Women’s sport: the marketing opportunity too good to ignore
Big crowds and big brands are flocking to Australian women’s sporting leagues, but there’s still plenty of opportunity to get in early, says Ashleigh Hall.
Sport has long been one of the life bloods of television in this country, resulting in two of our greatest TV ‘wars’: first, Kerry Packer versing the ABC with World Series Cricket in the 1970s, then Rupert Murdoch taking the fight to Kerry with Super League in the ‘90s.
In short, if there’s been an athletic contest between two teams of men, networks have been willing to pay big buck to secure it.
But if the last few years are anything to go by, that is set to dramatically shift in the coming decade.
On Saturday afternoon, the Brisbane Lions will host the Adelaide Crows in the inaugural NAB AFL Women’s grand final.
While some outspoken and ill-informed cynics assumed the women’s league was a token gesture from the AFL in an attempt to improve public perception of the men’s game, the 2017 AFLW season has been an unqualified success.
The very first game of the season, played between traditional rivals Collingwood and Carlton, had to be moved from the Magpies’ Olympic Park facility to the larger Ikon Park – AKA the Blues’ traditional home ground, Princes Park – in anticipation of some 12,000 people attending.
Instead, a capacity crowd of 24,568 people turned up, resulting in the ground staff locking the gates at quarter time, having to turn away an estimated 2,000 more punters.
The AFL – Australia’s largest, most financially viable sporting organisation – has shown it is willing to take a short-term hit financially to ensure the AFLW is a success.
And it is already seeing dividends from a broadcast perspective, with that first match – simulcast on the 7 Network and Fox Footy – reaching a national TV audience of 896,000.
Almost 25,000 people at the ground and close to a million sets of eyeballs on the box – those are numbers that just about any sporting league in Australia would kill for.
And while a cynical few suggested 7 and Fox Footy’s agreement to broadcast the women’s game was just a ploy to keep their major partner – the AFL – sweet, that argument was dismantled with Women’s Footy on Fox talk show airing this past fortnight.
Admittedly, it was only two episodes, but networks don’t just give up two hour slots at 8.30pm on a Wednesday night. The networks are seeing the dollars that the women’s game brings in.
Chicken or the egg?
Women’s sport in Australia has long been a case of chicken or egg. It didn’t receive media coverage, because the argument was no one was interested, but since no one was giving it media coverage, how could anyone be interested?
Well, the chooks have well and truly come home to roost – and not just for the AFL. The past two Rebel Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) seasons have been ratings hits, with the first game of WBBL02 attracting a national peak of 637,000 viewers.
Furthermore, with the BBL and WBBL seasons largely overlapping, there were a number of double-headers, while the Big Bash website is the online home of both leagues, with largely equal billing for female and male players.
Cricket Australia also saw the league’s potential as both a money-spinner and great advertisement to get women playing the game, and streamed every game live and free on cricket.com.au, as well as on their app and on the WBBL Facebook page.
Then there’s the Suncorp Super Netball, which has the 9 Network showing a live double-header, as well as two delayed games each week. The opening weekend received national reach of 858,000 viewers.
It’s also worth noting that all three competitions have major backers – the AFLW is sponsored by NAB, WBBL by Rebel, and Super Netball by Suncorp – which really puts a pin in the idea that there’s only sponsorship dollars for the men’s competitions.
The fact that the cash on offer for these women’s start-up leagues is at present a smaller figure than what a men’s team in one of the major competitions receives just means they represent tremendous value for marketers.
A lack of history cuts both ways
While the women’s leagues have relatively little mainstream media history, they carry next to no baggage.
Week in, week out, an NRL or AFL player is in the front pages of the paper for any number of issues, ranging from ‘boys will be boys’ antics through to committing serious crimes resulting in prison sentences.
Finding a team whose values align with your company’s is a whole lot easier when they don’t have players on their books who are more famous for their appearances in front of a judge than on the pitch.
A real value proposition
People often reflect on how different cricket was before Kerry Packer got involved, and it’s incredible to think that before the Super League war there were just two rugby league games televised each week, as well as a highlights package on the ABC.
There’s just so much money in sport content, it’s crazy that there was a time when so much of it just went begging. And that’s exactly what people are going to think about women’s sport in just a few short years.
Some savvy businesses got in on the ground floor, and it’s a fast-rising elevator, but it’s by no means too late to get some great value from the huge eyes and interaction women’s sport is set to attract.
Ashleigh Hall is director of media at Atomic 212.