Sports Marketers Must Embrace ‘Fluid Fans’ in Women’s Sports: Study


US forward Megan Rapinoe (15) shoots the ball in action during a WNT Summer Series friendly match between the United States and Portugal on June 10, 2021 at BBVA Stadium in Houston, TX.

Robin Alam | Sportswire icon | Getty Images

Sports marketers are leaving money on the table by not investing more in professional women’s leagues, according to a new study from the Sports Innovation Lab, a Boston-based technology research company. But a new business model that caters to communities of “fluid fans” for particular athletes, and focuses more on licensing and sponsorship than TV rights and attendance, could turn the tide.

The company published the study, titled “The fan project“on Monday and provided CNBC with a first copy. It shows a new business model, called the” community-based monetization “model. Sports innovation Lab (SIL) provided data points on how companies can examine fan behavior around women’s sport and engagement with leagues and players. Brands can then identify entry points that could open up new sources of revenue.

“That’s exactly what it is,” said Angela Ruggiero, CEO and co-founder of SIL, of the study. “Using the data, tell a different story – look at the market from a different perspective, then provide that blueprint, which is based on fan behavior. “

SIL uses technology and sports-focused data metrics to study fan habits and develop marketing strategies. Ruggiero, a former ice hockey player and Olympic gold medalist, said the study lasted about four years, using “more than 10 million data points” from 500 participants.

SIL has partnered with leagues such as the Women’s National Basketball Association, LPGA Tour, Athletes Unlimited and the National Women’s Soccer League for the report. He found that women’s sport is mainly supported by the “Fluid Fan”.

These people rarely have alliances with teams but often follow particular athletes.

Therefore, SIL recommends moving away from the traditional economic model used mainly in men’s leagues. This model is linked to rights and measures the success of television viewing, in-person visitation and small territories. Therefore, he cannot meet the fans where they are.

The community monetization model is based on content through storytelling, more accessibility options, and preparing for a future where sponsorships and licenses will exceed the money from broadcast.

“If we can put data behind the business opportunities in women’s sport, there is money left on the table,” Ruggiero said. “That was the impetus for this. Our company has always been about inclusion and ensuring sport thrives for all, so we apply our methodology and data to the women’s sector.”

Phoenix Mercury’s Skylar Diggins-Smith # 4 looks to pass the ball during the game against the Dallas Wings on June 11, 2021 at the Phoenix Suns Arena in Phoenix, Arizona.

Michael Gonzales | National Basketball Association | Getty Images

Unclaimed money for investors

Caiti Donovan, SIL’s vice president of data and ideas, noted an increase in popularity among women’s sports over the past year.

In October, ESPN said the WNBA three-game final series featuring the Seattle Storm and Las Vegas Aces averaged 440,000 viewers, with the third game averaging 570,000. The network said the game final had seen a 34% increase in viewership over the 2019 WNBA Finals Game 3 competition.

“The quality of the audience within the women’s sports ecosystem is there because we can see the behaviors of the fans,” Donovan added. “We can see the commitment; how far it goes and why it is important for brands to tap into and the opportunity that exists from a revenue perspective because of it. “

Gina Waldhorn, Marketing Director of SIL, highlighted the figures of the largest accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers’ annual sports outlook, and estimated sectors could see a change of over $ 5 billion added as consumption around women’s sports evolves.

“We believe there will be a shift from linear broadcast and tickets to OTT, sponsorships and merchandise,” Waldhorn said. “If women’s sports can adopt a community monetization model, they can better capitalize on sponsorship and merchandise.”

She added that if women’s sport can reach 10% of total sponsor money, it could add $ 2.3 billion in revenue by 2023. The global sports market is expected to reach $ 826 billion by the year. 2030, according to research firm The Business Research Company. When asked how much women’s sports could collect of that amount, if the community model worked, the three women predicted more than $ 200 billion.

“If you invest, they will come. That’s what we’re saying in this report,” Ruggiero said. “Those who understand this change in income will be able to build on it. Women’s sport, in our opinion, is in the perfect position to lean and monetize this new model.”

The five favorites

Societal aspects also played a role. Ruggiero acknowledged that social movements supporting women’s issues have helped stimulate conversation around women’s sport. Ruggiero called the study a “micro-level report” that measures macro forces exerted on women’s sport.

Angela Ruggiero, founder of the technology research company The Sports Innovation Lab.

Source: The Sports Innovation Laboratory

The study also measured companies, including Visa and Nike. He has seen increased growth around brands after aligning with women’s sports.

When it comes to favorite athletes, female sports fans want more access to superstars like footballer Megan Rapinoe.

Donovan said the conversation around Rapinoe is diverse, as fans are intrigued by his performance on the pitch and his life away from the sport. It’s further proof that fans want to engage with players as people, not just as athletes, Ruggiero added.

WNBA stars Sue Bird and Candace Parker came second and third on the list. NBA star Steph Curry finished fourth, as fans support Curry’s advocacy for women’s sport and love his personality. And footballer Ashlyn Harris is fifth on the list.

Ruggiero said: “There is a lot of talk about esports and NFTs in a lot of other opportunities, but with this data and the right understanding of what to do, there is a lot of money that can be made. made.”

Read the full study here.

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