Will the Olympics boost the status of women in sport?

Women's sport sponsorship deals accounted for just 5.4% of the total number of deals recorded between September 2011 and December 2013, writes Laura Weston, the managing director at Iris Culture.

The power of the Olympics is undeniable. In 1988 I was 11 and obsessed with what was going on in Seoul, diligently filling out my wall chart as the medals rolled in.

Three years later I was travelling an hour across Merseyside twice a week to get to sprint training, desperate to be the next "Flo Jo". 

I am an example of the power of role models and the need for children to be inspired. Sadly for young girls these moments are fleeting as women's sport (outside of the Olympics) is rarely seen or celebrated. 

There has been a lot of noise around feminism at this Olympics, which is good and important. This was also true for the London games with some dubbing it the "women’s games" as more women took part than ever before.

However, despite this nothing really changed. Between September 2011 and December 2013, women’s sport sponsorship deals accounted for just 5.4% of the total number of deals recorded.

When I worked with The FA on the launch of The Women’s Super League the main reason we were given by sponsors and media for not supporting us was "there isn’t an audience for it".

Between September 2011 and December 2013, women’s sport sponsorship deals accounted for just 5.4% of the total number of deals recorded.

But this is a self-fulfilling prophecy, until both media owners and brands actually make the leap and invest we can’t prove what a large and passionate audience there is for women’s sport.

The FA consequently did a fantastic job working with the BBC to secure the rights to show the Women’s World Cup and 2.4 million tuned in, late at night, to watch England’s semi-final against Japan.

It is no coincidence then that The FA also recorded the most valuable sponsorship deal recorded in the World Sponsorship Monitor in 2013 with Continental providing £450k to support The FA WSL. A drop in the ocean compared to what men’s sport receives but a good start. The lesson is clear - if we are to progress we need more proof.

Some areas have slowly improved. Both the BBC and Sky have made efforts to showcase and report on more women’s sport.

Shows such as Sportswomen on Sky provide, at the very least, female athletes with a platform to talk about their career and inspire girls. It is the brands really that have been too slow to the party. This is actually bizarre because all it would take is a little vision and some good creative and your brand could be a hero (heroine).

Just by getting it right my feelings are that brands would receive an almost disproportionate amount of credit as there is such a lack of good examples out there.

I have sat in meetings with brands who could have a really meaningful relationship with women’s sport from women’s deodorants, sports brands or lifestyle brands, but they just don’t get it. They prefer to stay close to areas such as fashion and beauty, producing vanilla campaigns that all look the same. 

As someone who has been lucky enough to spend time with many elite sportswomen the stories that can be unearthed and brought to life through marketing are numerous. Frankly some of the things these women do just to enable them to keep up their sports careers are almost super human. 

So my hope is that this is the Olympics that does change things. That brand and marketing directors start to see the power of these women and how tapping into this community would provide a credible and exciting opportunity. Now is the time.

Laura Weston is the managing director at Iris.

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