Ad industry needs ‘massive shift’ in mindset to stop sexualising female athletes, warns top star

One of Australia’s top sports stars has called on sponsors to stop sexualising female stars and start to showcase their abilities as athletes in their brand promotions.

Sharni Layton:

Sharni Layton says the industry needs a “massive shift”

Sydney Swifts and Australia Diamonds netballer Sharni Layton told an audience at Mumbrella’s Sports Marketing Summit last week there needs to be a “massive shift” in mindset in the industry.

“Something I’m really passionate about, particularly for female athletes, and the issues around body image at the moment, is not selling yourself as sexy,” she told the Ask an Athlete panel.

“For me I’ve got no problem with being in the gym in my crop top and tights, but it’s about showing what working hard can do for you. You don’t have to sell yourself as sexy to be able to get more brands, and all the rest of it. I think we can make a massive shift in that area.

“Say I was sponsored by an underwear company it would probably be a Bonds or something, because they’re fun-loving and it’s not about being sexy and all the rest of it. And if someone interprets something as sexy that’s not meant to be then you can’t obviously control that, but I think it’s an area we can continue to grow in in sport.”

Layton highlighted the recent Samsung #RethinkRoleModels campaign centred around netball as one that inspired people, describing it as a “great way to utilise your talent”.

NSW and Australia cricketer Ed Cowan told the panel he was limited in sponsorship activities he could engage in because: “Cricket Australia dictate so heavily what can be done”.

He added: “From a dollar point of view it’s fantastic, and as cricketers we are probably overpaid. But that comes with the responsibility to protect these huge sponsors and monetise the game. From a personal point of view you’re then pretty limited as what you can do. You can have a bat sponsor, someone who sponsors footwear and Skins, etc.

“But someone like Gatorade, who owns cricket, can pick a Mitchell Johnson, a Steve Smith, and say you’re in a Gatorade commercial. And they’re reimbursed very well. But if there was an issue there, say you didn’t like Gatorade ethically, you would have no say in putting your hand up and saying I don’t want to represent this company.”

Ed Cowan

Ed Cowan: “As cricketers we are probably overpaid”

Paralympic cyclist, Carole Cooke, told the room brand sponsors only represent “about 5%, if that” of her income.

Explaining how she approaches finding sponsors, she said: “It’s either through friends – and it’s not what you know it’s who you know, but going door-to-door and trying to get past that wolf at the door, the receptionist, to find out who to approach; that’s the hardest part as an individual.

“I don’t have a management team behind me – it’s me on my own, but it makes it that much harder to get into those companies.

“I’m very lucky as an elite paracyclist I do get sponsor money from the Australian Sports Commission, and reimbursed for stuff, which I use to pay my coach.”

Carol Cooke:

Carol Cooke: “It’s me on my own”

Cowan responded to Cooke by saying it “makes me sick to my tummy” to hear of what she has to do to get support.

Big wave surfer, Mark Mathews, described the way he offers value to brands by creating compelling content which his fans want to engage with, but said he preferred to work with brands directly rather than through agencies.

He said: “There’s so many levels you can provide value and return on investment to companies, and I think that’s putting so much power back in the athletes hands and that’s a really good thing. If you’re creative with the way you manage it and can provide a return on investment with the company coming direct to you – and I’m going to piss some agencies off here – but with that huge budget usually by the time it gets to the athlete it’ll go through two or three agencies and it can be pretty small by the time it comes to you as an athlete, and what you can do with it.”

Mark Mathews:

Mark Mathews: “It’s a tough juggling act”

Later he added: “I also love working with really good creative agencies as well, who come up with amazing concepts and develop something that really does maximise the investment for the sponsor. It’s a tough juggling act sometimes. It really pisses me off when too many hands get into the pie before it gets down to creating something really valuable.”

Asked how she would like to see brands using athletes as ambassadors, Cooke urged them to “stop looking at the top line people”.

“Make sure you’re going for somebody you know is really good for your company, is going to do the right thing and show up to events,” she said.

The panel (l-r): Ed Cowan, Sharni Layton, Carole Cooke, Mark Mathews, James Begley (moderator)

The panel (l-r): Ed Cowan, Sharni Layton, Carole Cooke, Mark Mathews, James Begley (moderator)

Cowan added: “I can’t see any value in an above the line marketing campaign where it’s just an athlete’s face, you have to tap into their interests and passion, whatever that is, and find a way to integrate them. The value is the mingling of high performance, and if you can suck that out of your athlete and into your brand then that’s a lot more valuable for brands.”


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