Opinion

How brands can continue to score with women’s sports fans following the World Cup

As more people have shown their support for female sports, brands have taken note, tapping into the excitement as the Women’s World Cup drew record eyes and ad sales. New VisualGPS research from Getty Images and iStock proves that brands can continue to ride the momentum, by showcasing their recognition and support of women’s sports in the years ahead.

This FIFA Women’s World Cup has truly been spectacular. With 32 countries represented in the largest Women’s World Cup ever, audiences have witnessed some of the best and brightest talent in world football.

Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

The Women’s World Cup also brought a tune of equality into Australian sport that seemed impossible a few years ago. The Matildas’ victory against France was the largest televised sporting event in a decade, reeling in an audience of 4.17 million – while viewership of women’s sport more broadly has increased by 36 percent in 12 months, according to Foxtest.

As more people have shown their support for female sports, brands have taken note, tapping into the excitement as the Women’s World Cup drew record eyes and ad sales. From Frank Green to Commonwealth Bank, Nike to Rebel Sport – brands who thoughtfully engaged with the event and worked to authentically connect with this broad audience have no doubt seen a rise in brand awareness.

It was a marquee moment for many, and new VisualGPS research from Getty Images and iStock proves that brands can continue to ride the momentum by showcasing their recognition and support of women’s sports in the years ahead.

When the next World Cup takes place in 2027, the state of women’s sports will no doubt look different thanks in part to the mind-boggling increase in grassroots female sports participation. With this next evolution, comes an opportunity for brands to continue to showcase their support for women’s sports and build brand love with younger athletes who hold more influence than ever before.

To support businesses in effectively marketing around women in sports, brands should take note of the following guidelines:

Represent communities authentically

Images and videos which show the realities of women and girls in sports at both the elite and grassroots levels create deeper engagement. Unfortunately, 9% of iStock’s most downloaded sports visuals depict women and girls actively participating in sports. Results are only marginally better when looking at football imagery specifically, with only 13% of football‑related customer downloads showing women and girls. Younger athletes want to see people like themselves represented in the media, with most Australian women noting that they want to see all ages and genders engaging in sports visuals.

Showcase athletic capabilities rather than focusing on appearance

According to Getty Images and iStock’s VisualGPS research, 78% of people in ANZ want to see authentic portrayals of female athletes, where their skill and athleticism is emphasised over their beauty, glamour, or sex appeal. This expectation is the same across gender split (men: 70%, females: 85%). As such, businesses should choose visuals which showcase the athletic capabilities and key action moments of female athletes rather than focusing on their appearance, thereby avoiding sexualisation. Brands should also think about using visuals which consider a wide range of emotions beyond joy, such as anger, disappointment, determination, frustration, love, pain, and happiness.

Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Choose visuals that capture the holistic experience

Look for visuals which include female support staff (such as coaches), as it provides a more comprehensive representation of the power, skill, and sustained involvement of women in sports as a whole. Don’t forget to also represent fans of all genders supporting women’s sports and tap into the strong sense of community that women’s sports offer. Some of the strongest photos coming out of the Women’s World Cup were focused around the action – the goals and saves – and the reactions from fans who shared in the joy that comes with winning and the agony that comes with defeat.

Businesses play a large role in the growth of female sports by shifting the narrative on how female athletes are represented in media and online – and though we’ve seen strides surrounding the Women’s World Cup, a visibility gap remains for women’s sports more broadly.

To help choose inclusive and authentic imagery, brands should ask themselves questions such as: Am I using images/videos of women and girls in the same way as I use images/videos of men and boys? Am I showing real bodies of all shapes, sizes, and muscularity in an action-oriented, not passive, way?

There is a significant commercial opportunity for brands to stand out from their competitors by driving greater engagement and connection with legions of sport-loving fans across the country. Crafting authentic visuals that show the physical ability and camaraderie involved will have a direct impact on building the participation of young girls and women in sport, while equally building long-term brand love beyond individual tournaments and events.

Kate Rourke is the head of creative insights APAC at iStock and Getty Images.

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