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Opinion | Why 2022 can create a legacy of investment for women’s sports

This year will be the biggest ever for women’s sport globally but, as Two Circles strategy lead Clare Vigers explains, the sports industry is only scratching the surface of what's possible.

19 July 2022 Clare Vigers

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It’s a warm summer. England are hosting the Uefa Women’s European Championship. A 12-year-old girl watches women’s football for the first time. It’s a watershed moment.

We’ve been here before.

I was about to turn 12 in 2005. London was about to be awarded the Olympic Games; YouTube was less than six months old; Brad and Jen were still married.

Right now, those memories of 2005 feel both impossibly far away and incredibly close.

My experience of this year’s tournament has been an emotional one, particularly when England are playing.

Maybe that’s the result of seeing players’ dreams come true after years of hard work, or the emotional connection many of us feel during big events.

It might also be relief that the large team effort Two Circlers both around me and across Europe have been putting in is paying off – and knowing we are helping positively influence the likes of a 12-year-old me.

But it also could be a wistfulness for the ‘what might have been’ for women’s football in the UK, combined with hope for the future for women’s sports.

After all, this year will be the biggest ever for women’s sport globally. We’ve got the Uefa Women’s Euros, ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup, Commonwealth Games, World Athletics Championships, world cups in rugby league and union… and that’s on top of growing competitions like The Hundred, the tennis grand slams, and the golf majors, all of which are setting records and contributing to the rise of women’s sports.

The sports industry is stepping up, and at Two Circles we’re proud to have been part of this. This year we project 60 per cent of our total revenue will be generated by client projects that are in some way helping either grow or commercialise women’s sports events, teams or athletes – including our ticketing work with the Uefa Women’s Euros and The Hundred, our sponsorship sales for the Uefa Women’s Football programme, and our strategy work for the British and Irish Lions.

But we haven’t even scratched the surface. Change takes time and effort, and progress can be fragile. Just as 2005 didn’t lead to change overnight, we need to take the positives out of 2022 and use them to generate further growth.

As a company we have championed the data-driven approach for more than a decade, ensuring all key decision-making at rights holders is rooted in a deep understanding of who their fans are, what they want from sport, and how they want it delivered. Today, this approach is the norm for tier one men’s sport.

Successfully-marketed women’s sports properties drive audience growth that in turn creates more investment from commercial partners – revenue that can be reinvested back to create a virtuous circle.

When it comes to using data and insight to create, evolve and market women’s sports properties, we’ve seen it done with aplomb through the likes of The Hundred and the Uefa Women’s Champions League and Women’s Euros. All are the results of long-term visions for the women’s game, and critically have products that have attracted strong broadcast partners, media coverage and brand partners – thanks to an ability to articulate the audiences they hit, and the benefits they can provide partners.

But across the global sports industry, this approach is not uniform. And again and again where we see women’s sports not achieving their potential, it is because decisions being made by rights-owners don’t have a deep, commercial, data-driven thinking as their starting point.

The data gap between men’s and women’s sport is one reason why. According to our research with the Women’s Sports Trust last year, for example, across sports played separately by men and women, the average gap between the percentage of known men’s and women’s ticket purchasers is 23 per cent – a gap that increases to 35 per cent for ticket purchasers for domestic events.

While major events are pushing women’s sports forward, powered by high visibility and excitement, there’s more work to do in women’s sport around the world in building steady, mass interest.

Attendances in England’s Barclays FA Women’s Super League, France’s Arkema D1, and Germany’s Frauen Bundesliga have all remained stubbornly stagnant since the Covid pandemic. The fact that all three leagues have played more games in big ‘men’s’ stadiums in the most recent season than 2019/20 (up 400 per cent,125 per cent, and 28 per cent respectively) show that single, one-off peaks aren’t enough in themselves to spark growth.

In what circumstances do women’s soccer fans (existing and new) want to watch games across a season? This is the type of question that clubs need to be looking at, with data analysis, to ensure decisions are made using insight rather than instinct.

The same goes for the attribution of value to women’s sports. Successfully-marketed women’s sports properties drive audience growth that in turn creates more investment from commercial partners – revenue that can be reinvested back to create a virtuous circle.

For many women’s sports properties, their products are best commercialised bundled (i.e. sold together) with male sports properties – as is the case with iconic events such as the Olympics and tennis grand slams. But in our experience, the amount that is attributed to women’s teams or athletes rarely reflects the value which the market would yield in the women’s rights were sold on a standalone basis – undermining the product and stunting their growth.

Again, this is the result of a lack of investment into understanding the value of women’s sports properties.

The word ‘legacy’ in sport can be a risky one; change in women’s sport will be driven by many actions, big and small, across many people, not just by a few major events.

If there is a legacy to 2022, let’s hope it’s one where our industry invests in the strategies and technologies that will enable all those new fans (12 years old or otherwise) to love women’s sport, and allow sports to understand, build relationships with, and move those fans to future action. That way we will truly start to see the value of women’s sport being realised globally.

This feature forms part of SportsPro’s Women’s Sport Week, a week of coverage dedicated to the industry’s next great growth opportunity and co-hosted with Two Circles. Click here to access more exclusive content and sign up to the SportsPro Daily newsletter here to receive daily insights direct to your inbox.

To find out more about SportsPro’s future themed weeks, click here

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