The dos and don’ts of sponsoring women’s sports

Women’s sport might be growing in popularity, but when considering sponsorship opportunities there are certain things brands should consider.

SSE Women's FA Cup
SSE was keen to embrace the opportunities of women’s football early with its sponsorship of the Women’s FA Cup.

For brands with the vision and confidence to explore the women’s sports sponsorship market there are lessons to be learnt from those who have gone before.

O2’s head of sponsorship Gareth Griffiths advises brands to do their research in order to understand what benefits their customers will get from any partnership, rather than worrying about broadcast figures.

“Make sure you have got rights you can use across your business,” he adds. “Our rights for [England women’s rugby team] the Red Roses are the same as for the men’s team and we leverage them right across the business from consumer to B2B.”

He also warns brands not to make any activity about the differences between men and women. “Avoid gender stereotypes, it’s about the fact these guys play for England. The female and male players will share the spotlight for us in 2018.”

READ MORE: Why brands must rethink their approach to women’s sports sponsorship

Colin Banks, head of sponsorship and rewards at energy company SSE, sponsor of the Women’s FA Cup since 2015, says he recognises that getting involved in women’s sports can feel like a leap of faith, but the opportunities of being engaged with an emerging sport are highly valuable.

Avoid gender stereotypes, it’s about the fact these guys play for England.

Gareth Griffiths, O2

“If you’re just doing sponsorship for awareness, then women’s sports is probably not where you would be. But you’re not cluttered with 70 to 90 other brands trying to do the same thing and you have got an audience that’s engaged,” he explains.

“I might have a 10th or a 100th of the audience some men’s sports might have, but I’ve probably got as many engaged people because the ones that are finding out about what we’re doing are interested and that is what sponsorship is all about, engaging people’s emotions.”

READ MORE: ‘Before investing in football sponsorship, scout the opposition’

Vivienne Brown, operations director at sponsorship agency Infrared, believes the industry has come a long  way and while 10 years ago sponsorships were being chosen on the basis of brand awareness, now the focus has shifted to the synergies between the brand and the asset. She believes this progress will only increase as the next generation of brand managers emerge.

“When I started in this industry, a lot of senior brand managers were men and they chose assets because they enjoyed the sport. Those days are gone,” says Brown.

“We talk a lot about the millennial audience and what works for one generation might not work for another. They will point out things that maybe the person who has been working for 30 years and loves a round of golf won’t see.”

For Laura Weston, board member and trustee of the Women in Sport Trust, and managing director of Iris Culture, the real excitement relates to how brands will innovate in their approach to the creative work and push the boundaries of their partnerships in women’s sports.

“It will be great to see some better creative work around it. That’s what I’m really looking forward to seeing, because sometimes it can be a little bit formulaic,” she adds. “I think it’s going to happen, it’s just which brands and agencies will get there first and create some really high impact campaigns. Then it will snowball.”