New Partnerships Highlight The Increasing Value Of Women’s Sports


Over the past three months, companies including Barclays, Budweiser, and AT&T have announced new sponsorship relationships across a variety of women’s sports. Nike hosted the 2019 WNBA draft as part of its partnership with the WNBA to be the league’s exclusive on-court uniform and clothing retailer. The WNBA also announced a new multi-year agreement significantly increasing the number of league games that will be broadcast annually.

The relatively recent influx of sponsorship dollars into women’s sports is a significant reversal of historical trends. A 2018 Statista report found that women’s sports receive only 0.4% of total sports sponsorships. More specifically, sports sponsorships are a $106.8 billion global market and only $427 million was spent on women’s sports. The lack of investment was in part due to the lack of exposure. In 2014 only 3.2% of “broadcast time” was dedicated to women’s athletics. 

There have been two factors driving the increasing interest in women’s sports partnerships. The first reason is that investments in women’s sports at both the youth and professional levels are paying dividends especially since the passage of Title IX. Over 3.3 million girls are now participating in youth sports in the U.S., which is an all-time high.

This increase in youth participation has come in large part because successes of female athletes at the highest levels including professional sports leagues, the Olympics, and the Women’s World Cup. For example, the 25.4 million viewers for the 2015 Women’s World Cup final made it “the most-viewed soccer game ever in the United States–men’s or women’s–by a giant margin” at the time.

More specifically, girls now have role models that demonstrate the achievement in their sports both on and off the field. Not only can women compete professionally but they can also become brand ambassadors for global companies. As former WNBA superstar Sheryl Swoopes said, “When I was 16, I didn’t have that dream because I had no idea that [it] was even possible. Now these girls see it as a possibility to be part of brands like Nike.”

Nike is an important company to highlight when looking for the second main reason for the increase in partnership spend in women’s sports. Companies with significant business-to-consumer (B2C) revenue streams like Nike want to be able to reach women to drive revenue to their businesses. Nike’s CEO Mark Parker has specifically stated that female consumers represent a “tremendous opportunity moving forward… [in part because] the women’s business is over-indexing our men’s growth.” The company is launching new products including yoga pants and sports bras in an increasing number of sizes in part after seeing double digit growth in the Air Jordan business for women. 

It’s not just Nike that is looking at women to fuel growth. Companies with significant consumer revenue streams including Barclays, Budweiser, and AT&T represent a larger push by businesses to more aggressively target female consumers to fuel growth. According to a report in 2017 by the Women’s Foodservice Forum, McKinsey & Co. and, women make 85% of all consumer purchasing decisions. A 2013 report by Ernst & Young stated women would have an effect “at least as significant as that of China and India” on the global economy over the next ten years.

It is not a coincidence that Nike, Barclays, Budweiser, and AT&T are some of the earlier movers in increasing their women’s sports investment. A key element in the Block Six Analytics Corporate Asset Valuation Model (CAV) is examining the fit of partnership activations to a company’s ROI and ROO goals. These companies have already made multi-million dollar commitments in sports partnerships because of their belief that these investments will help them generate revenue and better engage with new or existing customers. In fact, Budweiser has publicly moved to a performance-based model when evaluating sponsorships to measure performance in a similar way that the CAV does (Budweiser is not a B6A client). 

These companies likely see the unique opportunity that exists in women’s sports. Women’s sports partnerships have historically been underinvested, are relatively inexpensive compared to many men’s sports investments, and can help these companies reach female consumers. More specifically, many companies are looking to more aggressively target female customers at the same time that women’s sports popularity is achieving record numbers. This dynamic demonstrates why these recent deals should be the start of growing investment in women’s sports partnerships.