This week we’re leaping over the sponsorship gap and tackling all things sport. Find out which brands are making their mark.

The sponsorship gap

Why the sponsorship of female talent is still a missed opportunity for brands.

Alice Heraud



5 minute read

The International Chess Federation has recently made headlines for securing the biggest ever sponsorship deal for their latest Women’s World Championship. And the sponsor you ask? Motiva – a company specialising in breast augmentation.

Naturally, this move sparked outrage from female players pushing to be noticed for their “brains rather than boobs”.1 Yet competitors praised the deal for even happening, as it is “extremely difficult” to find sponsors for women’s events.1

Mainstream media likes to focus on unequal pay in women’s competitions and sporting leagues, but really, we should be pivoting the conversation. Instead, we need talk about how limited the sponsorship opportunities for female talent are, and how this is the main barrier stopping them from fully capitalising on their careers and achieving parity.
In short
  • Historically, only 0.4% of global sponsorship spend has been allocated to female talent.
  • Women’s sporting leagues are booming in Australia, drawing billions of eyeballs to their competitions.
  • To even the playing field for female talent, brands have to be more open-minded about sponsorship opportunities and traditional metrics.
The lopsided market
In Australia, over 40% of athletes are female, yet they only receive 4% of media coverage2. And they’re not just underpromoted in sports news, but also TV shows, ads and the like.

Female talent also historically pulls jaw-droppingly low levels of brand investment and sponsorship. One study from 2011-2013 found that out of $106.8bn spent in sponsorship deals globally, only $427.2m3 – a measly 0.4%4 of the budget – was spent on women’s sponsorship.

And when female talent is neither promoted nor marketed as much as their male counterparts, it’s easy to see how the trend of low audience and merchandise sales has ultimately driven away brands.
Tipping the balance
Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom. Brands like Toyota, McDonald’s and Bunnings have clued in to the potential of women’s sponsorship, and just in the nick of time for the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup. With the final not only attracting 1.1 billion streams online but also becoming the sixth most watched cricket match of all time in Australia.5

Sponsors have also been seen lapping up opportunities off the back of a stellar AFLW season. Its recent popularity swaying 80% of AFL sponsors to also invest in the women’s game, which now boasts the largest pool of employed female athletes in Australia.6
So what’s holding brands back?
Many brands aren’t confident enough to leap over the sponsorship gap, as they’re uncertain about their return on investment. Because somewhere down the line, brands have confused sponsorship with advertising. Sponsorship is about building real brand engagement and this is where female talent can really deliver.
Why your brand should invest in female talent:
  • They generate superior trust and brand awareness
    26% of people will consider or use a women’s brand sponsor (compared to 19% for male endorsements).7

  • They engage almost all Australians
    84% of Aussie sports fans are interested in women’s sports, which is an excellent opportunity for marketers to get more eyeballs on their brand.8

  • They’re the easiest way into a competitive consumer market
    Sponsorship is the easiest way to influence the spending behaviour of young female Millennials and Zoomers, as female talent creates a stronger emotional connection with fans.9
Girls got game
Women’s sports are ready for greater monetisation, brands just need to shift their thinking.10 By ditching traditional metrics and embracing the broader opportunity, more brands will eventually discover that female talent will frequently drive a stronger return on investment for them.

And just one final PSA to the International Chess Federation. The Queen is the most powerful piece on the board, so don’t underestimate her.

on the female sporting narrative
The media has an important role in shaping narratives for female athletes, especially during the Olympics. But when 80% of journalists and photographers covering the events are male, an uncomfortable language bias can be seen. Words like ‘mastermind’ ‘battle’ ‘strong’ were used for male athletes whereas female-oriented words included ‘unmarried’ and ‘older’.

Brands kicking goals
When you look at how people have watched sport over the last 18 months, it’s fair to say COVID-19 has changed the game. With limited access to live experiences, sporting leagues have had to hustle to keep their fans engaged. Their response? Start a digital revolution.

While specific strategies may differ, the overall objective has been clear – create “live” experiences for locked-down fans. Using digital technology, leagues have worked hard to help fans maintain their weekly sporting rituals, keeping them connected. Keen to know who’s creating meaningful sports experiences through digital? These three brands top the leaderboard.
  1. Sean Ingle, Fide sparks anger with ‘gross’ breast enlargement sponsor for women’s chess, (October 2021) The Guardian.
  2. Chloe Dalton, The Female Athlete Project.
  3. Agnieszk Guttmann, Global sponsorship spending from 2007 to 2018, (November 2019) Statista.
  4. Women in Sport, Sponsorship & Media, Women in Sport.
  5. ICC, ICC Women's T20 World Cup by the numbers, (April 2020) ICC.
  6. Jasper Bruce, ‘Massive’: Fans applaud historic day for Australian rules football, (August 2021)
  7. True North, The Role Gender Plays in Sponsorship Outcomes, Women in Sport.
  8. Rena Afami, Gender Inequality in Sport's Sponsorships, (March 2021) Money Smart Athlete.
  9. Sarah Danckert, The tipping point: Sponsors pile in to women's sport, (March 2020) Sydney Morning Herald.
  10. Deloitte Insights, Women’s sports gets down to business: On track for rising monetization, (December 2020) Deloitte.
CX Lavender acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respect to their Elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.