Women’s sport might be back in the game, but brands still need to bat for change.
Back in 2019 women’s sport was on a roll: the Women’s World Cup broke viewing figures with England’s semi final vs. USA being the UK’s 3rd most watched TV programme of that entire year, women’s football had new sponsorship deals and visibility by the shedload. Netball also broke new ground with the entire World Cup tournament broadcast on Sky & BBC for the first time. We held our first Active Listening event with UN Women exploring the bright future of women’s sport and the possibilities of football as a catalyst for social change. Real momentum was finally beginning to take hold on and off the pitch across the board.
Well, we all know what happened in 2020.
With women’s sport paused along with everything else and men’s sports prioritised as the world began to open up again in the months that followed, it was a blow for the women’s sporting communities that had taken years to finally begin to get their flowers, not to mention a stark reminder of the status quo.
Now we are in 2022, it feels like we are once again cooking with gas. Sky reported that in fact appetite had grown for women’s sport during the pandemic, with 21% of UK adults increasing their following of it. These growing audiences certainly won’t be disappointed with this year’s bumper line-up: we are currently working with England women’s rugby team the Red Roses as they blaze a trail on their Women’s 6 Nations campaign, broadcast on the BBC in its entirety for the first time and whetting appetites for the Rugby World Cup which follows later in the year. UEFA Women’s Euros kick off in June with England group games and the Wembley final already sold out, and with such a successful & ground-breaking Olympics last year, summer will not disappoint with the World Athletic Championships and Commonwealth Games consecutively in July and August.
While the return of momentum is encouraging to see, many of the underlying challenges and barriers for women and girls in sport -from unequal pay to lack of basic research data- persist, and the role that brands, organisations and media outlets can play in continuing to push for change remains huge.
No-one knows this better than Manchester United, who invited us to along to their Change the Game launch event last week ahead of a landmark women’s team clash at Old Trafford on Sunday. While they are by no means the first major team to make inroads in the women’s game, now they are at the table they’ve set out a bold vision to use their considerable platform as one of the world’s biggest sport brands to make lasting impact. Not just in football, but across other sports, bringing neighbours Lancashire women’s cricket team into their plans too. This level of bigger picture thinking from one of the world’s biggest teams could have transformative effects raising the profile, not just of women’s football but the whole sporting landscape.
The kinds of visibility and funding at professional level that brands like Sky, BBC and Man Utd can provide answers just part of the challenge though. Making sure girls not only take up sports but are encouraged and supported to continue is crucial. A recent survey by Women In Sport revealed that more than 1 million girls in the UK lose interest in sport as teenagers with lack of confidence cited as a key reason for drop out. It’s essential we pour football levels of energy into platforming a range of sports, especially ones loaded with misconceptions. Our brief from England Rugby was just this, to help address some of the limiting stereotypes associated with the sport and ultimately encourage more girls into playing. The players we’re working with have spoken openly to us about the individual challenges they’ve faced and stereotyping they’ve fought against to forge their path, hear Shaunagh, Ellie & Sadia discuss their journeys with Rinse FM here. Having more of these open conversations not just in mainstream media but independent outlets that reach Gen Z audiences, like Rinse, is key in making sure girls from a range of backgrounds and experiences are learning about sport from the women playing it, and in this case hearing direct that regardless of upbringing, body type or ability- rugby, like football, is a game for all.
But these are just handful of examples of how brands can and should be amplifying women’s sports and creating more equal playing fields for all. Want to know more? We are specialists in strategy developed from bespoke insight, cultural partnerships and creative platforms and PR with real social impact, if you’re a brand looking to excel in this space drop us a line to find out what you could and should be doing to make your actions speak louder firstname.lastname@example.org.