If networks don’t promote their new female sports leagues they will die

While there's been a big fanfare over the launch of women’s sport leagues in recent months they will fade without sustainable advertising, argues Jessica Mackenzie.

Working in media and sponsorships, and leading in to 2017, we have seen a lot of presentations on what the big network and publisher houses have coming up for the new year, and how they can work with brands to integrate into upcoming shows, or sports sponsorships.


This year more than previous years, there have been numerous announcements that the coverage of women’s sports will increase monumentally.

While the attempts have good intentions, they almost play out like a favour to the women’s leagues. If the industry, both publishers and planners, put in half as much effort telling the market they are focusing on women in sport this year as they do actually promoting it, we might get some great content out of them that brands could actually be interested in.

At no fault of the agency reps, this has to be one of the biggest disconnects when it comes to sport. The reason being that men’s sports sell ad dollars, and the women… not so much. But why is that?

one woman playing soccer player in silhouette isolated on white background

When the Channel Seven properly promoted and aired an all-star female AFL game, the ratings drew in over a million viewers at its peak, and was highest rated against key target audiences. Apply this trend to cinema, where the most sought after films at the box office always have the best marketing campaigns.

If I see a great movie trailer I am going to be more inclined to spend $19 just to see it when it comes out in the theatre (a moment of silence for two dollar Tuesdays back in the ‘90s).

The same can be said for the promos we see year on year for the men’s leagues around the globe; NBA finals, EPL, the PGA tour, even.

And fair enough — the NBA is an easier sell to a brand. So is an NRL sponsorship package. When you look at a reel for the NRL, it’s full of massive hits, epic tries and fans rejoicing when their teams come back from losing badly in the first half.

The big plays make good promos. Of course a male batter is going to hit farther than a female — their bodies are physically designed differently.

In basketball, men will be able to dunk more because they can jump higher. However, this is what brands are interested in, because this is what gets audiences to tune in.


That being said, let us look to a sport like cricket, which plays out more similarly to a game of chess. You need to have a real appreciation for the skill and strategy that goes into a game, as it doesn’t rely as much on the physical components.

Cricket has a massive audience in Australia, and even without the massive hits, cricket has no problem finding sponsors or integration for the sport.

Specifically, for Big Bash, the promos leading into the regular season are cut so enticingly that even a 13-year-old ballerina might be interested in the excitement. As a brand, the strategy behind the sport is not necessarily a factor. The big sell here is that exhilaration being the driving force for building brand affinity.

This is precisely where women’s leagues are let down. If we could see networks pushing these promos for the women’s leagues as much as we see them for the men, they may just start to build broadcast audience engagement.

Havas Sports & Entertainment did a global study called ‘fans.passions.brands’ on the logic of engagement when looking at fans and football. We found that the logic of immersion, when the fans’ purpose is to lose themselves in the emotion and drama of a game or the players, is a key factor in their advocacy for the sport.

Yes, it costs money and takes time to create these promos or snackable pieces of content but getting the players in our faces is how we, as consumers, become invested in the stories and the teams, just like how we so easily become invested in the men’s leagues when given access.

In terms of a good investment, this would be one worth backing.

It hasn’t all been lost. EA’s FIFA16 did a great job when it introduced female leagues into the game; it advertised the excitement and shed some global light on how great the women’s league actually is.

Of course, there will always be naysayers, and the odd ‘go back to the kitchen’ comment, but that will dilute with time as long as we focus our collective efforts more on the promotion of women’s sports as a whole.

More recently, we have begun to take female sponsorship packages to clients and the interest has been unprecedented, based on the different ways brands would potentially be able to connect with their female audiences.

In the same brand engagement study, HSE found that 27% of people think a brand sponsoring their passion means the brand will improve their daily life.

This might seem low, but it is actually 4% higher than the global average. We need to make sure we continue to work with publishers, and have the backing we need from them to execute these sponsorships in long-lasting way that will allow that percentage to grow and enable brands to build authentic relationships with audiences.


When discussing pay equality between male and female sports presenters, it has been said that they are not paid based on their gender, but on what the audience defines they are worth. Isn’t a fundamental principle of behavioral economics in advertising the fact that audiences usually define what we tell them to?

Channel Nine, Telstra and Netball Australia have signed what could be an amazing deal to broadcast the women’s games for the next five years. Let’s apply the science to advertising the netball and see what happens.

If we can see better integration opportunities that we can take to clients, this would be a great start for women in sport. If we do see an uplift, this may even end up being a platform for equal pay for female athletes.

But that’s a whole other ballgame.

Jessica Mackenzie is an account manager – content at Havas Sports and Entertainment


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