Women’s sport is booming – what does it mean for brands?

In the US and the UK, viewership and attendance for of women’s sports such as basketball and football have continued to surge this year.

In America, the April NCAA championship title match between Iowa and South Carolina was the most-watched basketball game since 2019, with a peak audience of 24 million. Viewership went up an astonishing 285% from 2022.

In the UK, the Barclays Women’s Super League attendances for 2023/24 are up by 43%. Arsenal Women’s average attendance of 35,006 this season is the eleventh-highest in the country, ahead of ten Premier League clubs. WSL viewership has followed this positive trend both on TV and social media. November’s WSL match between Chelsea and Liverpool brought a record peak audience of just under 1 million, and on TikTok the WSL saw a 268% increase in views year-on-year to 150 million views.

An untapped opportunity

These are just some of the impressive numbers that showcase the energy and momentum around several women’s sports competitions on both sides of the Atlantic. And it’s worth noting that sports fans are not passive viewers either, they’re highly engaged in the communities, narratives and personalities of the sports.

The increasing popularity of women’s sports is not news to brands, and yet the commercial potential remains largely untapped. From endorsement deals, new products, and partnerships, there are varied opportunities for different brands to invest, and benefit. Brands that are paving the way include Nike, Gucci and IL MAKIAGE, and they are doing so to good effect.

Nike – creating the next cultural moment

US WNBA star Caitlin Clark is reportedly close to signing an eight-year, $28 million endorsement deal with Nike. Nike have gone big, outbidding rivals significantly for the deal, and with good reason. The deal will include her own line of shoes, and given Clark’s popularity following her record-breaking performances in the NCAA, there is huge excitement for the release. An anticipatory article from GQ captures this, stating that Nike have the opportunity to make “an impact culturally not seen since the launch of the first Air Jordan back in 1985”.

Gucci – driving local relevance

In the UK, Arsenal and England player Leah Williamson OBE is one of the most prominent stars of the WSL. While her partnership deals include the usual suspects for sporting icons such as Nike, she is also involved with luxury fashion brands such as Gucci and Aimé Leon Dore. In addition to being an inspirational role model for brands to partner with through her on-field successes and purposeful voice, her national status allows global brands to participate in more local conversations. Recently, she was in attendance at a Gucci’s London fashion show “Gucci Londra” and was involved in a London-focused Aimé Leon Dore campaign.

New categories, new stories

While men’s sports sponsorships tend to skew towards familiar product categories, women’s sports offer potential for different products telling new stories. Cosmetics brand IL MAKIAGE partnered with Arsenal Women in 2022, with an accompanying campaign “Focus on My Game Face”. Research from the Women’s Sport Trust found 31% of those aware of this sponsorship were more likely to consider buying from the brand as a result vs 20% average across women’s sport sponsorship. This shows the benefit for brands from varied categories investing in the game with a purposeful and tailored approach.

Brands are capitalizing on the opportunities available in women’s sports through impactful product launches, by partnering with new stars of the game to inspire and reach local audiences, and by bringing new stories in from fresh product categories. Such opportunities will only continue to grow in line with the attention around the sports themselves.

By: John Barnes

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