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


Women’s sport, although still battling for parity with the male equivalents in many cases, is having a pretty good year with tournaments like Euro 2022 and The Hundred cricket. For The Drum’s Sports Marketing Deep Dive, Caroline Ayling, marketing director at media agency John Ayling & Associates, looks at the rise of women’s team sports in particular, and the opportunities this presents for advertisers.

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

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

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

While gender equity and equality drive the dialogue in many boardrooms, they are also reflected in society and sport. We are witnessing a paradigm shift in women’s team sports.

You can’t be what you can’t see

Arguably, the driving factor in the rise of women’s sport 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 and coverage in women’s sport”. To present the Netball World Cup 2019, Sky has committed to broadcast all 60 matches live. And in 2022, the UEFA Women’s Champions League semi-final broke records, with 91,000 people filling the Camp Nou and providing an electric and compelling backdrop for broadcasters.

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There is a whole generation of young girls, teenagers and women who see women’s team sports in a different light. Scrap that, they just are seeing this.

“There is no life for girls in team sports after Little League. I took up tennis when I realized that, and because I thought golf would be too slow for me and I was too scared to swim,” Billie Jean King said in 1982, the year of my birth. birth. The times are changing.

Revolutionary campaigns help. “This Girl Can” is rightly considered the pinnacle, inspiring 2.8 million women to get more active. P&G’s “Thank you Mum” campaign ran around the world for two Olympic cycles and put women at the heart of its marcomms execution. Both of these campaigns were amazing, but the women crew sports weren’t exactly top of mind – lots of group activities, such as fitness classes, or solo sports, such as gymnastics and swimming, were in the spotlight.

There is no “I” in the team

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

Barb also reported that the opening match was the most-watched women’s cricket match in UK history, peaking at 1.95 million. Physical crowds of 267,000 showed up for women’s matches, breaking the record of 136,000 at the previous year’s Women’s T20 World Cup in Australia.

At JAA we work with the Barbarians and England Netball, supporting their ticket sales. While Covid-19 may have hit the men’s side, the women’s Barbarians capitalized on the men’s misfortune by playing in front of record crowds at Twickenham last November.

Throughout the 2022 Vitality Netball Superleague season, we have supported England Netball by promoting Monday Night League matches, which are shown live on Sky Sports Main Event ahead of 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 mainly activated men’s sports: the Six Nations; Manchester United and FC Barcelona; The Ryder Cup. Although we weren’t always targeting male fans, there was a definite bias. I remember a white goods brand using male footballers to target mothers doing laundry after little Jimmy got muddy on the pitch. I think back to campaigns like these and think now about how typecast our thinking was.

Brands see the opportunity to support women’s team sports. Vitality has been a sponsor of England Netball since 2015. The brand actively supports ‘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 Euro in support of the Lionesses. In fact, while delivering a seminar at the recent Future of Brands conference, I had the chance to hear first-hand from brand marketers. Lisa Walker, Head of Media and Sponsorship at Vodafone, said: “We have the ambition that there will be a Women’s Lions Tour in 2026. And more and more brands like us are saying that if it’s not for men and women, 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.


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