some point to previous experience in getting on-board the “build it and they will come” campaign only to be disappointed by the number of “no-shows”. The reality is that Sports, whether amateur, professional, male, or female, is a numbers game. Sponsors and advertisers have established return on investment (ROI) goals and are reluctant to gamble with a formula that is producing desired results. But for those marketers who are looking to connect with a specific market segment, women’s sporting events can be a risk well worth taking, particularly at a time when they are projecting an image of a company seeking to “walk the talk” of popular social equality and fairness conversations. If the recent coverage of the Tokyo Olympic Games is to be any indication, female sports are on a mission and successfully racking up points against male competitors. The spotlight is wavering.