March 29th, 2024

You’re Already Behind If You’re Not Engaged With Women’s Sports

You’re Already Behind If You’re Not Engaged With Women’s Sports
Tori Stein
Tori Stein
Director of Marketing

Caitlin Clark. Paige Bueckers. JuJu Watkins. Cameron Brink. Angel Reese.

The women of NCAA’s March Madness have become household names. In fact, the women’s tournament (only granted the rights to refer to itself as March Madness in 2022), has drawn unparalleled attention and excitement, with even Shaq saying, “I haven’t even been paying attention to the guys, only been paying attention to the [women].”

But it’s not just women’s college basketball that is seeing a jump – it’s every women’s league across the board.

  • A record 292,456 fans attended the opening rounds of the 2024 Women’s March Madness tournament – an increase of 60,779 from 2023
  • The newly launched Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) is regularly beating their own attendance records, including a crowd of 19,285 at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto in February
  • In August 2023, Nebraska’s women’s volleyball team hosted a game at the school’s football stadium with 92,003 fans attending
  • The 2023 WNBA Regular Season reached over 36 million total unique viewers across all national networks, the highest since 2008 and up 27 percent from 2022
  • In 2023, NWSL games on CBS reported a year-over-year increase in viewers of 41%, the streaming audience on Paramount+ grew by 83%
  • Coco Gauff’s U.S. Open win delivered 3.4 million viewers on ESPN, up +92% vs last year’s Women’s Championship making it the most-viewed Major Women’s Championship ever
  • Internationally, for the 2023 women’s Ashes, a contest between England and Australia’s women’s cricket teams, ticket sales increased 450% from the 2019 series

With women’s sports reaching new heights in terms of visibility, viewership, attendance, facilities and brand partnerships, how can marketers determine if and how their brand should align with professional women’s sports?

Is there a place for your brand in women’s sports?

Simply put, absolutely. 

And consumers want to see you show up there. 

According to a recent study of avid and casual sports fans by Aggregate Sports, 77% believe brands should sponsor women’s sports, 74% believe brands should sponsor men’s and women’s sports equally, and 62% feel better about a brand that sponsors women’s sports.

But it isn’t just brand sentiment that benefits. So will the bottom line.

Take it from the SVP Global Sponsorships at Mastercard, Alison Giordano, “It’s good business, the women’s sports fan is a loyal sports fan. They follow and support the brands that support those teams and people that they care about. It’s really a win-win.” In fact, according to Deloitte, for every dollar spent by a corporate sponsor in women’s sports, more than seven dollars is generated in “customer value for that organization”. Some sponsors of the LPGA have even reported up to 400% return in media value on their investment.

Further proof of the women’s sports fan loyalty toward sponsors?

44% of WNBA fans claim to have visited the brand’s website and 28% claim to have bought something from the brand after seeing an in-game sponsorship —compared to 36% and 24% of NBA fans surveyed for the same sponsorship responses.

How should you determine the best opportunity?

While in-venue signage and team presenting partnerships still have a valid, and valuable, place in sports partnerships – the ecosystem has exploded with additional possibilities, all allowing you to connect in relevant ways with your target audience. This can include a direct sponsorship with a team, league, or athlete, collaborations with sports content producers, or being more inclusive of sports media in your overall media buy.

Listen to your audience – and your brand.

You may be a big basketball fan, but your target audience may better align with track & field. You may love the idea of sponsoring a premium experience, but your brand may better benefit from an association with the Kids Club. Your brand and creative campaign, paired with research & data, will help shine a light on what type of opportunity is the best for your brand.

Where does the data say your audience shows up? Are they likely to attend a game in-person? Lean toward streaming? More likely to follow golf than softball? Leveraging a robust audience profile won’t just inform your digital buy, it will let you know where you’ll see the most ROI on your sports marketing investment.

Laddering your sports activation back to your overall brand marketing goals is how you’ll win. 

If possible, find the white space and make some noise.

Not every partnership needs to, or will, be completely unique. There are an abundance of opportunities that will fit your brand goals and budget. But it never hurts to make a little noise, and stand out from the sponsorship crowd – all while staying true to your established brand principles.

As part of their multi-year partnership with the PWHL, Molson made a splash by reversing the location of nameplates on the back of the jersey with the “See My Name” program. With many of the players sporting long hair, the names on their jerseys would be covered – making it harder to build familiarity with each athlete. Instead of adding their brand name to the bottom of the jersey – in a more visible location – Molson had the athletes’ names moved down and they took the top (and more obscured) nameplate. They identified a unique opportunity within women’s hockey that aligned with their greater brand message of “Everyone In” – and allowed them to pick up some earned media along the way. 

Be intentional with media partnerships, especially for younger audience engagement.

Listening to your audience data, in-venue sponsorship, or even directly with a team, athlete or league, may not be the best opportunity for your brand. There could be a better opportunity to reach your audience in a way that is more authentic to how they engage with sports. Leveraging sports media, ad-time on streaming services, or creating sponsored content with sports specific platforms are a few ways that allow you to show up in a relevant, and engaging, way.

Reflecting what we know about Millennial and Gen Z media consumption habits, research shows that while 71% of all fans say their favorite type of sports content to watch is live events, this number drops to 58% for Gen Zs and millennials. 90% of Gen Z sports fans use social media to consume sports content, with their favorite content being game clips and highlights, live events, behind-the-scenes interviews and videos, as well as athletes’ posts.

While social media mainstays Sportscenter, ESPN, Bleacher Report and more continue to demand a high following, there are women’s dedicated platforms to explore. Togethxr was founded by accomplished female athletes Alex Morgan, Chloe Kim, Sue Bird and Simone Manuel.  HighlightHER was born from Bleacher Report and House of Highlights. Just Women’s Sports is approaching one million instagram followers and saw a considerable increase of +138% in social media actions year-over-year, alongside On Her Turf (+174%), and espnW (+219%). 

Consumers are seeking out, and demanding, dedicated women’s sports coverage.

With the 2024 season underway, the NWSL will have 118 matches nationally broadcast, following the signing of the biggest broadcast deal ever for any women’s sports league with CBS Sports, ESPN, Prime Video and Scripps Sports. How many were broadcast in 2023? 30. Is one of your target demos women 18-24? If so, this broadcast deal should be of interest to you, as soccer indexes higher with a younger female audience. For the 2022 Men’s World Cup Final, the overall live household rating was 8.9, but rose to 9.7 for households with women 18-24.

What does it all mean?

Sports are a massive, complex ecosystem filled with passion, emotion, and loyal fans. With an abundance of streaming opportunities, an ever evolving social media landscape and media coverage trending upward for women’s sports, there is no better way to engage with your audience in a relevant way – showing up where they want to see you show up.

And to think, we didn’t even touch on NIL, yet.

Tori Stein
Tori Stein
Director of Marketing
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