Sports marketing has a problem with women – every day

The comedian Richard Herring commendably spends each International Women’s Day chained to his smartphone, replying to every single tweeter that mentions him. The average interaction goes a bit like this:

Angry Tweeter #1: “International Women’s Day? Wen’s [sic] International Men’s Day then? Sexist.”

Richard: “19th November.”

Angry Tweeter #2: “Oh I c 2day is International Women’s Day yet what if they held an International Men’s Day ppl wud go cray [sic].”

Richard: “They do: 19th November.”

And repeat ad nauseam.

And so to IWD 2017. I’ll be honest: I wish it didn’t exist or, rather, I wish it didn’t have to exist. And being in the industry that I am, it’s exactly how I feel about Women’s Sport Week each year too: the answer to “that’s sexist: when is Men’s Sport Week?” is this: every week. According to some reports, 95% of coverage around sport relates to men’s activities. On average, 98.2% of sports coverage is written by men. And so on and so forth.

This stuff matters. It matters for a number of reasons. Alongside being one of the biggest entertainment sectors around the world, sport is a massive platform for education and we need to use it as one. If gender inequality continues to pervade the industry (and wider society), what hope do we have of creating a fairer world for our children, and our children’s children and so on?

Not convinced by this argument, too pithy, too worthy? Then what about a commercial angle: the potential for a bigger consumer market in the UK. Women own half the personal wealth of our country, a figure which is predicted to grow to 60% over the next four years. Furthermore, women already influence in the region of 80% of purchasing decisions in the UK. Do the maths: the more women themselves spend on sports channels, sports products, event attendance and so forth, the greater potential growth of the sports consumer market in the UK, and the bigger benefit to business, and the economy.

The problem of female inequality within sport is a vicious circle: media coverage, big bucks sponsorship, big salaries and proper funding are much more scarce in women’s sport, because the lack of women staying within and playing sport to a high level is much greater. Why? Because the aforementioned funding is not there to keep them in sport from an early age. And so the cycle continues. It’s not a new problem, and not one we can solve overnight, however the more people keep chipping away at the established prejudices which perpetuate this cycle, the closer we’ll get: “it’s not as exciting”, “women’s sport is just inferior” and so on.

And what role do brands play in all this?

I saw a tweet the other day that I didn’t wholly agree with. It was something along the lines of “Brands trying to get involved in #IWD2017? Back off.” Yes, the allure of hitching one’s brand wagon to the IWD star is an obvious one. After all, around half the people I know are female. However, just “offering half price burgers to women” (say) because today happens to be a day that recognises women is not the way forward. At a very basic level – as with any brand campaign – there has to be an authentic reason to be getting involved, rather than just a badging exercise, otherwise it can backfire spectacularly. Bic South Africa discovered this rather dramatically a couple of years ago. Personally, I always enjoy P&G’s offerings – they never feel forced, as this year’s #WeSeeEqual shows.

But beyond that, add some value. Have some skin in the game. Whilst I’m all for brands getting involved in the right way, it’s also about thinking long term. This shouldn’t be something brands – and by extension, wider society – should just take the time to highlight once a year. If you are serious about playing a meaningful role in women’s lives, then commit to it. A “well-timed” social post on Wednesday is not enough. Take the lead of brands like Sport England, adidas, and Nike to name a few, who – in my opinion - manage to inspire a pro-female agenda on a consistent basis.

Last summer we launched our “Who Runs The World” campaign for the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup, which we felt confident would turn a few heads. Our brief was to create a campaign around a sport which suffers from low attendance records, and regularly fails to attract the recognition it deserves. Our focus was on the most fundamental aspect of cricket (forget the prefix ‘women’s’): the quality of the game being played itself. So if you have a Google you’ll see is a campaign which puts that skill, grit and determination from the game to the forefront. Ticket sales soon surpassed previous attendance figures – the effect of which we’ll hopefully see next summer and beyond.

We’re not claiming to have changed the world, or indeed the entire face of women’s sport with one campaign, but we’re hoping the more bold, brave and meaningful messages we put out there, just This Girl Can, to Like A Girl and plenty of others in between have, the better off we’ll all be.

Lizzy Pollott is creative director at HSE Cake

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Lizzy Pollott

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