Brands are failing women's sport

The success of the England team at the recent FIFA Women's World Cup has only further increased my ire because it highlights the great brand hypocrisy of our time: why aren't brands investing in women's sport?

Karlie was already throwing ‘like a girl’, no thanks to Always, argues Jonathan McCallum
Karlie was already throwing ‘like a girl’, no thanks to Always, argues Jonathan McCallum
When the issue of funding for women’s sport pops up the sentiment is that of the famous sports idiom from Field of Dreams: "If you build it, they will come."

Meaning, if women’s sport was more popular more brands would invest in it. And there’s the rub; you can’t get the brand sponsorship unless you have the scale, but you can’t get the scale without the sponsorship investment.

So what’s the hypocrisy I mentioned at the start? 

Let’s take the UK cosmetics market as a benchmark. According to current research the retail sales value was £8.44bn through 2013. 

Here is an industry that is targeting women, communicating their brands to appeal to female needs, generating £8.5bn of revenue in return and yet women’s sport still can’t get sufficient funding. 

If the ROI measurement for investment by brands in women’s sport continues to be eyeballs, broadcast reach and attendance, then the situation will never change. 

For women’s sport to flourish it needs a massive and continual cash injection from grassroots to elite level. 

The lauded campaign by Always, Like A Girl, which focused on overcoming gender and emotional stereotypes, lacks true authenticity. 

It used a P&G advertising slot at the Super Bowl to promote the campaign and tell the story of Karlie Harman, the 15-year-old quarterback and the only girl in her hometown team. Nice story, but Karlie was already throwing ‘like a girl’, no thanks to Always. 

In my view, it should have invested all the money in helping another 1,000 or 10,000 Karlies be ‘like a girl’, by supporting grassroots sport. That would have been a much more compelling and authentic platform for the same message.

Back to the success of the England Women’s World Cup team. I fear this will just be another lost opportunity. 

For sure they will ride a crest of popularity and endorsement for the next few months, but unless a brand has a long-term view, the value will be short-lived.

Unfortunately, the biggest noise around the team’s return so far was the well intentioned, albeit badly crafted, tweet by the FA. 

The furore has just taken away from the most important issue, the lack of funding. 

The fact is we have an England football team, third in a World Cup, that has team members who have to maintain second incomes away from the sport in order to financially survive. 

I would ask all those people it upset to re-engineer their indignation. How about not just tweeting but actually turning up and paying to watch this incredible team play?

I’m sure some of you are thinking it is not a brand’s responsibility to invest and help grow women’s sport but I absolutely believe it is. When industries generate so much revenue out of women, surely they should invest back into platforms about which their customers are passionate? In my view it is akin to the stigma of tax avoidance.

So if you are a brand owner, or an agency, deciding how to plan a communication budget, exploit the value in women’s sport and support the people who generated your budget in the first place. 
As one famous sporting brand says: ‘Just Do It.'

Jonathan McCallum is head of sport at Ogilvy Public Relations

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