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MKTG Insights: The Rise of the Female Fan

MKTG Insights: The Rise of the Female Fan

This blog has been repurposed from a presentation given by MKTG at the 1st Annual Women in Sports Management Conference at the Ivey School of Business on October 22nd. If you are sponsor, property, or university / college group and are interested in hearing MKTG's presentation on the "Rise of the Female Fan", contact info@sesponsorshipgroup.com

It is a theme all-too-prevalent across pop culture: "Sports are for boys." From sitcoms, to children's cartoons, gender roles have traditionally reinforced the notion that sports are male a male-centric passion point in society. The idea that women are not only less interested in sporting culture than men, but can actually be an obstacle to the enjoyment of that culture is a creative theme leveraged by a wide array of brands, as evidenced by this Direct TV spot for NFL Sunday Ticket from August 2013.

This tone places women on the peripheral of the fan experience. Historically, brands that have put the female fan at the heart of their message have done so with a "girls too" approach, finding ways to make women’s version of a typical fan item: a Los Angeles Kings branded $325 Swarovski crystal purse; Alyssa Milano’s "TOUCH" product line of team-branded denim and dresses; The decision by the NHL / Reebok to discontinue female-cut jerseys and replace them with a line of pink jerseys after the 2004-2005 lockout.

For years, female fan outreach by professional sports leagues in North America and their marketing partners was hinged on a simple philosophy: "shrink it, and pink it". The consistent theme in the marketplace by sports properties was to take what was referred to as the "traditional male" fan experience, and package it in a pink t-shirt, or reconfigure it on "Ladies Night" at the ballpark. The tactics of the past could be considered tacit admission by sports marketing professionals that the "real fans" are male and that women strictly exist on the outside looking in, worthy only of tack-on programming. However, the composition of our stadiums and viewing audiences in the sporting world are forcing the marketing community to recalibrate on the issue of female-fan outreach.

Despite the emergence of the female fan base amongst major North American sports properties, this paradigm shift is unaccounted for within the sponsorship strategies of many brands investing in sport. According to the Canadian Sponsorship Landscape Study, only 4.8% of sponsorships have women as a primary target market, while just 17.2% of sponsorship investments target women at all.

Some skeptics point out that while the female fan base is growing in reach, it is a segment that lacks the same avidity towards the property that men hold (on average) and will therefore display less affinity towards corporate sponsors, rendering them undeserving of being targeted as a primary audience. We do not have the statistics to refute this but even ifthe female fan MAY lack in avidity, she more than makes up for in purchase influence.

Women are now credited with making 70% of purchase decisions and are over-indexing their decision making on purchases in some of the most prominent and lucrative sponsor categories. Even if a female is not the primary or even secondary target of a sponsorship or sponsorship activation, both her presence in viewing audiences and influence on purchase decision warrants brands adopting a more inclusive, empowering tone.

UNDERSTANDING THE FEMALE FAN: 91% of women feel that advertisers do not understand them. MKTG conducted proprietary research* on the female fan in attempt to gain insight into the attitudes of women towards sports sponsorship / sports marketing content. Key insights from our research were:

1. Women Do Not Feel They Are Taken Seriously: Among women who identify as sports fans, 73% do not believe they are taken seriously. Respect between a brand and a consumer is a prerequisite to monetization.

2. Differing Perspectives: Men and Women have differing perspectives on how females are portrayed in sports-themed advertising content. The leading answer from male respondents that women are most often portrayed as either the "spouse of a male athlete" or as a "regular fan". However, when female respondents were asked the same question, the leading answer was "I don't see females depicted in sports marketing content." The apparent disconnect between how men and women view the portrayal of women amplifies the importance of brands listening and appealing to their female audience.

SHIFTING THE TONE: Brands that are shaping best practice around their female marketing strategy are doing so by depicting women the same way we would expect to see a male depicted in the creative expression of brands. Moving away from highly sexualized gender roles and stereotypes allows marketers to drive a deeper connection with fans. An often cited example of a brand who has succeeded in the vein is Under Armour. The apparel brand has placed significant resources against building out their endorsement portfolio, particularly through partnerships with high-profile female athletes and female influencers. Current brand campaign "I Will What I Want" features Lindsey Vonn (skiing), Sloane Stephens (tennis), Misty Copeland (ballet / dance), and supermodel Gisele Bundchen, among others.

UA has effectively aligned brand strategy / sponsorship and business objectives. Female apparel is the primary growth strategy for the company, accounting for $500 million in annual revenue. Overall the tone and narrative that Under Armour is bringing to their female-targeted sponsorships and activation is one of empowerment. Females are casted not as moms or spouses, but as athletes themselves. The brand understands the notion that women do not need to be explicitly targeted with feminine imagery that can often be interpreted as patronizing or stereotypical.


Survey was conducted using Google Consumer Surveys.
Survey targeted general Canadian population (French Quebec excluded)
Sample size of 500 respondents

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