Sports industry is vibrant and as population grows, the number of fans keeps increasing.Male have for ages dominated the sports sector in terms of revenues, popularity and growth.That has made it difficult for less appealing women to break into mainstream sport.Marketing of women in sport is simple as sex sells.If you doubt me, just do an online search of any female athlete and its highly probable the top search results are for women in form of skimpy attire showing off anything other than their sporting talents.Marketing of women have been focused on highlighting the physical attributes of the athlete, and not the sporting.In my view, women need to focus on sex appeal to market themselves if they are to make it the league of Maria Sharapova or former Tennis star Martina Hingis.Most professional sport codes are male dominated. They have an established place in the market place and the market they operate in is no longer sport but entertainment and a good example is National Basketball Association in US and English Premier League. This has changed everything.The smarter operators, led by the English Premier League, realised the change was coming and have evolved their brand in line with the change. Every single aspect of the English Premier League is reviewed every end of the season to ensure that in the entertainment market it is keeping its place. It has also increased the percentage of women who attend matches in both English Premier League and Championship matches. Not bad for a man’s game.This has helped them secure higher TV rights deals with Sky Broadcasting and British Telekom, bigger corporate sponsorships and undoubtedly the long term survival of the game itself. The English Premier League also has diversified revenue with money coming from stadium deals on naming, food and beverage, attendance, internet sites, betting and merchandise.
Then there is also revenue from the fan base itself, ticket sales, memberships, merchandise and events.For example, Manchester United has over 700 million fans across the world and sees an average attendance of 75,000 in home matches at Old Trafford, English Premier League’s biggest stadium.Whilst the English Premier League lead the way in managing their brand, other sports are all trying to move their sports from the 20th century model of largely government funded sport organisations to multi-million dollar inclusive entertainment brands focused on several target markets and the corporate dollar. This is not an easy process as the recent takeover of Formula One showed. But it had to happen to my beloved sport or else these F1 as we fondly refer to it will just fade away.It is this old business model that is hurting the marketing of women in sport. Most sports rely upon on funding to survive. This outdated focus has neglected the actual development of the sports themselves, and evolving the sport to match the changing market. The sport then becomes unattractive to spectators, media and the corporate world, reducing revenue every year and making the organisation more and more dependent upon funding.This vicious cycle means sports organisations provide only limited funding to elite athletes like tennis players, golfers, etc. They must look somewhere else to make ends meet. And as most corporates aren’t interested in the sport itself that somewhere else is usually marketing their own brand.From a marketing perspective though, sex appeal has a very limited use and even then only with a very specific target market, usually young males aged below 35 thats why likes of Roger Federer are seeing their last years in their highly lucrative sex appeal sponsorship deals.
The smarter athletes like US tennis star Serena Williams have realised the limitations of pure sex appeal and now focus on offering a personal brand that is attractive, intelligent and an excellent role model with on field and off field behaviour.Unlike their male counterparts they are unlikely to be caught doing something stupid like it happened with Manchester United’s captain Wayne Rooney few years ago in his infamous sex scandal, that harms not only their brand, but that of their sponsors as well. And also unlike their male counterparts, female athletes can be used to target women in marketing campaigns.Considering research has demonstrates that women make most household spending decisions, including the one to buy the family home, this makes female athletes ideally positioned to be used as celebrity endorsers in marketing campaigns.Female athletes need to focus in marketing their brand and moving away from sex appeal. Sport being competitive and performance driven as it is what we are seeing is the athletes are often doing a better job at marketing themselves than the sports that they come from.There are some sports that are realising the potential in having positive role models that may be attractive to half of the total market. What I can see as a trends is that to move away from selling just sex appeal, and market the entire brand of the sport itself is the way to go. The market needs and wants more female sporting celebrities who can offer a complete brand, not just one that appears on the cover page of local or international magazines.For this to happen though it will be up to the sports themselves to wake up to the fact that they now operate in the entertainment market and sex appeal is quickly diminishing with the bottom line.