Sports sponsorship opportunities without the clutter or the scandals

Sports sponsorship opportunities without the clutter or the scandals

Always' "#LikeAGirl" has just won the most Pencils at the D&AD Awards. The ad, which is designed to address the drop in body confidence in teenage girls, received its well-deserved accolade in the same week as a particular letter hit social media.

The letter, which is anonymous and on pink paper (nice touch), responds to an article by the Telegraph journalist Emma Barnett on "shining a light on how baffling it is that, in 2015, women’s sport, regardless of category, routinely fails to gain coverage and sponsorship".

The letter begins: "No-one wants to watch women’s sport, love, it’s a joke." And then it gets worse. Of course, it is difficult to fully interpret the intention of the author. He may think he is being funny. His note certainly is getting plenty of attention on Twitter, which may gratify him.

Barnett’s article, the letter and "#LikeAGirl" all touch on a big issue about the commercial and media neglect of women’s sport: the topic at Leaders conference on 21 May.

Women like sport (they accounted for 40 per cent of the TV audience for the last World Cup). Women are great sports stars. When it comes to events such as the Olympics and Wimbledon, the excitement of watching female participants absolutely equals that of men.

The media, however, is not interested in women’s sport. Coverage of women’s sport constitues about 7 per cent and this drops to 2 per cent for newspapers.

The sponsorship market for women’s sport is wide open. UK sports sponsorship is valued at an estimated £2 billion annually. The total value of women’s sports deals spiked at London 2012 at about £5 million and has dropped since then.

But women like sport and are great sports stars. Is this a "blue ocean" (uncontested market space) opportunity for a brand? Or are traditional attitudes to women’s sport, so eloquently explained in the pink letter, too much of a deterrent?

Discussing this over coffee at the conference, a fellow speaker mentioned that she used to be a strong rugby player at school and university. As soon as she started work, however, she had to give it up because it wasn’t acceptable to come into the office with bruises and scratches from playing at the weekend. You might think a man couldn’t come to the office covered in bruises from rugby either; but – be honest – it would be a lot more acceptable in comparison.

It starts at school. MediaCom’s school children survey, Connected Kids, asks boys and girls who their role models are. The latest results: boys say David Beckham, girls say… Zoella. It carries on through life. Female sports stars aren’t aspired to in the same way men are. And yet their stories are as epic, their struggles as inspiring, their triumphs as emotional.

There’s untapped territory here for a media channel to support, and for a brand to own, an arena with every emotion and no clutter. It’s not as straightforward as sponsoring football, but the opportunities for the right brand to get involved are huge and the possibility for the media to change schoolchildren’s preconceptions is magnificent.

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom

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