How brands can level the playing field for women in sport

Women’s sport is having a long-overdue moment in the sun. Powered by the international curiosity in the Women’s World Cup (which ends on 7 July), brands from food and drinks to monetary providers and wonder are clamouring to get in on the action.

Over the past seven months alone a number of brands have splashed out on women’s sport sponsorships, signing long-term partnerships across football, rugby and netball.

Perhaps most notable is Barclays, which signed an eight-figure deal to develop into the title sponsor of the Women’s Super League (WSL) till 2022, a document investment in UK women’s sport. Finalised in March, the partnership is considered value more than £10m over the next three seasons.

In the meantime, in December Visa signed a seven-year deal to turn out to be the most important companion of the Women’s Champion’s League, the first UEFA sponsor dedicated to women’s sport. The same month Guinness turned the first official business sponsor of the Women’s Six Nations.

On Worldwide Women’s Day (8 March) Lucozade Sport made its first foray into women’s soccer by way of its partnership with the Lionesses and promptly rewrote the lyrics to England football anthem Three Lions in their honour. Then in April, Boots signed a three-year deal to sponsor women’s football in the UK and Ireland, Jaffa Fruit signed on as Netball World Cup sponsor and Coca-Cola and Channel four teamed up on a weekly women’s football present.

We need to see the improvement and we need to change perceptions of women’s football.

Tom Corbett, Barclays

All this is good news, but many years of under-investment in women’s sport has solely widened the gender gap, so what are these brands truly doing to advocate for feminine athletes?

Firstly, help ought to be unconditional. Women’s World Cup package sponsor Nike discovered this out the onerous approach when it was exposed by feminine athletes for decreasing sponsorship funds during their pregnancies as a result of they did not hit “performance-based targets”. Nike has since stated it should waive targets for pregnant athletes over a 12-month period.

Brands must additionally discover their area of interest and perceive where they can add the most value. Laura Weston, Women’s Sport Belief board director and former managing director of Iris Culture, is cautious of brands seeing women as a “marketing trend”. As an alternative she argues brands should determine what they stand for and how they can translate that into sport in a meaningful approach.

“They’ve all got these brand values and they love talking about them in PowerPoints, so it would be nice if they actually did something. Don’t say it, do it,” urges Weston.

She points out that women’s sports partnerships need to be refined, as a result of they should work on a number of ranges. For example, fuelling participation could possibly be a great fit for a model with clients throughout the country that can become involved with local activations, whereas others might use their expertise to help a membership rev up its match day experiential advertising.

Alternatively, a brand may have the ability to use its perception to build a extra detailed image of the audience or help enhance the visibility of the athletes by amplifying their stories. Finally, investment is needed to ensure women can play sport at knowledgeable level and translate the excitement around huge tournaments into domestic followers week in, week out.

READ MORE: How Man City is constructing an ecosystem round ‘under-served’ women’s football

The sustainability gap

Brands have an important part to play in constructing sustainable foundations for women’s sport that mean future success is just not reliant on money generated by the males’s recreation.

The funding made by Barclays means the WSL may have prize money for the first time, with £500,000 divided among the groups in accordance with their league place.

Kelly Simmons, Football Association (FA) director of the women’s skilled recreation who helped dealer the deal, explains the WSL gamers are less targeted on closing the gender pay hole and extra concerned with creating the league’s long-term viability.

“If you said to me now, how are you going to crack equal pay when you think about the level of pay men receive compared to women, it would be in bitesize chunks,” she explains.

“Our first priority in terms of equal pay is to make the WSL sustainable so it’s not reliant on whether a chairman of a club or owners decide whether or not to invest in women’s football and enable the game to be professional.”

Over the next 5 to seven years the FA needs the WSL to generate enough income to face by itself and enable the golf equipment to use business broadcast revenue to compete at the right level based mostly on how they do on the pitch.

Arsenal being crowned WSL 2018/19 champions.

With the Women’s World Cup producing an unprecedented buzz, Simmons can solely see the WSL benefiting from the likes of Nike, Boots and Lucozade taking an interest in the Lionesses, as raising the profiles of the individuals ought to carry over to the league as soon as the event ends.

Barclays, which is in the strategy of signing three or 4 ambassadors across women’s football, is obvious that a multi-year partnership is the solely strategy to drive real change.

Head of sponsorship Tom Corbett says: “We want to see the development and we want to change perceptions of women’s football. We want to create accessibility and that’s going to take a number of years to achieve. We’re putting in place measurement and we’ll be tracking that over a period of time. One of the big drivers for us is around the confidence of young girls.”

Whereas he applauds brands which have made a monetary dedication to women’s sport, because in a sport like soccer investment is required to professionalise the recreation, he urges corporations embarking on a sponsorship deal to consider how they can help the sport obtain a sustainable future.

“It’s also important that the rights owners think about how they’re using that money and I think the FA has the right approach in terms of making the league sustainable, so it isn’t effectively subsidised by the male game,” Corbett provides.

READ MORE: Women’s World Cup: How brands are leveraging a ‘culturally relevant’ moment

Displaying solidarity

Based mostly on its involvement in women’s sport over the previous three many years, Mastercard is adamant investment in feminine athletes should by no means be seen as a “one-time activity” brands can use to their advantage.

“If you are just doing it to tactically take advantage of a particular event it gives you a temporary return, but it doesn’t really do justice to your business model, nor to your brand in the long haul,” states Raja Rajamannar, Mastercard’s chief advertising and communications officer.

Mastercard has allotted a “decent” chunk of its advertising dollars over current months to a “sizeable number” of latest model ambassadors, including Lyon striker and Champions League winner Ada Hegerberg, and retired Arsenal and England international Alex Scott.

When you work with a staff and also you present you’re placing your solidarity behind certain areas like gender stability I feel social and cultural change will happen.

Raja Rajamannar, Mastercard

With competitors for belongings throughout women’s sport heating up over the previous three years, Rajamannar believes women’s sport has reached a “point of inflection”, shifting from an emerging development to a real sign of society shifting in a unique course. This is where brands come in.

“Marketers have got significant dollars and those dollars can significantly influence the outcomes. So, if you work with a team and you show you are putting your solidarity behind certain areas like gender balance I think social and cultural change will happen,” argues Rajamannar.

Drawing attention to sport’s stark gender pay hole is a method brands can drive change and progress is being made, nevertheless slowly.

FIFA is doubling the prize cash for the Women’s World Cup from $15m (£11.8m) to $30m (£23.7m), marking the first event where the feminine gamers are paid to take part. Nevertheless, to put that into context, the complete prize money the men’s 2018 World Cup in Russia was $400m (£316m), with the champions France receiving $38m (£30m).

Adidas gender parityAdidas’s assertion on pay parity.

On a model level, Adidas has gone some method to redressing the stability by committing that each one its sponsored athletes on the profitable World Cup workforce will obtain the similar efficiency bonus as their male peers.

While this can be a step in the right path, Weston points out that the sportswear big had the alternative to be at the forefront of this push for parity and is consequently a “bit late to the game”.

Parity of esteem

Giving female athletes a platform to boost their profiles and seem on an equal footing with males is a vital position for any brand. Brands ought to perceive how they add value and the way they can benefit the sport, says O2 head of sponsorship, Gareth Griffiths.

“It’s dangerous when [brands] come in and it’s just a bit of a badging exercise, or they come in because something is popular and credible without understanding what their role is,” he states.

O2’s position inside England women’s rugby is all about the fame it can deliver to the sport and the players by enhancing attendance at video games. The telecoms big lobbied the Rugby Football Union (RFU) to make sure that England’s women – often known as the Pink Roses – might play separately to the men in smaller capacity stadiums, which would be fuller and subsequently supply a better fan experience. O2 then promoted the fixtures via its Priority buyer loyalty programme.

Whereas the model runs its joint #WearTheRose promoting campaign when males and women play in the similar event, corresponding to the Six Nations, O2 has developed Purple Roses-only artistic, which will probably be used to help the women’s staff on their four-part summer time collection in America.

O2 womenO2’s Pink Roses model of the #WearTheRose marketing campaign.

O2 has also supported the name for feminine rugby players to be given full-time contracts, crediting the success of the Tyrell’s Premier 15s championship for creating an elite level of club rugby that feeds into the England group and exhibits the subsequent era they can flip pro.

“You see these role models on telly and think ‘I could be a professional rugby player. I could earn a living playing for England’,” Griffiths notes. “That would undoubtedly get more people playing at the grassroots and that’s really important for us from a brand perspective.”

READ MORE: Why brands should rethink their strategy to women’s sports activities sponsorship

Activist spirit

Finally, it is crucial for brands to know that activism is at the heart of women’s sport, following years spent outdoors the media spotlight with out the luxurious of high-profile sponsors on velocity dial.

Reigning Women’s World Cup champions, the USA, are a chief example. In March, the squad filed a lawsuit towards its own governing body alleging years of “institutionalised gender discrimination”.

The workforce is looking for equal pay to its male counterparts, who did not qualify for the 2018 World Cup. The US Soccer Federation’s personal figures show the women brought in more revenue than the males over the previous three years.

Then there’s Ballon d’Or winner, Ada Hegerberg, who will probably be a notable absence from the World Cup following her determination in 2017 to cease playing for the Norwegian national group as a result of points around the means women’s soccer is handled in the nation.

Brands can solely tap into the athlete-driven push for change if they share the similar beliefs, cautions Owen Laverty, director of fan intelligence at sports company Ear to the Floor.

This means brands should have a robust monitor document of advocating for gender equality and pay parity, which is reflected within their own organisation. They usually have to be prepared to “go to war” with the athletes on the points that matter to them. One such trigger could possibly be gender neutralising the naming rights of competitions, Laverty suggests.

“We talk about the 2019 Women’s World Cup and the 2022 World Cup. Why are we automatically giving a second rating to the Women’s World Cup by making it a sub-set of the men’s tournament?” he asks. “Should brands not be looking at issues like that and holding rights holders to account?”

Brands can also be keen to tap into the passion of fan sub-cultures resembling female football fan group This Fan Woman or artistic soccer collective Romance FC. While model interest helps these counter-culture teams achieve recognition, Laverty insists that businesses can’t dabble in that area and assume meaning they’ve finished something nice for women’s football.

“As a business you can’t have massive issues with your gender equality and parity in terms of pay, in terms of senior female leaders in the business, and then think that you can back a small female football collective and that makes you a business that’s all about gender equality,” he explains. “That does not work and it will get called out.”

It is crucial that any model getting concerned in women’s sport understands its position in driving long-term change. It isn’t sufficient to simply plough money into a sport and hope to profit from the halo impact in the pursuit of short-term positive aspects. Brands can be judged by what they do to advocate for female athletes and people who fall brief can be came upon.