As all eyes turn to Australia for the FIFA Women’s World Cup final, Australia’s Victoria State Government has released a timely report on the sponsorship gap for women’s sports rights. The report, titled “The Value of You Can Be What You Can See”, commented that “women’s elite sport remains underappreciated” by investors despite the exponential growth of women’s elite sport in recent years. The Women’s World Cup may be a good example. Last Saturday’s Australia v France game brought in a peak audience of 7.2 million in Australia. Wednesday’s Australia v England semi-final reached 11.15 million Australians nationally, breaking TV records. But despite high viewing figures, FIFA, who separated out the broadcast rights for the Women’s World Cup from the men’s for the first time in 2023 described some offers as “very disappointing”. FIFA president Gianni Infantino commented that offers for the women's tournament were typically 20 to 100 times lower than for the men's.
Given the current discrepancy between viewing figures and investor attention, early movers arguably enjoy some of the best value sponsorship opportunities available. The Victoria State Government report suggests that “sponsorships of women’s elite sporting properties outperform men’s elite sporting properties in brand awareness, brand consideration and customer conversion.” It also commented that early corporate supporters of Australian women’s elite sport realise AUS $7.1 in customer value for every AUS $1 spent on sponsorship, totalling more than AUS $650 million customer value per year. If the yearly AUS $125 million sponsorship gap (between men’s and women’s sport) is fully addressed by 2028, the report forecasts that customer value could reach AUS $72.8 billion within 15 years.
Other rights-holders, aside from FIFA, are also trying to decide how to structure women’s sports rights going forward. The US’s National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is mulling over the best approach to its women’s basketball competition, which is part of a 12-year rights bundle due to expire after the 2023/24 season. In its “State of Business Review Key Findings” published on 2 August 2023, the NCAA highlighted increasing interest in new sports and leagues (including women’s sports) as a key trend amongst consumers and fans. It also offered a glimpse of where women’s sports may fit into the upcoming rights negotiations, scheduled to start at the end of this year. The Key Findings state: “the media rights bundle going out to bid offers the NCAA a unique opportunity to restructure the digital and sponsorship rights tied to Division I Men’s Basketball, making it possible to dramatically expand media and digital content and sponsorship for women’s championships.”
The NCAA women’s basketball competition has significantly increased in value and popularity since the expiring rights bundle (reportedly worth around USD $34 million per year) was originally negotiated. Notably, the women’s basketball March Madness final this year pulled in a record 9.9 million audience, making it the most viewed women’s college basketball game ever.
NCAA president Charlie Baker hinted in April that the upcoming negotiations for the women’s basketball game are a “giant opportunity”, suggesting the NCAA may shake up how the rights are structured. The NCAA’s recent comments have added further fuel to the fire of industry speculation that Baker may unbundle the women’s rights from the men’s game. Such a decision would be a clear vote of confidence in the value of the women’s basketball competition as a standalone asset.
The number of news stories about women’s sport and sponsorship that have appeared since the start of the World Cup make clear that this issue will continue to be a hot topic.
Bring on the World Cup final this Sunday and the continued conversation around women’s sports rights.