GroupM to double media spend on women’s sports

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GroupM will double its media spend commitment to women’s sports, and is looking to create a standalone women’s sports marketplace effective with this year’s upfront marketplace.

WPP’s media buying arm will announce today it has intent to spend from a list of significant advertisers, including Adidas, Ally, Coinbase, Discover, Google, Mars, Nationwide, Unilever, Universal Pictures and others. They all currently advertise in women’s sports already but are looking to find new ways to get involved.

Citing a Deloitte report that estimates the women’s sports ad marketplace will exceed $1 billion in 2024, GroupM said it will seek out what it calls first-look and first-to-market investment opportunities for the above clients, some of which are already pretty big supporters of women’s sports.  

GroupM’s timing seems well timed, as the March Madness college basketball tournament is well underway— and some believe the women’s draw is attracting more of an active fan base than the men’s. Names like Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese seem to register with the casual viewer as strongly as some of the men. 

“This has been a growth movement over the last few years now. We have clients that lean really well into this space already,” said Martin Blich, GroupM U.S.’s executive director of sports and live investment. “There’s whitespace, in terms of the ability to craft and do things in our own way as this marketplace evolves, and as women’s sports becomes a bigger part of the overall pie of the sports world. It’s important to get in now.” 

Andrea Brimmer, chief marketing and PR officer at Ally, one of GroupM’s clients, describes the digital financial services firm as one of the original architects of the movement to support women’s sports. She said two years ago, in an important anniversary milestone of the passage of Title IX, Ally decided to commit to spending an equal amount of its sports media dollars on women’s sports over a five-year span from the 90% it was spending at the time on men’s sports. 

Ally has since worked with CBS to move the National Women’s Soccer League championship match into a prime-time slot while extending its sponsorship of the league another five years, said Brimmer. Ally also cut a multimillion dollar deal with Disney that specified 95% of its spend had to go into women’s sports while mandating that sports programming had to move into “more desirable time slots,” she added.

The fact is, women’s sports remains relatively affordable compared to men’s, so why not support at an early point in the maturation is Brimmer’s point. The change in spend to 50/50 came as much out of existing budgets that were optimized, Brimmer added. For example, she said hypothetically if Ally cut down from three spots in the NBA Finals to two, that savings could equal a whole season’s worth of sponsorship in a women’s sports league. 

But Ally also supports up-and-coming sports platforms too, from Togethxr to Re-Inc to The Gist, all of which have been started by various female athletes. The ultimate goal, said Brimmer is “to create a marketplace that kicks off around the time of the upfronts to expose more brands to not only what exists in legacy media platforms, but also to these emerging platforms that need to sustain if women’s sports are truly going to get the focus and attention that they need.” 

Added Denise Ocasio, GroupM U.S.’s executive director of investment: “By doing this, we’re going to find the … next cultural moment that lives in X sport the way it might live in women’s basketball today, or women’s soccer last summer. So that’s what our hope is. Because right now, we want to have an equitable playing field across all women’s sports.”

GroupM isn’t alone in ramping up its efforts in women’s sports — particularly March Madness. Horizon Media’s Blue Hour Studios last week launched a social- and influencer-driven effort on behalf of client Optimum Nutrition that taps college hoops stars including LSU’s Angel Reese, Tennessee’s Rickea Jackson, North Carolina’s Deja Kelly, and UConn’s Azzi Fudd. The paid campaign, Unlock More You, popped up on the Tik Tok and Instagram feeds of the hoopers, whose reach spans 100,000 followers to 2.5 million.

“We felt that given the relevance of the March Madness tournament at this time of the year and the crossover between the fans with Optimum Nutrition’s target audience, this was strategically a good activation to bring appeal to the consumers on both the creative and talent level at the same time,” said Nicolette Trebing, Blue Hour’s director of brand solutions. Because Blue Hour’s efforts are part of a broader effort by Optimum Nutrition, she declined to say the value of the campaign.

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