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The England Women’s Hockey team on the field at the Women’s Hockey World Cup 2018.

2018 has been an exciting year for women’s sport. The SSE Women’s FA Cup Final in May between London rivals Chelsea and Arsenal attracted a record crowd of 45,423 to Wembley Stadium, 10,000 more fans than attended the final in 2017.

With the Women’s Football World Cup in France on the horizon in June 2019, the allocation of 5,000 tickets for the qualification game between Wales and England on 31 August sold out in 24 hours. The Football Association says it is now on course to double the number of players and fans in the women’s game by 2020.

Furthermore, the RFU hopes to make English women’s rugby professional this season for both the 15-a-side squad and sevens, while in July Scottish Rugby more than doubled its number of contracted female players to eight.

With the Women’s Hockey World Cup (21 July- 5 August) currently taking place in London, the Netball World Cup coming to Liverpool in July 2019 and the Women’s Football World Cup next year, there are many opportunities on the horizon for brands to get involved with women’s sport, yet hesitation remains on the part of CMOs.

“There’s still a perception that the market’s relatively immature or it’s one that they don’t know terribly well so the sense of risk seems a little high,” explains Jo Bostock, co-founder and joint CEO of the Women’s Sport Trust (WST).

“The big thing we picked up on when we were sounding out CMOs is that there isn’t enough data to support the claims that women’s sport is making about itself.”

To help build the business case, the WST has partnered with Nielsen Sports and England Hockey to highlight the value of women’s sport based on data.

According to the analysis, 59% of the UK population are interested in at least one women’s sport. This breaks down to 87% interested in both men’s and women’s athletics, tennis (83%), cycling (72%), hockey (71%), golf (57%), football (38%) and rugby union (36%).

Looking at women’s sport alone, 21% of the UK are interested in women’s football, 16% in women’s rugby and 16% in women’s cricket. Awareness is also building, as 64% of the UK reported knowing about the Women’s Football World Cup, while 42% were aware of the Women’s Rugby World Cup.

Lynsey Douglas, global leader for women’s sport at Nielsen Sport, sees real commercial opportunities for the whole industry, from rights holders to brands to broadcasters. In ROI terms, she argues that now is a good time for brands to get involved with women’s sport, as the costs are likely to rise.

The opportunities in sponsoring less mainstream sports

The Nielsen data shows that around 10% of the UK population follow women’s hockey. Jonathan Cockcroft, commercial director of England Hockey, reports that interest – both from brands and supporters – has surged since the team’s gold at the Rio Olympics in 2016.

Ticket sales for the Women’s Hockey World Cup have exceeded expectations, with England Hockey receiving 120,000 applications for tickets and England matches oversubscribed by 40,000.

The likes of Vitality, Merchant Gourmet, Jaffa oranges and Toshiba have all become sponsors alongside long-term partner Investec. However, Cockcroft believes brands in general are still cautious about partnering with women’s sport.

“There aren’t enough marketing directors and CMOs out there that have the imagination, the bravery and the gut instincts to go for something that’s slightly less mainstream,” he states.

“Also there are not enough agencies that are prepared to put some of the more non-mainstream properties in front of the big brands.”

Attitudes over the viewership of women’s sport could be affecting the way brands approach potential sponsorship opportunities, with the misconception being that only women or girls take an interest.

The Nielsen statistics show that of the 59% who are interested in at least one women’s sport, 51% are female and 49% male. This is compared to the overall sports fan, which skews as 65% male versus 35% female. According to the data, people aged 16-24 are most likely to like women’s sports.

There aren’t enough marketing directors and CMOs out there that have the imagination, the bravery and the gut instincts to go for something that’s slightly less mainstream.

Jonathan Cockcroft, England Hockey

“It’s very gender balanced and it’s absolutely not just women and girls who are interested in women’s sport,”…