KickGlass Marketing Playbook For Brands Investing In Women’s Sports

Gillian Oakenfull
14 Min Read

The Rise of Women’s Sports: A New Era of Opportunity

Billie Jean King’s bold proclamation, “The future of sports is female,” has become a reality. Women’s sports are experiencing unprecedented growth, with record-breaking attendance, surging revenues, and a wave of new opportunities for female athletes worldwide.

The numbers speak for themselves: women’s elite sports are projected to generate $1 billion in revenue by 2024, a staggering 300% increase from 2021. This growth is driven by commercial (55%), broadcast (27%), and matchday (18%) revenues, with North America (52%) and Europe (14%) leading the charge. Football/soccer (43%) and basketball (28%) have emerged as the most valuable sports, but the impact is felt across the board.

New leagues like the USL Super League in soccer and Women’s Professional Fastpitch in softball are emerging, while established leagues like the Pro Volleyball Federation and groundbreaking ventures like Women’s Elite Rugby are creating unparalleled opportunities for female athletes.

The message is clear: women’s sports are taking center stage, captivating audiences, and redefining the sports landscape. However, as brands seek to tap into this burgeoning market, traditional marketing approaches may not be enough to fully capitalize on the unique opportunities and challenges presented by women’s sports.

For brands looking to make a lasting impact and forge genuine connections with the passionate and diverse women’s sports audience, a new approach to marketing is needed – one that prioritizes authenticity, empathy, and a deep understanding of the complexities and challenges faced by female athletes and fans alike.

Beyond the Numbers: A Look at the Spark

But what’s fueling this firestorm of growth? It’s more than just numbers. Rising stars like WNBA’s Caitlin Clark and the NWSL’s Sophia Smith are captivating audiences with their talent and inspiring stories, igniting the next generation’s passion for the game. Landmark events like the record-breaking 2023 Women’s World Cup and the launch of the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) in January 2024 are showcasing the world-class talent and compelling narratives that define women’s sports. Finally, athletes and leagues are leveraging the power of social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram to connect with fans on a deeper level, fostering a vibrant online community that fuels engagement.

The Future of Women’s Sports Viewership

The landscape of women’s sports viewership is also undergoing a significant transformation, with the emergence of dedicated platforms and spaces catering exclusively to female athletes and their fans. The Women’s Sports Network, the first-ever 24/7 streaming network solely focused on women’s sports, offers a groundbreaking platform for original programming, live game action, and in-depth athlete profiles. Meanwhile, the rise of sports bars like A Bar of Their Own in the Twin Cities, Rough & Tumble in Seattle, and The Sports Bra in Portland, Oregon, is reshaping the traditional sports bar experience by creating inclusive, all-ages spaces where fans can gather to celebrate and support women athletes.

These establishments are part of a growing movement to amplify women’s sports and create welcoming environments for fans. The Sports Bra, in particular, has garnered significant attention, with plans to franchise its business model across the United States, thanks to funding from Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian. As the global sports bra market continues to grow, with projections ranging from $38 billion to over $100 billion by 2030, it is clear that the demand for dedicated spaces and platforms for women’s sports is on the rise, reflecting the increasing popularity and influence of female athletes and their supporters.

An Investment for Brand Growth and Good

As women’s sports and the surrounding ecosystem continue to gain momentum, the future looks brighter than ever. With increased investment, media coverage, and fan engagement, women’s sports are poised to become a major force in the global sports industry. Leading companies like Google, Nike, and Coca-Cola are recognizing the immense potential of this marketplace, with its high purchasing power and focus on social responsibility. Major networks like ESPN, CBS and Amazon are jumping on board too, striking lucrative broadcast deals with leagues like the NWSL and WNBA, further amplifying the reach and revenue of women’s sports.

Investing in women’s professional sports is no longer a matter of social responsibility; it is a strategic move that can unlock vast potential for brand growth and differentiation in an increasingly competitive and socially conscious market.

Brands that recognize this untapped potential can align themselves with a passionate fanbase, leverage relatable star athletes, and drive interest while making a measurable impact on revenue and sentiment. For brands, the growth of women’s sports presents a unique opportunity to reach a wide, diverse, and highly engaged audience.

Traditional Marketing Falls Short

In the rapidly evolving landscape of women’s sports, traditional marketing strategies are proving ineffective. Conventional approaches, often dominated by a male-centric perspective and outdated gender stereotypes, fail to resonate with the diverse experiences and values of the women’s sports audience. As a result, these strategies come across as inauthentic and disconnected from the realities faced by female athletes and fans.

Moreover, traditional marketing prioritizes short-term gains over long-term impact, missing the opportunity to build meaningful connections with the passionate women’s sports community. To truly connect with this audience, brands must move beyond surface-level engagement and demonstrate a genuine commitment to understanding and addressing the unique challenges faced by women in sports.

Understanding the Challenges: A Prerequisite for Authentic Marketing

These challenges, rooted in systemic gender inequalities and biases, have historically hindered the growth and visibility of women’s sports. By educating themselves on these issues, brands demonstrate a sincere commitment to the women’s sports community, laying the foundation for authentic, targeted marketing initiatives that resonate with the audience and drive change. Acknowledging and addressing these challenges head-on positions brands as true allies in the fight for gender equity and the advancement of women in sports and beyond, building trust and credibility with the audience and setting the stage for long-term, mutually beneficial partnerships.

In the following section, we will explore the specific challenges faced by women in sports, from pay disparities to intersectional discrimination. Understanding these issues is crucial for brands aiming to create a new era of authentic, impactful marketing in the women’s sports space.

The Shadows Under the Spotlight

Despite the historic rise in investment and attention towards women’s sports, deep-rooted structural issues persist, demanding more than mere jersey sponsorships from companies seeking to support these athletes. Rising investment has begun to address the lack of resources such as training facilities, coaching staff, and medical support that are often scarce, which have historically posed significant barriers to performance and development. However, the most persistent challenges faced by professional athletes in women’s sports extend beyond the playing field, mirroring the struggles of women in society at large, and casting a shadow under the spotlight of their growing success.

  • Sexual Harassment and Misconduct: Recent studies across multiple sports highlight a serious and pervasive global problem of sexual harassment and misconduct within women’s sports, from youth to professional levels.
  • The Gender Pay Gap: The gender pay gap remains a glaring disparity, with women earning significantly less than their male counterparts, even in high-profile sports..
  • Media Coverage and Visibility: This inequality is exacerbated by the lack of media coverage, with women’s sports receiving a paltry, but growing, 15% of total sports media attention in the U.S., limiting sponsorship opportunities and public recognition.
  • Gender Stereotypes and Biases: Furthermore, female athletes are subjected to gender stereotypes and biases that question their athleticism, appearance, and dedication, hindering their career progression and public perception.
  • Motherhood and Career Continuity: Female athletes also face unique challenges related to motherhood and career continuity, as well as gender-specific health and safety concerns, including inadequate safety measures, menstrual health issues, and pressure to conform to certain body standards.

Social Media: Amplifying Discrimination and Harassment

Additionally, even though women are barely visible on sports media, the rise of social media has amplified the discrimination and harassment faced by women athletes. A staggering 87% of online abuse during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics targeted female athletes, including sexist, racist, transphobic, and homophobic posts, as well as baseless doping accusations. An Australian study found that 87% of elite sportswomen experienced gendered online harm within the past year, with many subjected to personal insults, hate speech, and intentional attempts to embarrass them. Half experienced harassment and almost 40% were sexually harassed, while one in four faced homophobic abuse, and one in five encountered racist abuse.

The Challenges of Intersectionality

It is crucial to recognize the intersectionality of these challenges, as women of color and LGBTQ+ athletes often face compounded discrimination and abuse. Racism, in particular, has seen a disturbing increase in the world of athletics. Studies by World Athletics show a 14% rise in racist abuse detected in the 2023 World Athletics Championships compared to 2022, with Black women disproportionately targeted for this racist abuse compared to other athletes.

LGBTQ+ athletes also face significant challenges, with 80% of LGBTQ+ youth athletes witnessing or experiencing homophobia in sports. They are more likely to face discrimination, exclusion, and mental health challenges compared to their heterosexual counterparts. The fear of coming out due to potential backlash or negative career impact remains a barrier, and homophobia and harassment continue to plague sports leagues.

Time to KickGlass and Make Gains

The rise of women’s sports presents an unparalleled opportunity for brands to tap into a growing market while making a meaningful impact on society. However, to fully capitalize on this potential, brands must embrace a new approach to marketing that acknowledges and addresses the unique challenges and complexities faced by women in sports, the workplace, and beyond. Brands that rely on traditional marketing strategies risk being perceived as opportunistic and inauthentic, ultimately alienating the very audience they seek to engage. To succeed in the world of women’s sports, companies must embrace a new approach to marketing – one that prioritizes authenticity, empathy, and long-term impact. By doing so, brands can tap into the vast potential of this market while driving meaningful change for women in sports and beyond.

Enter KickGlass Marketing – an innovative approach designed to help brands navigate this landscape with authenticity, empathy, and purpose. KickGlass Marketing recognizes that women’s sports require a multifaceted approach that goes beyond traditional marketing tactics. By prioritizing the well-being and empowerment of all stakeholders, including women athletes, fans, and consumers from diverse and marginalized backgrounds, brands can create a more inclusive and equitable sports ecosystem while driving significant growth and brand loyalty.

Winning in Women’s Sports with the KickGlass Marketing Playbook Series

To guide brands on this transformative journey, we are excited to introduce the KickGlass Marketing Playbook Series. This groundbreaking three-part series will provide a comprehensive roadmap for activating KickGlass Marketing strategies, enabling brands to become champions of authentic marketing within the women’s sports ecosystem.

Throughout this series, we will explore the key principles and tactics of KickGlass Marketing, including the C.A.R.E.S model for social well-being. By adopting this framework, brands can create meaningful, long-term partnerships with women athletes and fans, while driving positive social change and business growth.

When Brands KickGlass, Everyone Wins.

As we kick off this series during Pride Month, we invite you to join us on this transformative journey to redefine the future of marketing in women’s sports. Together, we can create a more inclusive, empowering, and financially successful landscape for all stakeholders, proving that when brands KickGlass, everyone wins.

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