Lynsey Holbrook, Sponsorship Director at integrated marketing agency Momentum UK, explains why the opportunities around women’s sports increase after every Olympic Games, and why brands need to move fast to capitalise.
Things are changing for women’s sport. Back in 2011, the Commission on the Future of Women’s Sport in the United Kingdom published a report called The Big Deal which claimed that 50 per cent of UK sports fans believe women’s sport is on the way up, compared with 36 per cent for male sports. Meanwhile, 44 per cent believed the quality of women’s sport was much better than 10 years ago and 61 per cent of sports fans said they would watch more women’s sport if they were televised.
A year later those predictions were undeniably certified as the women’s contingent of Team GB in the 2012 London Olympics became the superstars of the show. Jessica Ennis smashed records to become the Olympic heptathlon champion, Victoria Pendleton picked up gold in the keirin, Nicola Adams became the first woman ever to win an Olympic boxing gold medal, and Jade Jones won Britain’s first ever gold medal in taekwondo. These are just a handful of the female heroes that have now become pin-ups for women’s sport in the UK.
In this year’s winter Olympics, Jenny Jones (pictured, right) won Great Britain's first ever winter Olympics medal on snow this weekend, with the women’s curling team now being heralded as the one to watch. Not only are we seeing a marked increase in the quality of women’s sport, it’s bringing lesser known sports into the limelight, a fantastic opportunity for sponsorship.
Brands struggling to achieve cut-through in men’s sport sponsorship are well placed to steal a march with investment in the growing interest demonstrated towards women’s sport.
In 1999, the Sports Sponsorship Advisory Council published a UK government-funded report urging sportswomen to ‘play the sex appeal card’ to ignite industry interest and tease open brands’ wallets. That unashamedly sexist call is now irrelevant in a post-2012 Olympics context, but a helpful barometer of the changes we’ve seen in the last ten years. It’s no longer about equality; it’s about a huge gap in the sponsorship market, which brands need to wake up to. Failure to do so is ultimately a failure to appear relevant to half the potential audience.
Today, less and less merit is to be found in money spent or media coverage; sponsorship is an opportunity to co-create with your commercial partners and absorb their values into your brand. Investec’s association with England and Great Britain’s women’s hockey is a perfect example of this. Breaking records for a single company’s investment in any women’s sport in the UK, the partnership is hailed as a proof point for the brand’s integrity: the players wear the Investec logo and with it align the virtues of hard-working honorable athletes with the values of the brand.
As women’s sport sponsorship inevitably grows, it would do brands well to ensure they maintain their raison d'être within the space. If you dissect any sponsorship, the big question should be if that brand wasn’t involved, what difference would it make? True and legitimate sponsors are integral to that sport or event, without them it simply would not take place. Sponsorship for the sake of sponsorship is over; partnerships that have meaning are the future.
At London 2012, 80,000 people, both men and women, traveled to Wembley to watch the women’s football – a far cry from what could have been expected in 1999. It may still be the case that only five per cent of sports coverage in the media features women, but a change in perception of the purpose of sponsorship may mean that for brands, the media is no longer their primary concern.
The tide, as they say, is turning: brands need to act fast and act right to catch the wave.