How women are undermining the traditional sports PR model

500 per cent is a big number. It was mentioned in a recent interview with Barbara Slater, the head of BBC Sport and relates to football.

Sports PR must change the system or else cling to the lazy clichés of the past, argues Adrian Pettett
Sports PR must change the system or else cling to the lazy clichés of the past, argues Adrian Pettett

UK TV audiences for the sport have grown 500 per cent over the past five years. Slater mentioned a few other numbers, too.

When the England team played in the last Fifa World Cup, over 11 million people tuned in to watch, 48 per cent of whom had not watched the game before.

More people watched the tournament than tuned in to golf’s Open Championship, until recently one of the BBC’s most cherished, and promoted, sports rights.

And it’s not just football.

In a summer with no Olympics or World Cup, Cricket will be one of this year’s big sport stories, when the ICC World Cup is hosted across Britain this summer.

Tickets for England’s first game have already been sold out and the final at Lord’s is heading that way too.

So what? Spoiler alert: Sport is popular. This can hardly be described as news, until we move to the big reveal, which adds a nicely counterintuitive twist to the story.

The missing word from all the numbers mentioned above will now be obvious: women.

They are the supposedly hot new demographic recently unearthed by the sports communications market, whose expected total global income will hit $18 trillion in 2018 and who steer between 70 per cent and 80 per cent of family buying decisions.

And to think, they were there all along.

But this revelation allows the story to revert to type and those who cling to lazy clichés can now throw out other, much smaller numbers.

These dampen down the excitement and are routinely used to explain away structural failings in the sports communications sector.

According to Women in Sport, just 5.4 per cent of the sport sponsorship market goes to women-only events and the proportion of media coverage of women’s sport is a mere 7 per cent.

These statistics are a problem, not least because they have come to define the relationship between women and sport.

Worse still, they lead to dodgy extrapolations, that allow the comms industry to give itself an easy ride and to hide behind bogus received wisdoms such as ‘women don’t like sport’ and nobody wants to watch them playing it.

As ever, the truth is messier and less comfortable to hear.

It’s probably closer to the truth to say that women don’t fit the communications model that has served sport well over the past twenty or more years.

And by sport, I mean football. By football, I mean men’s football. And by men’s football, I mean Premier League men’s football.

Look around and we see women engaging in sport, watching it and celebrating it.

Yet there is a suspicion that they’re doing it despite the traditional sports PR industry not because of it.

Women are the big story in a new breed of rights holders from Crossfit, functional fitness, Park Run and Tough Mudder through to more ‘traditional’ sports such as rugby, cricket, netball, hockey and swimming, all of which get very limited attention from linear television channels and the national sports press.

This is a challenge to the PR industry: change the system, or cling to the clichés of the past.

Adrian Pettett is CEO of HSE Cake

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