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Editorial: Don’t ignore women in marketing sports

Marketers of professional teams are missing a big opportunity because they don’t see women as sports fans.

Traditionally, everything about sports has been geared toward men: the athletes who participated, the money invested, the media coverage.

But in 1972, federal legislation forced schools to devote equal funding to male and female sports, and that started a revolution of more and more girls and women playing for their high school and college teams.

And as females started playing, they naturally became more interested in sports in general, on a local and national level.

Most people around here know women who are die-hard fans of the Yankees, Red Sox, Patriots, Giants or some other national team.

It’s a nationally documented change, but one that advertisers still tend to ignore.

In 2017, more than 111.3 million viewers watched the Super Bowl, according to the Nielsen organization, which tracks ratings.

“Viewership among men and women was nearly equal last year (53% and 47%, respectively),” Nielsen reports. “For brands, this creates a huge opportunity to showcase new products that appeal across genders — and cultures, too.”

Yet it is only in recent years that pro-team gear, such as T-shirts, jerseys and sweatpants, was even offered in women’s sizes.

The majority of ads that air during broadcasts of professional sports are still geared toward men.

And it’s always surprising to hear a woman delivering “color” on men’s sports broadcasts, though the majority of broadcasters for women’s sports are male. That is, when women’s sports even get air time.

Listen to ESPN on the radio, and you’ll rarely hear any women hosts or any discussion of women’s sports.

An article this past January in Forbes noted that some national brands are starting to develop campaigns specifically for women. Under Armour’s “I Will What I Want” and Gatorade’s “Win From Within” ad campaigns have led to increased sales to women.

University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School marketing professor Claudia Kubowicz Malhotra told Forbes that high-level campaigns can be developed that appeal to both genders, such as those that are “aspirational and inspirational about living life to the fullest, reaching your fullest potential or staying healthy, for instance.”

A graphic developed for that college notes that in 2013 the number of women who were regular-season watchers of TV sports looked like this: 35 percent of the audience for the NFL, 32 percent for NHL and 30 percent each for Major League Baseball and the NBA.

And that’s not just championship games; it’s regular season. Certainly, those numbers have grown since then.

Some people link the pale recognition that women care about sports to lower attendance at female games. Doesn’t it make sense that attendance is lower, in some measure, because of the lack of coverage?

Ask parents who watch their daughters play in high school or college how much they care — and how much heart those children put into their games.

Then you’ll know why marketing pro sports to females is a smart play.

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