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This year will go down as a landmark one for women’s sport, with a defiant shift taking place in the creative narrative which surrounds it. 

This shift matters because it acknowledges and finally engages a long-ignored market. Women’s sport has, for years, been hugely undervalued, with a lack of major brand sponsorship and media coverage. Indeed, women’s sport sponsorship accounted for only 0.4% of total sports sponsorship between 2011 and 2013, according to research done by Women in Sport, while women’s sport accounted for only 7% of total sports coverage. 

What these stories do is give permission to the people watching, especially to young people, to go out and do the same, to choose to play on their own terms.

This year however, a combination of a plethora of women’s sporting events combined with the emerging post #MeToo narrative surrounding women’s empowerment is driving a new approach to marketing. 

We have seen brands telling stories that had yet to be told and have successfully got consumers’ talking. Lucozade’s reimagining of an iconic football anthem in Three Lionesses; the statue of English footballer Lily Parr erected in Manchester by Mars and AMV BBDO, and Nike’s Lioness Tributes by Uncommon all mark a step-up in communications. 

Lucozade – Three Lionesses

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These stories focus on the grit, determination and skill of these athletes, on the pain, pressure and heartbreak at the very centre of the way they play. Not a hair swish in sight. That’s revolutionary to see when it comes to female sporting professionals. What these stories do is give permission to the people watching, especially to young people, to go out and do the same, to choose to play on their own terms and build their own vision of what constitutes success both on and off the sports field. 

Brands that get involved, and more importantly stay involved in women’s sport will be the ones that will stay relevant.

Choose your story

These new narratives are an essential tool in the drive to move beyond stifling stereotypes, which often fail to connect with consumers in the real world. New female sporting role models are creating a new model of sporting success in their own image. A case in point being US football captain Megan Rapinoe [below] becoming the face, and unofficial spokesperson, of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, a woman who is not only at the top of her sporting game, but not willing to self-edit off the pitch. It is a lack of conformity beautifully brought to life by Nike in a rousing spot declaring: “This team wins. Everyone wins.”

It takes bravery to tell a story that hasn’t been told because it suggests you’re going against the status quo and that you’re willing to stand out while doing so. But brands that get involved, and more importantly stay involved in women’s sport will be the ones that will stay relevant in a fast-moving world. 

Progressive brands would be wise to look to the path being blazed by sports stars such as Rapinoe and England footballer Nikita Parris.

Guinness’s announcement of a six-year investment in women’s rugby is testament to this shift to long-term investment. It’s an understanding of the game bought to life in AMV BBDO’s Sisters spot. The ad focused on Harriet and Bridget Millar-Mills who played on opposing England and Scotland teams in 2013.  

Nike – Steph Houghton x Lady Leshurr

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The emergence of new role models

Through these campaigns' new role models are finding their way into consumers’ lives and homes. They are the inspiration, not just for the next generation of female sporting superstars, but for consumers and marketers who want to level the playing field. 

Progressive brands would be wise to look to the path being blazed by sports stars such as Rapinoe and England footballer Nikita Parris. Both individuals implicitly recognise the importance of the platform they’ve been given and are determined to use it to bring about change; Rapinoe through bringing greater awareness to LGBTQ rights and Parris with a football academy for women from deprived areas in her hometown.

Nike – Never Stop Winning

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These are a new generation of sporting stars, the ones who want to operate with a purpose and who recognise the power of the position they’re in. They don’t take it for granted and they’ll use that platform to further causes they believe in. 

In an industry where perhaps we use the word bravery too much, these female sporting stars are prepared to push back.

These players are exceptionally talented and they’re helping to raise the profile of the game around the world. They’re bringing greater diversity to the conversation around women’s sport and to the stories being told, stories that are honest, often as yet unheard accounts of each player’s history and of the game itself.

In an industry where perhaps we use the word bravery too much, these female sporting stars are prepared to push back, to speak up and out for those without a voice. Brands such as Nike stepping up and standing wholeheartedly behind these athletes to amplify their voice are proving the power of progressive branding.

This is the new age of sports marketing, and brands should be ready to get involved.

Guinness – Sisters

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Izzy Ashton is an editor for BITE, Creativebrief’s daily editorial insight into global marketing trends and the cultural movements driving them.

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