Women’s sport rising to prominence

From increasing viewing figures to campaigns for equal pay and record sponsorship deals, women’s sport is in the spotlight now more than ever. And whilst it doesn’t yet receive the same level of attention as men’s sport, a growing demand is opening huge opportunities for brands and the media to support women in sport and capitalise on its success.

The growing profile of women’s sport in the UK will undoubtedly have been influenced by the recent successes of national teams. The cricket team won the 2017 World Cup; the England netball team shocked Australia to win the 2018 Commonwealth gold; England recently dominated the women’s Six Nations; and the women’s football team are amongst the favourites in the upcoming 2019 World Cup.

Growing viewing figures are beginning to create real interest amongst the media and sponsors – however, this huge opportunity remains largely untapped.

Growing demand

As part of a wider study amongst 10,000 UK adults looking at emotional needs, Netfluential has recently conducted research into how the population’s attitudes towards women’s sport are changing. The research reveals that the rising prominence of women’s sport coincides with a strong appetite from UK viewers.

There is widespread recognition that making women’s sporting events more visible would have a positive impact on participation, with 71% of UK adults agreeing that showing more women’s sport on TV would be good “because it will have a positive effect on girls and women taking part in sport”.

Two thirds also think that “it is important that the media shows as many women and girls playing sport as boys and men”. However, only 29% agree that there are currently enough female role models in sport, suggesting that broadcasters still have some way to go to meet the growing expectations amongst sports viewers for greater diversity of athletes.

Younger generations fuelling demand

The Netfluential research introduces our Live Emotional Needs System (LENS) – a framework that defines and understands the evolving emotional needs of different target audiences and how brands need to change to meet those needs.

The LENS research confirms that the need for variety (characterised by excitement, adventure and change) is particularly important to younger generations. Variety has a number of expressions but diversity in our sportsmen and women and the sports covered in the media can surely contribute and help sport to align with the values of younger generations.

In order to elevate women’s sport rights holders must ensure that female athletes are portrayed as bold, exciting and inspiring, and broadcasters need to bring this to audiences in an engaging way.

Some brands that have a desire to connect with younger generations are realising this need for variety. When it comes to promoting diversity in sport, Nike is one of the first names that springs to mind. The release of their ‘Dream crazier’ advert - intentionally coinciding with International Women’s Day - focuses not only on the achievements of sportswomen, but also on the barriers that they must overcome. Another brand to recently step into the women’s sport spotlight is Barclays, announcing a £10 million sponsorship deal with the FA Women’s Super League. The partnership will be the biggest investment in UK women’s sport to date.

Responsibility of broadcasters

Despite the clear demand for more women’s sport, viewing figures generally remain far behind those of men’s sports. Only 43% of UK sports fans have watched a women’s sporting event in the past week – compared to 81% for men’s sport.

So despite responding positively to the idea of more women’s sport being broadcast, why is it being watched much less frequently than men’s?

The greatest barrier to watching women’s sport is that there is not enough quality coverage available. Netfluential’s research revealed that six in ten of those who are interested in sport do not watch women’s sport more often due to a combination of a lack of coverage, poor commentary and lack of advertising for events and fixtures.

Half of UK adults believe that leading broadcasters BBC (52%) and Sky (50%) should be doing more to encourage the participation of women in sport. At 31%, BT is less criticised in this respect.

As the most well-known broadcasters, there may be more pressure on Sky and BBC to take the lead when it comes to representing women’s sport, resulting in a higher proportion of people expecting it to do more. Regardless of whether this is the case, BT has been visibly proactive when it comes to celebrating the broadcasting of women’s sport. 

BT is the only mainstream TV provider to show the FA Women’s Super League on the main channel (albeit only a handful of selected matches), whilst BBC shows matches via the Red Button or online. BT also provides coverage of 21 WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) tournaments each year, and further celebrates the achievements of women in sport at the annual BT Sport Action Woman of the Year awards.

The opportunity

Broadcasters have the opportunity to boost the profile of women’s sport by making it more visible on their channels: showing more women’s sporting events, having more female pundits and commentators and providing the same quality of coverage that men’s sport currently enjoys.

There is also an opportunity for brands to take a leadership role by understanding how the emotional needs of their audiences are changing. Celebrating the variety of women’s sport in communications and treating it on a par with men’s sport will send out a message of diversity and equality that will strike a chord with younger audiences.

The value of investing in women’s sport needs to be recognised. Its popularity has never been greater, and more commercial interest will drive grassroots participation and allow the standard of athletes and competitions to increase. The result will be a more-engaged sports audience and an environment which will help women’s sport to continue to develop further and faster.