“Not bad for a girl…” Possibly the phrase that female professional athletes dread most and an accurate indication of all that is wrong when it comes to the sponsorship landscape within women’s sports. Women’s sport has been perceived as inferior based on a biased measurement against how fast they run, how high they jump, or how far they hit when compared to their male counterparts. 

Should we not, however, be measuring the skills that female athletes have had to perfect in order to overcome this lack of perceived power? What about dedication, hard work, and sheer determination to succeed against the odds? Surely these are far more comparable and relatable, metrics on the path to elite success that should be acknowledged, celebrated, and rewarded? 

Inspiring Against All Odds

The power of women’s sports is undeniable. A 2018 Nielsen report titled “The Rise of Women’s Sport” revealed that women’s sports are perceived as more progressive, less money-driven, and more family oriented than men’s sports. Additionally, women are also more inspired by women’s sports than they are by men’s sports. This alone creates a massive opportunity for brands to reach a large, predominantly untapped market.

Megan Rapinoe, Breanna Stewart, Serena Williams, and our very own Caster Semenya are some of the most inspirational athletes of our time. They are not only inspirational in terms of their achievements in their respective sporting codes, but away from competition, they are equally passionate activists for creating awareness of pressing societal issues.

Fans of women’s sports are known for their loyalty and commitment to their teams. Nike experienced this firsthand in 2019 when the USWNT’s home kit claimed the record for Nike’s most-sold soccer jersey for a single season. 

It is no secret that female athletes earn a fraction of what their male counterparts do in both pay and press coverage. Female professional cycling is a stark reminder of this –  according to recent statistics, only the top 25% of female professional riders earn salaries that meet the minimum wage criteria stipulated for male professional teams by governing body UCI.

Professional golf follows a similar trend. Prize money for the leading earners on the LPGA Tour is a 10th of what their male counterparts earn on the PGA Tour and this disparity in earnings only gets bigger when endorsement earnings form part of the equation.

Current Women’s Sport Sponsorship Landscape

While sponsorship of women’s sports has increased, and we applaud those who have invested in women’s sports, we can’t help but question how authentic these sponsorships really are. Are brands and big corporations sponsoring women’s sports to tick the right boxes as a result of societal pressure, or do they really believe in the power of associating with women’s sports?

The Covid – 19 pandemic caused havoc within the sporting industry in general in 2020 and the effects will be felt for many years to come. Women’s sports definitely drew the short end of the coronavirus stick, with a host of different sporting codes canceling their 2020 seasons. Sponsorship in women’s sports is very limited as is and with the reality of severe budget cuts, brands are likely to have even less money to spend on sponsorships in 2021 and beyond. 

However, it isn’t all doom and gloom. In the long run, a shift in where and how budgets are allocated as a result of the coronavirus pandemic might just be the wake-up call that the industry desperately needs to adjust its approach when it comes to women’s sports sponsorship.

Brands are under pressure to find creative alternatives with unlimited marketing budgets being a thing of the past. Add to that a drastic change in consumer behaviour in the last 6 to 12 months as demand for authenticity and accountability comes to the fore, and suddenly brands need to find ways to connect to their audiences in a meaningful way at a fraction of their previous budgets. With women’s sport sponsorship rights tending to cost a fraction of the men’s equivalents, brands have the option to step out of their comfort zones and own the stage by investing in women’s sports for commercial benefit.

What’s next for women’s sport?

Visa’s 7 year deal with various UEFA Women’s Football properties and Budweiser’s award winning partnership with the NWSL, creates hope and optimism for the women’s sport sponsorship landscape. Authentic, long-term investments from big brands have the power to revolutionise the future of women’s sport. These types of sponsorships will lead to more media coverage, more role models for fans to look up to, higher earning for female athletes and ultimately additional sponsorship revenue for teams, leagues and rights holders. 

Apart from taking a large, progressive step in the right direction towards creating a gender-equal sporting future, sponsoring women’s sport makes good business sense for relevant brands. In addition to positive sentiment through association, it also presents exciting commercial opportunities for brands – particularly those with smaller budgets. Coupled with a global rise in women’s income levels and propensity to spend, sponsoring women’s sport provides brands with a perfect opportunity to earn their share of heart and wallet.

The world’s best female professional athletes give it their all on a daily basis to compete with and beat the best. Isn’t it time for the sponsorship industry to hold itself to these same standards?

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