Marketing Sports to Female Fans

Approximately 50% of the population refers to themselves as female. But throughout the years, sports have been predominately male-dominated and companies have focused their efforts on marketing sports in a male-oriented manner. Women's sports is also on the rise; however, with an increased amount of viewers tuning in. With 84% of general sports fans interested in women's sports, it's an important market to target. Now is the time to change the norm and market sports in a more neutral way so women aren't an afterthought.

The Facts

There has long been a disconnect between female fans, and the more ‘delicate woman’ persona that Leagues often market to. As we step into the world of female sports fans, let’s look at some facts about fans in the sports industry.

  • Women make up 47% of all NFL fans, which equates to 88 million fans.
  • There has been an 83% increase in younger women (18-34) fan viewership for the MLB in 2020
  • Sponsorships for female sports only accounted for 0.4% of the total amount spent on sports sponsorships despite the fact that women are responsible for growing the activewear market to bring in millions of dollars for retailers.
  • The Olympic Channel found that 56% of engagement on all their content comes from women, and it’s 16% higher on the women’s content than the men’s - showing how engaged female fans are

Breakthroughs 2019-2020

Over the last year, great momentum has been built up by both the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) and the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) - including the WNBA's collective bargaining agreement ramping up pay for players in a landmark moment for women in sports. While there were concerns that COVID-19 would undo the progress made by these leagues over the last year, strong ratings and increased sponsorships are quelling those thoughts.

The NWSL Challenge Cup final in July set a new record for viewership with 653,000 people tuning in, up almost 300% from the 2019 final. In addition, ESPN decided to feature 13 additional WNBA games this season, putting the total number of league broadcasts at 37. The successes of these leagues highlight the economic viability of women's sports and show a growth in viewership, attendance and fan following.

Leveraging Female Fans

(c/o Emma Dau, Unsplash)

Female fan viewership continues to grow, and so does the potential audience engagement they bring. By focusing resources on your female fanbase, using products and messaging that is authentic to their experience, you can grow your overall viewership and merchandise conversions.

Apparel + Mobile Shopping

As major leagues started to realize the increase of female fans, the desire for team apparel to fit the female body type began to rise. The NFL was the first to take action and started to make apparel for women. But unfortunately, they took it the wrong path to "shrink it and pink it." The clothing focused on making the sizing fit the female body while also making it pink and glittery. When this line was released, female fans appreciated the female sizing but preferred the apparel matched the team colours.

In recent years, women’s apparel in the NFL has frequently been the league’s fastest growing ancillary business. Clothing lines from Alyssa Milano and Erin Andrews have been popular because they stay true to team asthetic but offer fashion forward fits.

This year the 'Orange Hoodie Campaign' done by ESPN and the WNBA is an example of apparel done well. The league's signature orange logo hoodie was pushed by athletes across sports and ESPN to build excitement leading up to the WNBA's opening weekend. The bright hoodie took over social media and started to serve as a symbol of the WNBA's values - values that many female fans align with.

When thinking about selling merchandise to fans, it’s important to consider your mobile shopping experience. A recent study found that 65% of sports apparel sales came from mobile shopping—with sales spiking just after a team wins a big game. Therefore, ensure you have a seamless mobile shopping experience, so fans can purchase merchandise quickly after a big win. You can target mobile shoppers via Instagram’s Shopping feature, AR filters that link to merchandise pages, sponsored posts, and through your team's mobile app.

Targeted Campaigns + Events

Female fans have become a priority as they are a large demographic historically untouched. As women control 80% of consumer purchases, it is clear that female fans that can not be ignored. To leverage this demographic, the New York Yankees host a yearly fantasy camp for women to participate and create unforgettable memories. This camp tends to further increase the fan's loyalty in addition to sharing their experience with friends.

In addition, a number of NFL teams have women’s clubs designed to welcome more female fans. The Ravens’ have “Purple”, the 49ers have WON (Women of the Niners) and The Washington Football team has WOW (Women of Washington Football). While it is important to create inclusive spaces in sports, leagues and teams should be cognizant of treating all female fans as ‘beginners’ and instead treat them like the engaged fans they are.

Another outlet that captures female fans is through advertising campaigns directly targeted to them. Generally, values associated with women's sports include equality and being progressive, inclusive, and resilient - offering unbelievable storytelling power to brands. For example, VISA's "One Moment Can Change the Game" tapped into the experience of young female athletes with their frustrations and determination. The campaigns that strike the heart of female fans are those that speak to their experiences with sports - and this often includes messages around female empowerment and accessibility.

Leveraging Social Media

At least 1 in 2 sports fans say they head to social media or chat to friends on dark social platforms when second-screening while watching a live game - most often to see friends’ reactions and commentary in real-time. For brands wanting the attention of these viewers, maximizing the digital footprint of a campaign will be key.

Sponsorship of Women’s sports is a growing area of interest, and the value of working with athletes as influencers has shown its promise in 2020. In particular, A’ja Wilson, Breanna Steward and Sue Bird of the WNBA showed immense social value because they were some of the most active athletes when it came to sharing content from other brands and personalities. Tell your brand story by aligning your values with influential athletes - and don’t overlook professional female athletes. In addition, use platforms like Instagram stories to have 1:1 conversations in a more authentic way.

The use of social media gives marketers another outlet to connect with their fans. Being able to communicate directly to fans creates a stronger connection between the team and the fan. Learning more about what interests your fan is one of the essential tools that can help you target this demographic. A great example of this was done by Adidas who created a private WhatsApp channel for their fans to connect with athletes, receive exclusive invites and special offers.

Know Your Strengths

(c/o Matt Alaniz, Unsplash)

As the female fan base continues to grow, so too should marketing efforts targeted at women. While we continue to look into the sports marketing scene, there are several different ways that marketers can use this information to their advantage. Since women control the majority of consumer spending, the amount of revenue that can be generated from their influence is enormous. Women are not the only target in this segment; young girls are starting to get into sports at a young age as well.

While some sports marketers have pivoted their marketing efforts to appeal to female consumers, there's still more work to be done in order to win women's spending.

Contact us to see how we can help you connect with your female sports fans!


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