In June 2012, ESPN3 issued a press release announcing the launch of espnW, a channel dedicated to exclusively airing live women’s sporting events. Seeing a rise in the demand for women’s sports among viewers, the network compiled a programming lineup that included popular women’s sports such as basketball, soccer, tennis, golf and the X Games. In an era where media coverage of women’s sports grows daily, opportunities exist not just for television networks but also for advertisers and sponsors.
In the past year or so, growing interest in several women’s leagues and sporting events have shown signs that heftier sponsorship investments, though risky, could possibly produce highly profitable returns for sponsors in the upcoming years.
Potential Growth Opportunities in Female Athletics
NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament
In the past few years, women’s college basketball began gaining significant ground in mainstream media. For instance, March Madness excites basketball fans every year across the globe as they fill out tournament brackets and clamor to catch a glimpse at future NBA draft picks. As expected, the men’s tournament garners millions of viewers with television ratings increasing each year. This year TVBizwire reported that television ratings for the men’s tournament increased 3% in 2012 to an average of 8 million household viewers.
However, in an unexpected turn of events, television ratings for the women’s tournament increased a whopping 11% to an average total of 3.7 million viewers. Not only has the tournament gained increased national attention, but women college basketball stars such as media darling Skylar Diggins and athletic phenom Brittany Griner have also gained significant attention in the mainstream media. As the popularity of this tournament and recognition of its star players increases, this leaves room for new and existing sponsors to expend significant energy and funds to align their brands with the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.
Women’s Mixed Martial Arts
As a new sport, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) as a whole still faces challenges as the media, sponsors and even athletic commissions still struggle to completely understand the sport and its reception by consumers. Even though the rosters of the UFC, Strikeforce, Bellator and other major promoters consists mostly of male fighters, the depth of female fighters continues to grow. The UFC even added its first female fighter to the promotion in late 2012.
Additionally, an all female promotion, Invicta Fighting Championship, took a major step into the media by promoting the first all-female pay-per-view card in the beginning of this year. Record demand for the event caused the live feed powered by Ustream to fail which ultimately led to Ustream CEO Brad Hunstable apologizing to fans for the failure stating, “This was the most popular pay-per-view that we’ve seen on Ustream.” In a sport where the athletes gain significant income from individual sponsorships, the increased popularity creates endless opportunities for sports to form short and long-term sponsorship deals with various MMA promoters, fighters and camps.
Lingerie Football League
The Lingerie Football League began as a pay-per-view gimmick in 2004, but the fact that the league still exists in 2013 proves that a fanbase exists somewhere for barely dressed, professional women football players. The league recently decided to take the rapidly maturing league in a new direction. According to a news release, league founder and chairman Mitchell Moraza plans to change the league’s name to the Legends Football League and change the players’ wear from lingerie to actual performance wear.
The release indicates that the league plans to strengthen its brand and presence in the marketplace in upcoming years stating that women’s professional football compares to MMA and professional wrestling in that it “is a package of sporting competition and entertainment which makes it a unique brand in which women are the key athletic attractions.” Given the LFL’s prior success and its dedication to building a global brand, sponsorship investors may find now an opportune time to form partnerships with the young league, its teams and their players.
National Women’s Soccer League
For many sponsors, considering whether or not to invest in a women’s professional soccer league raises red flags given the lack of success of predecessors WUSA and WPS. The sports world watched as both leagues failed for economic reasons, mainly because of lack of game attendance. However, in 2011, women’s soccer saw a spike in consumer interest.
As reported by ESPN, the U.S. vs. Brazil quarterfinal earned the highest preliminary television rating for a Women’s World Cup contest since 1999. Given increased television viewership along with increased recognition of star soccer players like Hope Solo, Alex Morgan and Mia Hamm in the mainstream media, the economic problems of women’s soccer leagues past may not be as prominent in the new and likely improved National Women’s Soccer League. The NWSL will likely strive to serve larger market and find greater selling points for its teams. Conversely, sponsors may also find greater opportunities to form profitable partnerships with the league, its teams and the players.
As sports sponsorship revenue remains an important factor in the business of sports, sponsors have the opportunity to creatively expend sponsorship dollars to create the greatest return on investment for their respective corporations. Even though several companies sponsor both established and newer women’s sports leagues, these sponsors may want to take another look at ways to capitalize on arising sponsorship opportunities in women sports such as those mentioned above.
Comment below with other potential opportunities for growth. Make sure to tweet this story out and follow our official account @SportsNetworker
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