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Marketing Brand Strategy Sports Marketing

The rise of women’s team sport is a major opportunity for brands

By Caroline Ayling | Marketing director

John Ayling & Associates


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July 18, 2022 | 6 min read

Women’s sport, though still fighting for parity with men’s equivalents in many cases, is having a pretty good year with the likes of the Euro 2022 tournament and cricket’s The Hundred. For The Drum’s Sports Marketing Deep Dive, Caroline Ayling, marketing director at media agency John Ayling & Associates, digs into the rise of women’s team sports in particular, and the opportunities that represents for advertisers.

England's netball team celebrating

What does the rise of women’s team sports mean for brands? / Ben Lumley / Photo courtesy of Ben Lumley

We’re living in historic times for women’s team sports. Women’s Euro 2022 recently kicked off at Old Trafford in front of a sell-out crowd, live on BBC One in the UK. The fixture had been sold out since April, along with every England Lioness and Northern Ireland match and the final.

Meanwhile, England’s netballers will soon be defending their Commonwealth gold title in Birmingham, and cricket’s The Hundred will be back on our screens later in the summer.

As gender equity and equality drive the dialogue in many boardrooms, it’s also reflected in society and sport. We’re seeing a paradigm shift in women’s team sports.

You cannot be what you cannot see

Arguably the driving factor behind the rise of women’s sports is an increase in media exposure. In 2013 Alison Kervin became Fleet Street’s first female sports editor; in 2019 The Daily Telegraph promised ‘unprecedented investment in and coverage of women’s sport.’ To showcase the 2019 Netball World Cup, Sky committed to livestreaming all 60 matches. And in 2022, the Uefa Women’s Champions League semi-final broke records, with 91,000 filling the Nou Camp and providing an electric and compelling backdrop for broadcasters.

There is an entire generation of young girls, teens and women who are seeing women’s team sports in a different light. Scrap that, they are simply seeing it.

“There is no life for girls in team sports past Little League. I got into tennis when I realized this, and because I thought golf would be too slow for me, and I was too scared to swim,” said Billie Jean King in 1982, the year I was born. Times are changing.

Groundbreaking campaigns help. ‘This Girl Can’ is rightly held up as the pinnacle, inspiring 2.8 million women to become more active. P&G’s ‘Thank you Mum’ campaign ran globally for two Olympic cycles and placed women at the heart of its marcomms execution. Both were incredible campaigns, but women’s team sport wasn’t exactly leading the way – a lot of group activity, such as fitness classes, or solo sports, such as gymnastics and swimming, featured.

There’s no ‘I’ in team

The 2020s are seeing a growth in female team talent. Look at The Hundred. The inaugural tournament took place last summer, with most fixtures featuring back-to-back female and male matches. Barb reported that 35% of the audience for the women’s opening game was female, meaning a vast majority were men.

Barb also reported that the opening match was the most watched women’s cricket match in UK history, with a peak audience of 1.95 million. Physical crowds of 267,000 turned up for the women’s games, beating the record of 136,000 at the previous year’s Women’s T20 World Cup in Australia.

Here at JAA we work with both the Barbarians and England Netball, supporting their ticket sales. While Covid-19 may have struck the men’s team, the women’s Barbarians were able to take advantage of the men’s misfortune by playing in front of a record-breaking crowd at Twickenham last November.

Throughout the 2022 Vitality Netball Superleague season we have supported England Netball by promoting the league’s Monday night fixtures, which are shown Live on Sky Sports Main Event before Monday Night Football.

Brand opportunity

I started my career in the early 2000s and worked with clients such as Guinness, Betfair and Standard Life Investments (now Abrdn). We predominantly activated male sports: the Six Nations; Manchester United and FC Barcelona; The Ryder Cup. While we didn’t always target male fans, there was a definite skew. I remember a white goods brand using male footballers to target mothers who do the washing after little Jimmy gets muddy on the pitch. I look back at campaigns like these and think now how typecast our thinking was.

Brands are seeing the opportunity of supporting women’s team sports. Vitality has been a sponsor of England Netball since 2015. The brand has been an active supporter of the ‘Proudly Female’ sport, but hasn’t stopped there; England hockey, England Cricket, Women’s FA Cup and a host of women’s football league teams.

Dettol, as part of its partnership with the England football teams (men and women), has launched a TVC specifically for the Women’s Euros supporting the Lionesses. In fact, when hosting a seminar at the recent Future of Brands conference, I was lucky enough to hear firsthand from brand marketers. Lisa Walker, head of media and sponsorship at Vodafone, said: “We have an ambition for there to be a Women’s Lions Tour in 2026. And increasingly brands like ourselves are saying if it’s not men’s and women’s then we’re not interested.”

Check out The Drum’s latest Deep Dive, The New Sports Marketing Playbook, and learn the tactics employed by the world’s biggest sports organizations and their star athletes to stay at the top of their game.

Marketing Brand Strategy Sports Marketing

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