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The state of play for women in Sport

Anneliese Raftis, Strategy Manager, MKTG

4 May 2023

In recent years, women's sports have made significant strides towards equality, but there is still a long way to go.

In recent years, women's sports have made significant strides towards equality, but there is still a long way to go. From equal pay to media coverage and opportunities, the state of women's sports is constantly evolving, but where are we with women’s sport, and what does this mean for brands? 


Momentum and interest continue to grow but are we at a crossroads as costs rise and sponsor clutter increases? 

Interest is continuing to grow rapidly with 33% of Aussie fans and 31% of global fans showing more interest in women's sports compared to three years ago. Overall, 60% of Australian sports fans are now interested in women’s sport. 

We’re also seeing women’s sports sponsorships grow in value – in fact MKTG’s intelligence shows that some entry level women’s sports partnerships have almost doubled in price in the last 3 years. 

But as more sponsors get involved, we’re seeing that fans are becoming increasingly sceptical of a brand’s intentions. Over half of fans (57%) believe that brands sponsoring women's sports are simply ticking the box on their equality strategy. 

Whilst FanSpeed also tells us that sports fans are still highly receptive to women’s sport (59%), it is becoming harder to be seen as authentic. This makes it essential to understand the evolving landscape and move beyond ‘sponsoring the women’s team because it’s the right thing to do’ to a bespoke strategy that demonstrates the brand’s understanding of the role they can play in addressing the evolving landscape. So, let’s delve deeper into the challenges women’s sport is facing today…


The primary challenge for women’s sport remains visibility 

We released our MKTG Women’s Sport Parity Index last week and saw that despite having one of the highest levels of interest, Australia is furthest behind its global counterparts when it comes to fan perceptions. When looking at fan views of women’s sport across availability on TV, media coverage, quality, excitement and competitiveness, on average only 29% of fans view women’s sport on a par with men’s sport. 

When looking at availability on TV and media coverage, this drops to 18% and 16%, respectively. 

Inevitably, we’re also seeing types of women’s sports maturing at different rates and contending with more nuanced challenges as a result. International teams often have high-profile ambassadors and flagship moments but unclear schedules and limited time on home soil, while domestic leagues are still battling against their male counterparts for share of viewing. 

Commonwealth Bank’s recent Mini Mates mascot program is a great example of leaning into the strength of a property – the Matildas as ambassadors – whilst also using the visibility of the FIFA Women’s World Cup to inspire the next generation.



Women’s sport can play a pivotal role in the battle for trust with consumers

The Edelman Trust Barometer positions 'distrust' as society's default emotion and outlines the growing role for business and brands to take a leadership position. Our data indicates that female athletes are perceived as significantly more honest (+11%) and trustworthy (+8%) than their male counterparts, making them valuable assets for brands in the current climate of intense competition for trust. 

However, men’s ambassadors perform higher on attributes of respect and performance and they still have bigger profiles on average – 9 out of top 10 social following of Australian athletes are male according to eDigital social following metrics.

And we’re seeing male fan perceptions driving parity down in our index – only 29% of men view women’s & men’s sport as the same quality vs. 38% of women. As a result, male allies are likely to become a powerful way to speak to a more traditional audience in a way they understand. We’ve started to see this in Australia with the likes of Cody Simpson and L’Oréal partnering to support street safety for women. We’ve also seen England football legend Ian Wright use his platform to advocate for the women’s game in the UK. Wright worked closely with the Euro 2022 tournament, with plans to further amplify his involvement in the WWC 2023.

As female athletes’ profiles continue to rise, growing reach and trust will be a powerful combination for brands, particularly ones battling diminishing trust and consumer scepticism.



The upside of partnering with women’s sport is still evident, the momentum in women’s sports remains, and it is yet to reach maturity. Female athletes are seen by fans as more honest and trustworthy, providing a platform for brands who seek to build upon these brand metrics through association.

With growth across all key metrics, increasing competition for leading female codes, clubs and athletes will drive up value and demand, leading to growing costs. With this the challenge will be for rights holders to ensure rising costs remain in line with their value as measured by more traditional metrics (i.e. exposure).

Brands who have a strategic commitment to support the growth of women's sport will need to budget for growth in line with audience reach and the positive brand uplift that can still be achieved with fans. MKTG's FanSpeed data points to the opportunity for brands wanting to play an authentic role in driving positive outcomes for female athletes and the sports they love.

It is an exciting time for women's sport. As an industry we need to work together to ensure the growth continues with an authentic and sustained commitment to the cause. Much like sport itself, competition will separate those who commit and do it well, from those who are yet to fully embrace the opportunity.

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