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Tapping into the Power of Women's Sports through Brand Activation Strategies

Contributions by Julian Schuermann, Gareth Hurst, Emma Schilling

In the dynamic world of women's sports, brands are innovating relentlessly to captivate fans and embody the principles of inclusivity and sustainability. This strategic pivot in brand activation not only enriches the fan experience, but also carves out fresh pathways for brands to resonate with a broad and enthusiastic audience. Amidst a growing array of activation tactics within the women’s sports domain including digital and social media engagement, influencer partnerships, and grassroots efforts, this discussion hones in on two critical areas: sponsorship innovation and brand alignment. These elements stand out for their potential to redefine how brands participate in and contribute to the evolving narrative of women's sports.

Innovative sponsorships are unlocking new opportunities for Brands

The increasing accessibility and appeal of women's sports are fueling innovative sponsorship initiatives, transforming traditional engagement into immersive fan experiences. Events like the AIG Women's Open and Chelsea Women FC’s matches are setting the stage for this revolution by blending the excitement of sports with entertainment features—live music, Q&As, and family centres—at affordable prices. This festival-like atmosphere not only attracts a diverse audience but also offers brands unique opportunities to connect with fans through advanced digital innovations. These strategies enhance fan engagement and allow for seamless product visibility, marking a new era in brand activation within the women’s sports industry.

Moreover, the emphasis on brand alignment with values such as inclusion and sustainability has become increasingly important. Brands that actively support women's sports are positioned to tap into this growing consumer segment, leveraging their support for inclusivity as a key part of their brand identity. By sponsoring women's teams and events, brands can demonstrate their dedication to creating more equitable opportunities within the sports industry whilst still driving value for their business. For instance, a report by Nielsen Sports in 2021 found that interest in women's sports is growing, with 84% of general sports fans expressing interest in women’s sports, up 6% from the previous year. This alignment not only enhances the brand's image but also resonates deeply with audiences who value social responsibility.

The impactful female athletes for brand alignment

Special emphasis on engaging the women's sports fanbase is also crucial for brands looking to extract more value from their sponsorship initiatives. Women's sports fans represent a highly engaged and rapidly growing segment, with a purchasing power that is increasingly recognized by marketers. Lisa Parfitt, co-founder of The Space Between, undertook research that highlighted fans of women’s sports are 25% more inclined to buy products from sponsors compared to men’s sports followers, and they also exhibit double the brand recall. These insights underscore the enhanced engagement and loyalty of women's sports fans, presenting a valuable opportunity for brands seeking impactful partnerships.

The last 18 months has been telling in terms of the amount of emphasis that some of the tier one brands in the world have put on [female athletes]." - Fergus Bell, The Players Fund Founder and Managing Partner

The landscape of brand activation in women's sports is being transformed by innovative engagement strategies and a strong emphasis on inclusion and sustainability. These initiatives not only enhance the fan experience, but also allow brands to connect with audiences on a deeper level, demonstrating their commitment to values that resonate with today's consumers. As the popularity of women's sports continues to grow, the opportunities for brands to engage in meaningful and impactful ways will only expand, paving the way for a new era of strategic brand activation.

Example Case Study 1: LEGO with WSL teams and players

The LEGO Group collaborated with female footballers and a prominent sports psychologist to introduce the 'Unstoppable FC' initiative, designed to instil resilience and determination in young girls. This program featured workshops with Women's Super League teams such as Arsenal, Aston Villa, and Chelsea, focusing on 'Buildbackability' – the skill of bouncing back from setbacks. Participants took part in football drills, LEGO building challenges, and had the opportunity to meet female football celebrities like Beth Mead and Sam Kerr. Parents had the option to enrol their daughters in these workshops and access online content showcasing resilience stories from players like Lauren Hemp, along with advice from sports psychologists.

The initiative was launched in response to research highlighting parents' recognition of resilience as a vital attribute for contemporary success. It was part of the broader 'Play Unstoppable' campaign, which aims to challenge stereotypes and foster a culture where girls can play with unrestricted freedom and creativity.

Example Case Study 2: Barclays with WSL

Barclays initiated its partnership with the WSL in 2019, aiming to elevate women's football and align with its ethos of pioneering initiatives. This sponsorship marked a notable commitment to women's sports when few brands were investing significantly in domestic women's football leagues. By collaborating with the WSL, Barclays aimed to spearhead the promotion of women's football in a serious manner. The partnership not only strengthened Barclays' presence in UK football but also complemented its broader sponsorship strategy, characterised by long-term and premium deals. Barclays' £10 million investment in the WSL demonstrated its confidence in the league's future growth trajectory, highlighting a dedication to nurturing its development. This partnership expanded Barclays' influence in football, extending its involvement beyond the realm of men's football.

Moreover, Barclays' sponsorship of the WSL facilitated the advancement of its DE&I initiatives. The bank's commitment extended beyond visible league sponsorship, with investments in grassroots development and support for initiatives promoting girls' access to football. This approach underscores the brand’s commitment to driving meaningful change within women's sports while enhancing its reputation and consumer perception.

Example Case Study 3: Liga F and FC Barcelona Femení

Mahou and Solán de Cabras have forged a partnership with Liga F, extending until 2027. Their collaboration involves providing content and experiences, with Solán de Cabras becoming the league's official water partner. The objective of this partnership is to enhance Liga F's reputation and position it as the top club competition worldwide, leveraging the brands' dedication to sports and their global recognition.

Rilastil, a subsidiary of Italy's Ganassini Group, has entered a sponsorship agreement with FC Barcelona Femení and basketball teams, serving as official provider of skin care and sun protection products. This encompasses branding opportunities during matches, at training facilities, player engagements, and across digital platforms. The partnership underscores the brand's commitment to supporting women's sports and aligns with Barça’s initiatives for women's sport development.

Example Case Study 4: Google and FIBA

Google partnered with FIBA as the first-ever global sponsor of women's basketball and the Women's Basketball World Cup. This collaboration, starting with the tournament in Australia, includes Google becoming the exclusive presenter of FIBA's All-Star 5, recognizing the best players. The partnership aims to enhance women's basketball's global presence, with plans to distribute the tournament through ESPN and Google platforms. FIBA Secretary highlighted the strategic alignment with Google's goals for women's development. Google's Director of Global Sports, emphasised their commitment to equal representation in sports and expanding women's basketball visibility through partnerships like this one with FIBA and ESPN. This partnership builds on Google's initiatives to promote women's sports, including its role as a WNBA Changemaker, collaborating with the league and broadcasters to increase televised WNBA games and feature dedicated segments for women's sports on television.

At Sportsology Group, we support brands currently active or interested in the women's sports industry with tailored strategies for success, including market research, sponsorship activation, and partnerships with elite sports organisations. By our deep understanding of emerging sports industries we're dedicated to empowering brands to thrive in this dynamic and rapidly evolving landscape of professional Women’s Sports.


By Pien Gillhaus


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