Women’s sports represent a missed opportunity for brands, with only 0.4% of sponsorship dollars going to women’s sports and female athletes. Mastercard announcing a landmark partnership with Women in Rugby earlier this month shows that attitudes are starting to change. Is it time for brands to invest in women’s sports?
The Rise of Women’s Sport
Women’s sport is set to generate more than £1bn per year by 2030 and women’s football is the fastest growing sport in many countries. Viewership has been growing for years, with record numbers of people tuning in to watch women’s sport.
In 2017, Broadcaster Sky reported a peak audience of 1.1 million for the Women’s World Cup cricket final, won by England — more than men’s Premier League matches draw on average.
In 2019, FIFA stated that more than 1 billion people watched the FIFA Women’s World Cup, making it the second most watched soccer match in U.S. history.
Despite dramatic growth in viewership, businesses have been slow to support women’s sport. Sports brands like Nike and Adidas have a long history of supporting female athletes, but mainstream brands have traditionally put their sponsorship dollars behind male teams and athletes. Fast forward to 2021, and brands are finally wising up to the value of women’s sports.
Why Should Brands Care About Women’s Sport?
Sponsoring female competitions, teams and athletes offers several unique advantages for brands.
First, women’s sports are seen as more progressive. Sponsoring a women’s team stands out more and can improve brand perception in a way that sponsoring a men’s premier league team can’t.
Second, women’s sports enable brands to tap into new audiences. Sponsoring, say, a women’s cricket team will get your brand in front of new eyeballs that might not be watching the men’s cricket game or other men’s sports.
The other argument is the price point. Sponsoring a men’s premier league football team often costs 7 figures or more, so if you’re not Coca-Cola, you might have a problem. Women’s teams are often more accessible to smaller brands.
Let’s explore why Mastercard, PepsiCo and HelloFresh chose to support women’s sports and how the partnerships are benefiting their brand.
1. Mastercard: Rugby
Mastercard has entered a game-changing five-year partnership with World Rugby, becoming the founding global member of Women in Rugby.
The global payment brand has been a long-time supporter of the sport, sponsoring the Men’s Rugby World Cup since 2008, and the Women’s Rugby World Cup since 2017.
With more than 2.7 million women and girls playing the sport around the world, it’s the perfect time for Mastercard to extend its longstanding commitment to rugby to include the women’s game.
As part of the deal, Mastercard will become the first global partner for the Rugby World Cup 2021, Rugby World Cup 2025, and the all-new WXV kicking off in 2023 - the first 15s women’s tournament in the history of rugby.
Mastercard will be championing World Rugby’s global digital marketing campaign “Team Powered” to inspire more women and girls to participate in and watch the sport.
The brand will be using its Priceless platform and brand ambassadors to share content connected with World Rugby, available on Priceless.com/rugby. The payment brand will also create rugby-specific underpinning the company’s commitment to gender equality and women in science, as part of the ongoing campaign ‘Girls4Tech’.
Mastercard Chief Marketing Officer Raja Rajamannar stated, “We are honored to support a sport as inclusive as women’s rugby that has seen unprecedented growth in recent years. Together with World Rugby, we look forward to creating programs and experiences that get people closer to the game they love.”
2. PepsiCo: Football
Last August, PepsiCo signed a landmark five-year partnership, making its brands Pepsi, Lay’s and Gatorade the main official sponsors of UEFA women’s football.
PepsiCo has been supporting the men’s Champions League for years and the new deal will see the global beverages company support women’s football at all levels. The brand will be the main partner of the UEFA Women’s Champions League and UEFA Women’s EURO, as well as Under-19 and Under-17 tournaments.
We’re incredibly excited to announce our new partnership with @UEFA Women’s Football! ⚽ Our new partnership will support women’s football at all levels through summer 2025, and include engaging brand experiences from @LAYS, @pepsi, @Gatorade and more! pic.twitter.com/KprtyGdrXk— PepsiCo (@PepsiCo) August 26, 2020
PepsiCo will also be supporting UEFA’s ongoing campaign #WePlayStrong, inspiring women and girls to play and watch football. The upbeat video, “Welcome to the squad, PepsiCo! | #WePlayStrong” on UEFA’s YouTube channel promises to be just the start.
Guy-Laurent Epstein, Marketing Director of UEFA Events SA, said, “Over the last five years, PepsiCo has been an innovative and influential partner of the UEFA Champions League and we are looking to draw on this energy and experience in order to take the women’s game to new heights.”
3. Hello Fresh: Basketball
Delivery app HelloFresh has signed a multi-year partnership with women’s basketball teams the Los Angeles Sparks and New York Liberty. It’s the first-ever sports sponsorship in the ten year history of the company.
The partnership will be officially announced this weekend, when a significant game is taking place to commemorate the first-ever women’s national basketball association game played on June 21, 1997 at The Forum in Los Angeles.
While the full details of the partnership haven’t been revealed yet, we do know that HelloFresh will provide both teams with meal kits and provide active support in digital marketing, arena promotions, and special deals and giveaways for fans.
Jens Reich, Managing Director and CMO, HelloFresh US, stated, “As the WNBA celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, we’re excited to fuel the increasing popularity of women's basketball while showcasing the many benefits of at-home cooking with HelloFresh among NY Liberty and LA Sparks fans.”
Women’s sport is one of the biggest opportunities for brands right now. Why? It enables brands to position themselves as modern and progressive, while engaging new audiences.
It speaks volumes that a brand like HelloFresh, that has not previously been involved in sport at all, is now sponsoring two women’s basketball teams.
Partnerships with women’s sports teams and female athletes are highly likely to grow in value. Data from Deloitte showed that as more people than ever are tuning in to watch women’s sports, TV coverage of women’s sports is growing and TV rights for women’s sports are rising in value worldwide.
From rugby to wrestling, women’s sports are skyrocketing in popularity and smart brands are getting in the game now.