Women’s sports marketing boom ‘huge up and coming opportunity,’ spurs new agency services

More than three million people tuned into Coco Gauff’s U.S. Open last week, making her victory the most-viewed women’s major tennis final ever on ESPN. It points to the surging popularity and viewership of women’s sports. And where viewer’s eyeballs go, advertisers follow.

As women’s sports continue to gain traction, brands are more willing to shell out marketing and ad dollars to reach those viewers. Looking to capitalize on that momentum, Rain the Growth Agency, a Portland-based ad agency, created a dedicated internal team to focus on women’s sports in June. 

The eight-person team, called HypeHer, offers strategy and research, media buying and planning, media partnerships, social media and influencer marketing, creative as well as analytics and measurement.

“A lot of brands and advertisers are focused on men’s sports, but we see women’s sports as a huge up and coming opportunity,” said Robin Cohen, executive vice president of integrated media investment and planning at Rain the Growth Agency. “We just keep seeing these attendance numbers grow and the opportunity.”

Gauff’s historic win is just one example of the growing interest in women’s sports. In August, the University of Nebraska women’s volleyball team set a new world record for attendance at a women’s sporting event, packing 92,003 fans into the university’s football stadium. Meanwhile, audience numbers for the U.S. women’s national soccer team have broken records.

Surging viewership in women’s sports has sparked client curiosity about marketing and advertising in the space, per Cohen. The practice is newly launched and the agency is currently in the process of pitching HypeHer services to clients, she added. Some clients, including Oofos shoe brand, have been invested in women’s sports marketing campaigns since at least last year. The shoe brand partnered with Dawn Staley, a three-time Olympic gold medalist and head coach for the South Carolina Gamecocks, and sponsored the 2022 U.S. Gymnastics Championships. 

“They’ve been participating and buying into different women’s sports to determine their opportunity for their brand with different sports, to figure out where to put [spend] moving forward,” Cohen said. “They’ve been going sport by sport to determine where we could see success in the future.” Specifics of Oofos’ spend in women’s sports were not disclosed. 

From publishers to brands, the industry as a whole seems to be chomping at the bit to get in on the growth women’s sports is seeing. Publishers, like ESPN, are seeing more investment in women’s sports coverage this year. In fact, some sports publishers reported seeing more ad revenue for Women’s World Cup coverage than the men’s tournament. Back in January, financial services firm Ally announced a partnership with Disney, featuring a 90% investment solely in women’s sports. Brands like Modelo beer and Cracker Jack are pushing further into women’s sports marketing efforts, following consumer eyeballs.

“When we look at media we’re looking at, broadly, what are consumers watching. You’re seeing a lot more interest and excitement for women’s sports in general,” said Logan Jensen, senior director of brand marketing for Modelo. Per Jensen, the brand has been investing and focused on women’s soccer with plans to sponsor next year’s inaugural Women’s Gold Cup, an international women’s soccer competition. Financial details of said sponsorship were not disclosed.

Frito-Lay, parent company to Cracker Jack, is reportedly getting more involved in sports with longstanding partnerships with the NFL, NBA, WNBA, FIFA and the Women’s World Cup, according to Leslie Vesper, vice president of brand marketing at Frito-Lay. For Cracker Jack specifically, the snack brand unveiled a Cracker Jill, a push to raise the visibility of girls and women in sports that included a 30-second spot highlighting said efforts that aired during the Women’s World Cup.

Meanwhile, agencies like Rain the Growth Agency are either launching women sports-focused services or touting agency focuses on the partnerships between women athletes and brands this year.

As conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion continue throughout the industry, marketers and advertisers growing investment in women’s sports is a step in the right direction, said Tahlisha Williams, evp of talent, equity and learning solutions at 4A’s. Especially as consumers continue to push for brand purpose, transparency and diversity.

“Long gone are the days of sensational advertising,” Williams said, referring to flash in the pan marketing moments that lack authentic interest in societal issues. “People are demanding something different out of marketing and advertising.”

Rain the Growth Agency has already started thinking about the future of women’s sports, not just from a media perspective, but overall marketing investment, per Cohen. 

“The interest is there and we try to help our clients think through, not necessarily what is happening today, but how do we prepare for the future?,” she said. 

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