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International Women’s Day: Strides made in sponsorship of women’s sport

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, we want to take the opportunity to acknowledge the strides made by women in sport and women’s sport and how this progress is evidenced in recent sponsorship deals.

Sponsorship in sport is clearly crucial for enabling amateur and up and coming professional athletes to dedicate their time to training and preparing for games, tournaments and competitions as well as enhancing earning potential.

Keen followers of DLA Pipers’ women in sport initiative will recall our Sponsorship and Major Events panel event in 2021 which featured a key note speech by Olympic Gold Medallist and former track athlete, Sally Gunnell OBE DL. Sally talked about how sponsorship of female athletes has changed so dramatically since she won gold in the 400m hurdles at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. Sally explained that, unlike many female athletes today, she had to work at an accountant’s twice a week and relied on National Lottery sponsorship to fund her athletics before winning gold.

Sally also reflected on her realisation that the only way for her to get recognition and media coverage as a female athlete was to win her event. Coming in second was not going to cut it (as Sally realised when she finished second in the Athletics World Championships in Tokyo in 1991). But even when Sally won gold in Barcelona, the money and recognition did not come flooding in as she had expected. It took Sally winning gold at the World Championships and breaking the world record in her event the following year for her to get the same recognition as her male counterparts.

Sally’s speech also drew attention to how the types of sponsorship enjoyed by female athletes has changed. Sally recalled with fondness her 4-year partnership with cosmetics brand, Avon, but noted that when she was competing, most sponsors backing female athletes were food and beauty brands. Whereas, her Team GB colleague, Linford Christie enjoyed lucrative deals with sports brands such as Puma. To access the full event recording, including Sally’s key note, click here.

30 years later following their success at the Women’s Euros, Lioness Lucy Bronze secured sponsorship deals with Pepsi and Visa and accounting software company Xero announced a three-year deal with the FA to sponsor the England Women’s Senior Team as well as England Football.

In September of the same year, Vodafone announced a landmark multi-year partnership with the Welsh Rugby Union to become the principal partner of women’s and girls’ rugby in Wales. Their aim is to reach 10,000 female players in Wales by 2026 through investment in grassroots clubs and programmes and at the elite level. Vodafone will also feature as the front-of-shirt sponsor for the Wales Women’s Rugby Team at the TikTok Women’s Six Nations set to kick off later this month.

It is clear that one of the big factors driving sponsorship deals in sport is viewership figures. As such, the report published last month by the Women’s Sport Trust that the “average viewing time per person for women’s sport on TV in the UK increased year-on-year by 131% in 2022” is another reason to celebrate. We predict that an article on this topic next year will include even more for us to commemorate.

Wishing everyone a happy international women’s day and if, like us, you are passionate about women’s sport please do get in touch.


uk, advertising, media, sport, women in sport, sponsorship