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Sponsorship and marketing 24/06: Why marketers are missing out by not investing in women’s sport

SportsPro deputy editor Sam Carp's fortnightly newsletter bringing you up to speed with all things sports sponsorship and marketing.

24 June 2021 Sam Carp

The data that says now is the time to invest in women’s sport

Women’s sport has long been identified as one of the next big sponsorship opportunities for brands, but it has sometimes been difficult to articulate precisely why that is, beyond simply pointing to its growing popularity or saying that it is the right thing to do. Now, though, there is some new data that should be able to help marketers justify their investment.

I’ve spent some time this week working my way through ‘The Fan Project’, a new 20-page report released by Boston-based tech research firm Sports Innovation Lab (SIL), which over four years says it has drawn on more than ten million data points from anonymously submitted social media profiles, along with ten billion fan TV viewership data points, to help brands identify entry points into women’s sport.

The study, which was carried out in collaboration with the likes of the WNBA, WWE and NWSL, identifies a new community-based monetisation model that will capitalise on the behaviours of what the report describes as ‘fluid fans’, who are primarily consuming sports through digital and tech. The report highlights that fans of women’s sports are the most fluid fans of all, because they have historically been forced to turn to digital platforms to have any kind of meaningful engagement with their favourite teams or athletes, in the absence of them being available on mainstream media.

Interestingly, the report anticipates that the proposed community-based monetisation model, which is focused on storytelling, accessibility and quality – rather than quantity – of engagement, would result in sponsorship and licensing accounting for a greater slice of the overall revenue pie than media rights and ticketing.  

In terms of some of the key lessons for brands trying to understand the opportunity, there are some key takeaways identified within the report, four of which in particular I think are worth sharing:

  • Brands who have invested in real ways are already being rewarded with high levels of loyalty and brand affinity
  • Fans of women’s sports reward sponsors with immediate engagement and spend
  • Partners must tap into social justice and purpose-led conversations because fans of women’s sport buy based on how brands align with their values
  • Data relating to the quality of viewership is arguably more important, but most sponsors still buy off overall viewership numbers

The study also calls on potential sponsors to learn from some of the big brands that have been first movers in women’s sport. For example, it highlights that Visa saw a 2,700 per cent year-on-year increase in consumers exhibiting one or more of the core behaviours related to fans of women’s sport following the company’s announcement of equal sponsorship of the US men’s and women’s national teams in 2019.

Meanwhile, another case study highlights that WNBA fans were 3.4 times more loyal to Nike than sports fans in general following the apparel manufacturer’s sponsorship of the basketball league. Similarly, both Budweiser and Procter & Gamble brand Secret saw NWSL fans become two times more loyal to their products after they teamed up with the women’s soccer competition.

Commenting on the findings in an interview with CNBC, Angela Ruggiero, who is chief executive and co-founder of SIL, said: “If we can put data behind the business opportunity of women’s sports – there’s money being left on the table. That was the impetus for this. Our company has always been about inclusivity and making sure sports thrives for all, so we are applying our methodology and data to the women’s sector.”

For those still umming and ahing about the merits of women’s sports sponsorship, then it might just be worth a read

Making up the numbers

Last week saw Valencia announce a slightly different type of sponsorship deal with the Socios.com platform, which will see the La Liga side become the first club in the world to promote their own fan token on their playing tops.

The $VCF token will take the place of betting brand Bwin on Valencia’s shirts, making fans aware of an initiative that gives them a greater say in day-to-day club decisions, including in-stadium designs, celebration anthems and club mottos, as well as the opportunity to win VIP rewards.

It has been reported in Spain that the contract does not match the annual €5 million that Bwin paid under the previous deal, but that might not be an issue. Before you ask, allow me to explain why.

Socios.com claims that, in 2021 alone, its fan tokens have brought in more than US$150 million in revenue for its growing portfolio of 38 partners, which also includes the likes of Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City, AS Roma, the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils.

Indeed, fan token offerings have become a popular way for clubs to not only boost fan engagement, but also to raise cash quickly, especially in the past 14 months or so when finances have been stretched. In June last year, for example, cash-strapped Barcelona generated some €1.2 million in less than two hours from the sale of 600,000 tokens priced at €2 each.

With those numbers in mind, coupled with the exposure that will come from their fan token being displayed on the front of their shirt, Valencia will be confident that they can make up the numbers to match, or perhaps even surpass, the €5 million they were getting from Bwin.

Missing the point

Uefa has had what can only be described as a PR nightmare this week following its decision to turn down a request from Munich city council to illuminate the Allianz Arena in rainbow colours in support of LGBTQ+ rights for Germany’s game against Hungary on Wednesday evening.

After being widely criticised for the decision, European soccer’s governing body released a confused statement, essentially saying that it respects the rainbow in certain situations but not in others. Unsurprisingly, Uefa’s explanation included buzzwords such as ‘values’, ‘diverse’ and ‘inclusive’, which as much as anything was likely a show for its partners, not all of whom have been impressed by the organisation’s decision.

I thought this response, from Euro 2020 sponsor Heineken, was particularly telling

Insight of the week

The infographic below shows just how much of an impact Blackburn Rovers striker Ben Brereton has had on the Championship side’s South American social media following in the wake of his call-up to the Chilean national team for the Copa America. The club now has 51,000 followers in Chile, where Blackburn’s social media following has grown 800 per cent since the start of the national team tournament.

Top dealers

If you haven’t heard of FTX yet, then you’ll no doubt see its name knocking around soon enough. Yesterday the company became the first cryptocurrency exchange to sponsor a professional sports league by striking a reported five-year partnership with Major League Baseball (MLB). It continues a flurry of activity this year, which has also seen the firm pay US$210 million to secure the naming rights to esports organisation Team SoloMid, as well as a further US$135 million to put its name to the home of the NBA’s Miami Heat.

Five deals you might have missed

Three things I’ve been reading

  1. A sensible response to ‘Bottlegate’ from Sportico’s Brendan Coffey, on why Cristiano Ronaldo moving Coca-Cola products during a Euro 2020 press conference isn’t the reason the company’s market value dropped by US$4 billion.

  2. Giles Morgan has ruffled a few feathers with his latest SportsPro column, which outlines why the sports industry should be concerned that cancel culture is coming for sponsorship.

  3. ‘They are more willing to withdraw endorsements from misbehaving individuals (think Lance Armstrong or Tiger Woods) than to desert tainted hosts and organisers’ – that’s from this piece in The Economist, which suggests that being a sponsor of the Olympics is becoming a drag.

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