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The Untapped Commercial Strength of Female Athletes

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Female athletes have strong potential to connect with audiences not only through showcasing the highest levels of skill and athleticism, but also through what they can achieve beyond the field of play. Many female athletes are choosing to use their platforms to address a wide range of social and political issues, including fighting for fair and equal financial compensation both within and beyond sport. Each year, female athletes tend to get into Time’s 100 Most Influential People lists. In 2022, the list includes Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, freestyle skier Eileen Gu and WNBA player Candace Parker, all of which offer inspiration, influence and impact. In 2022, brands continue to realise the importance of working with athletes to help shape and deliver change-driving brand narratives.

Female athlete sponsorships across golf, tennis and MMA are dominated by endemic (sports-related) brands from the sports equipment and apparel and footwear industries. There continues to be an abundance of white space for non-endemic brands to get in on the action, ensuring their partnership portfolio is reflective of their own company values and their wider consumer base.

image5unh0h.pngSource: Euromonitor International. Data pertains to top WTA, LGPA and MMA athletes, 2021.

A growing number of brands that thus far have not been active in sports sponsorship are recognising the value that women’s sports can bring. Partnerships showcase not only support for women’s sports, but help brands to address broader gender equality issues within their respective industries and wider society. For example, Starling Bank has become a national sponsor of UEFA Women’s EURO 2022. Its campaign “Our Time” highlights the glass ceilings that continue to be broken by the women’s game, while nodding to Starling’s mission to level the playing field for women within banking and technology. Another national sponsor of Women’s EURO 2022 is LinkedIn. The campaign’s goal is to champion gender equality, diversity and inclusivity, at the same time positioning the platform as an attractive space for sports professionals to share stories and insights into their careers.

Are female athletes finding their full voice online?

2022 is turning out to be an exciting year for women’s football. Ticket sales for UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 are projected to surpass half a million, in what is set to be the best-attended Women’s EURO in history. With the attention firmly focused on women’s football, there is strong potential for players and UEFA to use social media for building momentum and showcasing stories from behind the scenes – all helping to better-establish meaningful and lasting connections with die-hard and casual fans alike.

The battle for consumers’ attention has never been so intense, and female athletes offer new and attractive ways to reach new audiences. Most female football players participating in the Women’s EURO 2022 tend to focus their fan engagement on Instagram. Only around 15% of them have a TikTok account, while some of the most followed on TikTok have not been active recently. Of the most followed female football players on Instagram (as seen in the table below), only a third have a TikTok account. The tournament offers an opportunity for players to become more active on TikTok to entertain and inspire fanbases through highly engaging content.

There are positive signs that engagement will only grow further. TikTok is a global partner of Women’s EURO 2022. The goal of the partnership is not only to entertain the women’s football fanbase, but also inspire and promote equality and inclusion in football. During the pandemic, TikTok has been an important platform for athletes to reconnect with their fans. Women’s sports coverage and engagement on the platform has experienced tremendous growth over the last few years. For example, the hashtag #womeninsports has garnered over a billion views.

imagezbcxo.pngSource: Euromonitor International. Data as of June 2022.

Looking forward, positive signs for digitally engaged athletes

 As female athletes continue to find their voice on digital platforms, brands will continue to see the value in forming commercial partnerships, whether that is with the athletes themselves, or the teams with which they are associated. Of course, brands will also play a key role in encouraging and amplifying these athletes. Resulting synergistic partnerships will enable brands to hold a mirror to their own respective sectors and address systemic issues, whilst also benefiting from the engaged fanbases of elite-level sports.

For related content, see the report The State of Women's Football.

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