“Economic Decisions” Driving Investments in Women’s Sports


Over the last 90 days, Barclays made the “single largest investment in British women’s sports” (a 3-year deal worth $13 million), Budweiser announced its “first-ever sponsorship of [a] women’s football” club (England’s national team) and AT&T became the 1st non-apparel company to put their logo on a WNBA uniform – evidence that “there is momentum right now around women in sport.”

Howie Long-Short: Barclays, Budweiser and AT&T are among a growing list of companies pumping dollars into women’s sports. Former WNBPA director Pam Wheeler suspects the increased interest on the brand side has to do with the increased visibility of the women’s game over the last few years (think: introduction of OTT services) – as recently as ’14 just “3.2% of all broadcast time” was dedicated to female athletics. Wheeler said “the talent level is there, so once companies start to see the skill-sets that the players have their interest in investing in them grows. It’s logical that brands want to align with elite athletes.” League exposure is about to “nearly double.” The WNBA just announced a new multi-year deal with CBS Sports that will see the cable sports network broadcast 40 regular games/season.

Brands have historically ignored female pro sports teams. In fact, GumGum found that between ’11-’13 just .04% of all sports sponsorship investments made were in women’s sports despite the barrier for entry (see: costs) being far lower. While shockingly low, the figure does make some sense – at least here in the U.S. When Wheeler first joined the WNBPA in ’98 “everybody who was aware of the league was my age or older [so, sponsors didn’t have the ability to reach the desirable 18-34 demo]. My 12-year-old daughter has never lived in a world without professional women’s basketball, so the fan demographics have become far more appealing to an advertiser.” Of course, females aren’t the only individuals who watch women’s sports; according to Nielsen, 84% of all sports fans have an interest in watching the ladies play. It does need to be noted that the number of women’s sponsorship deals has climbed +47% since ’13.

Studies have shown that girls who participate in sports are “less likely to become pregnant, have greater self-confidence and self-esteem” so there is certainly a component of these brands doing well by doing good, but while one can appreciate what female sports brings on a “social level”, Barclays, Budweiser and AT&T are in the business of generating returns for shareholders; and it’s the “big live crowds (see: attendance for female sports in U.K is +38% YoY since ‘13) and viewing figures (see: final of ’18 U.S. Open outdrew the men) [that are] feeding their [investment] interest.” Wheeler says that sponsorship pacts being signed today are being made as the result of “economic decisions, as opposed to emotional connections.” That’s an important differentiator because “in order for women’s sports to succeed, the public (think: fans, sponsors, broadcasters etc.) must recognize them as businesses that require economic support to survive.”  It’s worth mentioning that female participation in sport is at an all-time high; 3.3 million girls are playing in U.S.

Fan Marino: While investments have been made in leagues and teams, brands have yet to put big money behind female athletes in team sports. However, looking at the evolution of women’s sports it’s likely that day is not far off. Wheeler believes that within the “next few years” it would be “attainable for a female basketball player to make $1 million without having to play overseas.”

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Author: John Wall Street

At the intersection of sports & finance.

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