Sponsorship In Women’s Sport


Last week I sat on a panel at The House Of Lord’s for an All Party Parliamentary Group set up to discuss the current state of women’s sport in the UK. The discussion was co-chaired by Barbara Keeley MP and Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, and the panel included representatives from the Women’s Sports & Fitness Foundation, the Football Association, British Cycling, England Netball and Sky Sports. For my part, I was there to represent 438 as the person responsible for sourcing, negotiating and running ZEO’s sponsorship of England Netball.

The hub of the discussion was the Say Yes To Success report, recently published by WSFF, which paints a fairly drab picture of sponsorship in women’s sports. Headlines being that a paltry 0.4% of sponsorship revenues in UK sport currently go to women’s sport. And that the Olympic legacy for women’s sport in the UK seems to have been short-lived as sponsor revenues dropped from £5.4m in 2012 to just £1.7m in 2013.

But it’s not all doom and gloom – despite the numbers not being quite where we want them to be, I believe the trends for women’s sport are positive. Women in sport are getting more exposure on TV than ever before as Sky Sports and BT Sport go head to head in a fight for ratings, and it seems there is an appetite for it from the viewing public. Also, the WSFF report highlighted some very encouraging case studies for sponsorship, which can surely provide a blueprint for other sports and brands going forward.

There were many interesting points raised during the discussion. A couple that stood out for me were:

Women’s sport needs to be more innovative, and market itself differently to mens – I’d agree that women’s sport needs to be more innovative generally, but we should avoid the Mars v Venus thing here. I think any sport, regardless of whether it is targeting men or women needs to be innovative and distinguish itself if it’s going to compete for commercial partners and/or the consumer’s time and money.

Why not pool a number of women’s sports together to avoid greater reach – nice idea, but an administrative nightmare when it comes to sharing workloads, resources and costs, and even more so when it comes to sharing out the revenues.

Other points worthy of note were that we should be working hard to create female icons in sport, and that women’s sport needs to establish a calendar that fans and commercial partners can become familiar with, and so on. All good stuff, and yes stuff we already know but I think it helps to remind ourselves and check that we’re on course.

But the biggest thing that came out of the discussion in my mind is that there are many great opportunities in women’s sports that brands can align themselves with right now. Rights holders from the world of hockey, cricket, cycling, football and many more spoke with passion about what their sports can offer given the chance.

I’ll say it again, it really doesn’t matter to me whether it’s a women’s sport or not. In order for any rights holder to get that fighting chance of securing the much sought after sponsor’s revenue, they need to demonstrate an understanding of their audience, and that they can reach that audience effectively through any number of well organised, structured assets (communications, events, venues etc).

From there, it’s about finding the right partner. Not a partner who wants to come in and buy the commercial benefits that the sport can deliver today, but a partner that identifies a number of aligned goals with the rights holder, which together they can strive to achieve. That is the single most important factor that has made ZEO’s sponsorship of England Netball the success it has become to date, and it’s a common factor that links each success story highlighted in the WSFF report.

Of course, finding the right partner is a lot easier said than done, but they are out there. And with all that women’s sport has to offer, why wouldn’t they be?

Contact Ian: ian.sykes@438marketing.com
Twitter: iansykesaoc

To see WSFF’s Say Yes To Success paper: http://www.wsff.org.uk/resources/elite-sport/say-yes-to-success

To read about ZEO’s sponsorship of England Netball: