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  • Victoria Mackinlay

How women's sport is offering brands a golden opportunity in times defined by disruption and change.

House of Kitch’s VICTORIA MACKINLAY attended the Office of Sport’s ‘Her Sport Her Way’ Trendspotter Forum in the week of International Women’s Day to digest the latest data and hear from the brands reaching new heights with female sports sponsorships.


The Office of Sport invited one hundred and fifty of the best and brightest from women’s sport and business to the Sydney Theatre Company on Friday 11th March to share how women’s sport is leagues ahead at offering emotional connection with fans and consumers.


Kerry Turner, Lead of ’Her Sport Her Way’ at the Office of Sport welcomed attendees and challenged them to question outdated metrics. “It’s time to take stock and seize the commercial diamonds in the rough that are unique to women’s sport, to better position it for big business,” she said.

Caption: Kerry Turner, Lead of ’Her Sport Her Way’ at the Office of Sport (and former Water Polo World Champion) welcomes attendees.


Kerry introduced Marlee Silva, ABC Presenter, Writer and Podcaster and Gamilaroi and Dunghutti woman who gave an Acknowledgement to Country, sharing the story of Barangaroo, a Cammeraygal woman and leader at the time of the first settlers, reminding us of the rich history of female leadership upon the land we gathered, beautifully setting up the day.


In her opening address, Karen Jones CE Office of Sport acknowledged the thriving of women’s sport, despite the pandemic, as testiment to its resilience and the drive for gender equality. “Today is about the opportunity to fulfil our purpose, and to contribute to the momentum and eventual success of women’s sport,” she said. “To achieve long-lasting change for women’s sport, everyone who touches the industry must recognise their social responsibility to build ‘sport for all’.”

Caption: Karen Jones, CE Office of Sport, delivers the opening address.


Lisa Walton, Director at Deloitte Digital Australia and Black Sticks Olympian, was next to the stage to share current global trends. “We are living through times defined by disruption and change,” she began, addressing the past two years of global pandemic, the climate emergency, and the recent outbreak of war in Ukraine, where females have been disproportionately disadvantaged.

Caption: Lisa Walton, Director at Deloitte Digital Australia, delivers the global trends keynote.


The news cycle is particularly dark at present, but there is light in the shining moments of humanity that we see. Sport is one of our greatest expressions of humanity. From the outpouring of celebration and joy in response to the Tokyo Olympics, to sporting boycotts of Russia, sport makes a significant difference in our lives.


Lisa spoke of the rise of E-sports, the explosion of NFTs and the uptake of digital technology at events such as the Superbowl. These trends are offering new opportunities for engagement and commercialisation, contributing to an industry for women’s sport which is predicted to reach more than $1 billion in the years ahead.


She ended with Cate Campbell’s words: “Never ever underestimate the power of women in sport.”


Emma Montgomery, CEO of Leo Burnett, then took to the podium to share what consumers need in these challenging times. Connection, simplification, and enjoyment top the list.

Caption: Emma Montgomery, CEO of Leo Burnett, shares the impact of the pandemic on consumers.


“Moments of crisis create conditions for profound change,” she said. Importantly, 66% of Australians are looking for something new and we’re not nostalgic for the past. Under the theory of ‘creative destruction’ (the decay of long-standing practices, products, or services to be replaced by new, innovative ones) we need to rebuild things differently. Women’s sport can capitalise on this desire and create a ‘new normal’. “Brands are looking to engage with people on a more authentic level and it doesn’t get more authentic than women’s sport,” she concluded.


Ellen Purvis, Senior Account Manager of Nielsen Sports, then shared statistics about women’s sports fans, what they are like and the opportunities for brands.


63% of avid fans are, in fact, male and 37% are female. “Avid fans of women’s sports are trendsetters, early adopters of new technology and they’re highly engaged,” Ellen said. Critically, female sport fans are positively receptive to sponsorships. Fans of female sports are 69% more likely to buy a sponsor’s product or service versus all sports fans.


Sponsor exposure value has increased 64% from 2019 to 2021 (double that of men’s sport) “The levels of passion and engagement in women’s sport are increasing and are much higher than sport in general,” she shared. “There has been a significant increase in the number of brands who are investing in women’s sport.”

Caption: Kerry Turner, Lead of ’Her Sport Her Way’ at the Office of Sport (and former Water Polo World Champion) MCed the day.


Having heard about the lucrative audience women’s sports offers to brands, next to the stage were the elite athletes themselves. Madison de Rozario OAM, Paralympic Gold Medallist and Molly Taylor, Professional Rally Driver, Extreme E Champion shared their perspectives on the value of true partnerships and inspiring the next generation.

Caption: Kate Aitken, Vice President, People and Culture at Optus & Co-Founder Minerva Network talks about the Minerva mentoring program with Madison de Rozario OAM, Paralympic Gold Medallist and Molly Taylor, Professional Rally Driver, Extreme E Champion.


“Authenticity has to be at the core of everything we do, every decision we make,” Madison said, speaking about identity and the importance of visibility. Madison has partnered with Under Armour and Mattel on the ‘Shero’ Barbie doll and stressed the importance of aligned values with a brand.

Caption: Madison de Rozario OAM, Paralympic Gold Medallist and Molly Taylor, Professional Rally Driver, Extreme E Champion.


Molly shared her incredible story of racing in the Dakar rally (setting her brakes on fire and putting it out with water from Camelpaks) and how she mentors young girls through the ‘Girls on Tracks’ program. Her work with ‘Extreme E’ brings electric racing to some of the most remote corners of the planet (with a 50/50 gender split between the drivers) to highlight the climate change challenges faced by different ecosystems. “It's a spectacular thing to watch, but it's also using the power of sport to make a positive impact [to the climate change challenges],” she said.

Caption: Madison de Rozario OAM, Paralympic Gold Medallist and Molly Taylor, Professional Rally Driver, Extreme E Champion.


After lunch, Georgie Maynard, Founder of True North Research was beamed in from London to share key research statistics. True North data proves that the more emotionally engaged a fan is with a team, the more likely they are to engage with the sponsor of that team. Women’s sports familiarity may be lower than men’s sports, but their emotional connection with fans is higher. This strength of emotional connection leads to strong sponsorship outcomes.

Caption: Audience at the ‘Her Sport Her Way’ Trendspotter Forum.


54% of people have positive reactions to sponsors of women’s teams, verses 41% to sponsors of men’s teams. 26% of female sports fans who are familiar with their team’s sponsor would use their product or service. “We’re getting great outcomes for sponsors,” Georgie said. “And generally speaking, we know that women’s team’s sponsorships are very good value for money.” Lots of note-scribbling in the audience.


Now was the time to hear from sponsors themselves in three case studies demonstrating how women’s sport is helping them achieve commercial joy. Nikia Shepherd from Thinkerbell told the story of Ash Barty’s collaboration with Vegemite, helping the iconic Aussie spread reconnect with the Australian public as it returned to Australian ownership. Vegemite’s partnership with Ash has brought new recruits and longevity of connections.

Caption: Nikia Shepherd, Free Thinker at Thinkerbell shares how the Vegemite/Ash Barty collaboration served up nostalgic connection.


Yasmin Armes, Group Account Director of Herd MSL and Stephanie Doyle, Brand Director of Proctor and Gamble, shared the Pantene ‘Ribbon of Strength’ campaign. On learning that 57% of women stop playing sport by the time they are 24 years old, largely due to issues around self-image and body confidence, they encouraged females to write messages of inspiration on ribbons and braid them into their hair. Sports stars Charlotte Caslick, Ellie Carpenter and Katrina Gorry led the campaign and generated significant media and social media buzz.


Rapthi Thanapalasingam, Head of Mass Brands and Sponsorships for Suncorp, also shared their ‘Team Girls’ campaign. “It’s not just a sponsorship,” she said. “But an opportunity to emotionally connect to our audience and demonstrate our brand values in action.”

Suncorp’s netball sponsorship is performing strongly for its life stage, sitting above the trendline for a sponsorship of its tenure, alongside naming rights partners who have been associated with a code for 15+ years. “Our campaign has been successful because we’ve capitalised on emotional connection,” she shared.


The key takeaways from these case studies? Brands are winning by partnering with female athletes. Women’s sport is providing genuine and meaningful ways to connect with audiences over the long-term. As the athletes and teams reached new heights, so too did the brands.


Sarah Walsh, Head of Women’s Football at Football Australia and Dianne Everett, General Manager – Brand, Social and Sponsorship at Commonwealth Bank, were next to back this up with the remarkably successful CommBank/Matilda’s partnership story. The collaboration has raised visibility for both brands.


Alongside her 9-year old’s son’s wish to be a Matilda, Dianne was keen to stress the importance of aligning CommBank partnerships to a strong purpose-led framework that included female empowerment. As a longstanding supporter of women’s sport via the Cricket Australia partnership, CommBank wanted to reach more families and communities via its Matildas deal to make an even bigger contribution to growing female pathways, building brand associations around brighter futures, and ultimately growing trust.

Caption: Dianne Everett, General Manager – Brand, Social and Sponsorship at Commonwealth Bank and Sarah Walsh, Head of Women’s Football at Football Australia share how their collaboration has raised visibility for both brands.


“Sport is an incredible tool to connect and unite communities,” Dianne shared, saying that at a grassroots level there is an opportunity to build brand affiliation early and connect with families. Key takeaway: Never underestimate the power of storytelling to gain trust and offer ongoing reasons to talk to customers.


Nick Hockley, CEO of Cricket Australia told the story behind the ICC T20 Women’s Cricket World Cup in 2020 and, echoing Madison’s earlier words, stressed the importance of strong values alignment. “It comes back to the right partnership,” he said. “When you find shared values, that’s where the magic happens.”

Caption: Nick Hockley, CEO of Cricket Australia, shares the story behind the ICC T20 Women’s Cricket World Cup in 2020.


To round out the day, Anna Cherry, National Head of Strategy at Spark Foundry took to the stage to chair the ‘Visibility Ecosystem’ panel made up of Kim McConnie, Director of Marketing at KAYO, Casey Dellacqua, Women and Girls Lead, Tennis NSW, Sports Commentator and Former Professional Tennis Player and Annabelle Russell, Head of Media Publishers and Content Partnerships at TikTok.

Caption: Anna Cherry, National Head of Strategy at Spark Foundry chairs the ‘Visibility Ecosystem’ panel with Annabelle Russell, Head of Media Publishers and Content Partnerships at TikTok, Kim McConnie, Director of Marketing at KAYO and Casey Dellacqua, Women and Girls Lead, Tennis NSW, Sports Commentator and Former Professional Tennis Player.


The panel discussed the evolving and fragmented media landscape where digital channels, conversations and interactions are becoming increasingly important. Streaming services, such as KAYO, are increasing in popularity. KAYO itself has seen a 66% increase in interest in women’s sports across the Australian population.


TikTok is offering immersive entertainment driven by community. Athletes are sharing more of themselves and are in control of the content they share. “We are democratising the creative process,” Annabelle said. “It only takes a few seconds to create content and you don’t need high production capabilities to get involved.” She shared how Olympic diver Sam Fricker started creating ‘behind the scenes’ content during the Tokyo games, and was so entertaining, he was picked up by KAYO as a presenter. You can check out his whopping 1.2M TikTok followers here: https://vm.tiktok.com/ZSddAx68a/

Caption: Annabelle Russell, Head of Media Publishers and Content Partnerships at TikTok, Kim McConnie, Director of Marketing at KAYO and Casey Dellacqua, Sports Commentator and Former Professional Tennis Player discuss the evolving and fragmented media landscape.


Audiences at women’s sports events are also growing, but we can all do our part to give attendance numbers a boost, especially since the bigger the live audiences the more broadcast will pay to stream these sports. “Go and attend a game or event,” Casey urged the audience. “You will see the calibre of women’s sport and the opportunity.” She also called for equal representation in sporting leadership. “How many women are there on your club committee?” she asked.


As the Forum drew to a close, Kim offered a powerful conclusion: “When you start to hear the results of big, big brands and companies like Commonwealth Bank, like P&G and Suncorp … these are big organisations that are very quickly understanding that women’s sport has an ability to impact their sales and brand health. My advice to brands is get in quick, or you're going to miss out.”


To see the research and find out more, head to: https://www.sport.nsw.gov.au/hshw/trendspotter-forum

House of Kitch is proud to have collaborated on the ‘Her Sport Her Way’ Trendspotter Forum with the wonderful Kerry Turner and the Office of Sport team.




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