Untapped Resource: The Power Of Women In The Sports Marketplace

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com SportsMoney (October 20, 2014)

“Sports in all its forms and definitions have never been more impactful on the lives of girls and women,” said Christine Driessen, ESPN CFO, to an audience of top female athletes and women in sports influencers at the5th Annual espnW Women + Sports Summit.

“The marketplace is exploding with untapped and expanding opportunities to serve women of all ages…there is money to be invested and money waiting to be earned.”

While the female consumer purchasing power has been widely reported at 85%, it seems that only recently thebusiness sector has replaced the shrink it and pink it mentality with authentically listening to the needs of women.

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Dana Point, CA – October 10, 2014 – St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort: The Power of the Women’s Marketplace panelists (l to r) Donna Orender, Heidi Sandreuter, Paul Altman with Darren Rovell during the 2014 ESPNW Summit (Photo by Kohjiro Kinno / ESPN Images)

What has changed? 

“The conversation and noise level around this issue has gone up,” said brand/business strategist and founder of Generation W, Donna Orender.  “The more we raise our hands and exercise our market power, which is what we are starting to do – then the market is reacting.”

Earlier this month, we saw an example of this when a 12-year-old girl raised her hand and exercised the power of the female market in the form of a letter to Dick’s Sporting Goods. She questioned their failure to represent women athletes in its basketball catalog, and pointed out that the only female included in the advertisement was sitting in the stands. Days later, the attention surrounding Dick’s Sporting Goods DKS -0.89%’ short-sided actions resulted in its Chairman and CEO, Edward Stack, apologizing for the “obvious mistake” and guaranteeing that next year’s catalog would prominently feature female athletes.
Across the board, female consumer voices are powerful; the game-changers are speaking up at earlier stages in their lives, and businesses marketing to women are now left with only one option, which is to listen.

During the espnW Women + Sports Summit, women’s professional sports brands and business leaders gathered together to discuss their strategies for serving women in the marketplace. Here is how the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), Under Armour UA +1.8%, EY, and Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) are driving market trends and growth.

Disruption is the new norm. Change is the catalyst for growth.

In 2013, the WTA celebrated its 40th anniversary by reaching 33 countries across 54 events. By 2023, its CEO and Chair, Stacey Allaster, envisions the tennis association as “the most inspirational and exciting sport entertainment experience on earth,” with its athletes competing for $200 million in prize money. How will the WTA accomplish that? By disrupting everything that you think you know about tennis. From the smallest detail of allowing fans to keep stray tennis balls, to bigger feats of live streaming all tournaments and incorporating mobile technology data – expect the WTA to become even more fan friendly by progressively pushing boundaries.

Identify a Human Story.

The women’s athletic apparel market in North America is estimated at $14 billion. But focusing on the “traditional” definition of a female athlete and her spending habits left companies like Under Armour capturing only 1/5 of the market. How do you connect with to the remaining 4/5?

For Heidi Sandreuter, Under Armour’s Vice President of Women’s Marketing, the answer includes touching a cultural nerve, creating a human story that consumers can connect with, and designing products worthy of a woman’s “will.” Launching the I Will What I Want campaign allowed Under Armour to reach consumers who identify with being told that cannot do something and then rising above adversity. The ad featuring American Ballet Theater soloist, Misty Copeland, which shatters body image, age and race stereotypes associated with being a ballerina, has compiled over 6 million views on YouTube.

Sandreuter notes that in the last year Under Armour’s brand preference increased from 9% to 19% among their target consumers. And since launching the campaign, the company experienced a rise in brand awareness and relevance, as well as purchase intent.

Create Networks.

How do you reach women in the marketplace? How do you help female athletes of today become the business leaders of tomorrow? For Beth Brooke-Marciniak, Global Vice Chair of Public Policy for EY, the solution includes creating networks for women because there is an unconscious bias to pay attention to men first.

Based on a global online survey of women executives, Brooke-Marciniak and EY uncovered data that shows there is a direct correlation between career advancement and participating in sports. As a result, the  EY Women Athletes Business Network was launched to assist elite female athletes cross from sports to a career in business. Creating a network of women athletes and connecting them with women business leaders allows them to think bigger, be bigger, and alter the alter the landscape of the corporate world. Further, a more recent study in partnership with EY and espnW shows that women in the C-suite want to hire other women with an athletic background because of their ability to see projects through conclusion, perform at a high level, and ultimately compete to win.

Reverse Roles.

What is the key to gaining new business partners and keeping them? For LPGA Commissioner, Michael Whan, the answer is simple – ask what keepsthem awake at night. At the LPGA, every business relationship begins by understanding the world of their partners better than their own. The LPGA wants to know what their partners are talking about and how sponsoring a golf tournament can benefit their businesses. This role reversal strategy puts the focus on the person who is writing the check, which Whan encourages every LPGA golfer to thank personally. By making professional golf a client-driven customer-centric sport, the LPGA is experiencing double-digit television growth (up 75% from 2010), which has led to 11 additional marketing sponsors plus 12 new events in the last three years.

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