Women’s Sport Series: All to play for – Investment into women’s sport

This article is part of our ‘Women’s Sport Series’, shining a light on the opportunities and challenges faced by the wider sport industry in light of the rapid growth in participation, viewership and commercial value of women’s sport. Women’s sport is finally in the spotlight - after years of being in the shadow of men’s sport - and it is here to stay. A lack of funding and resources has prevented women’s sport from growing for years, and both continued and new investment is now crucial to ensure that women’s sport not only keeps growing but also maximises its potential. With a relatively blank canvas, there is scope for investors to shape the future of women’s sport.

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Barclays’ sponsorship of women’s football is a prime example of investing into women’s sport for both the present and the future: from 2022, Barclays committed to invest more than £30 million into women’s football including sponsoring the elite level of the FA Women’s Super League (WSL), becoming the first title sponsor of the FA Women’s Championship and investing at grassroots level. In doing so, Barclays has the opportunity to derive value from all stages of the pyramid. In golf, the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) has been successful in enticing investment through sponsorship, which is proving to be beneficial for sponsors, with a recent report finding that LPGA sponsors have gained up to a 400 per cent return on their investment. In March, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) announced CVC Capital Partners as its strategic partner, with CVC investing $150m for a 20 per cent stake in the WTA Tour’s commercial business. With new investment, one of the changes planned for the WTA Tour is to alter the playing calendar so that there is more fan engagement; the scheduling of women’s matches to maximise audiences across all sports is key.

One sport that has tried to capitalise on scheduling to increase fan engagement is cricket with the introduction of The Hundred, the England and Wales Cricket Board’s (ECB) franchise cricket tournament which started in 2021. The format sees the women’s match played first, followed by the men’s, which has not only attracted increasingly larger female audiences over the past two years, but has also arguably translated into more fan engagement in the sport more generally, with the recent Women’s Ashes drawing in 5.5 million viewers which is more than double the 2019 audience (the result of which has subsequently led to a landmark announcement by the ECB that England’s men and women international cricketers will now be paid the same money in match fees).

Equally, in women’s football, clubs have sought to take advantage of the men’s stadiums when vacant to raise the profile of and attract larger audiences to matches, with Arsenal Women selling out their UEFA Women’s Champions League semi-final home leg against Wolfsburg at the Emirates. The future success of women’s sport will require ongoing investment into well-established sports and leagues to ensure that they continue to thrive, such as the Australian Super Netball league – one of the best netball leagues in the world – the financial viability of which has recently been questioned, with predictions of large losses by 2026 in part due to a projected lack of increased revenue.

There is certainly an opportunity for brands and investors to reap the rewards of sponsoring women’s sports events, not least due to the broad reach offered by free to air broadcasting. For example, this year the Netball World Cup, Women’s Six Nations (with title partner TikTok) and FIFA Women’s World Cup have all been shown on free to air in the UK, representing an excellent opportunity for brands to align themselves with women’s sports which are becoming more and more visible. A recent study from the Women’s Sport Trust found that 60% of the UK population believe that sponsors should invest equally in the men’s and women’s side of a team they sponsor, which highlights how consumers are now expecting brands to invest into women’s sport. However, creating value from assets in women’s sports is not just a case of replicating what has been done in men’s sports, but rather women’s sport represents new opportunities for investment.

One key opportunity that investors may begin to turn to in the field of women’s sport is investment into women’s clothing, footwear, equipment and sports technology. Only recently, there has been a prevalent discussion in the world of women’s football following multiple ACL injuries to high profile players which, whilst seemingly not down to one factor, has prompted conversations around the adequacy of football boots, which have typically been created for male players. Brands have now started to create female boots with this in mind, and this is just an example of where investment into one element of the women’s sport ecosystem could help to grow a sport as a whole, increasing participation and making certain sports as accessible as possible.

The UK Government announced on the 28 August that they will be launching a new investment scheme, the ‘Women’s Sports Investment Accelerator’, which will bring UK-based women’s sports rightsholders who are seeking investment together with industry experts and sports investors. With the aim of trying to help push women’s sport forward and drive growth, this initiative comes at a pivotal time for women’s sport and can only help to maximise its potential.

Whilst women’s sport is predicted to generate £1bn revenue in the UK by 2030, it seems as though there is still all to play for when it comes to investing in women’s sport, with plenty of opportunities to exploit.

To find out more about our capabilities and experience in Women’s Sport, please visit our Sports Law+ site.

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