Shortly after Australia won the netball world championship in Singapore in 2011 I was discussing the win with one of the sport’s biggest sponsors. He was thrilled by the win and explained to me how positive the decision to sponsor the sport had been for his career. As marketing manager of the fast-moving consumer goods brand, he had initiated the partnership to find a competitive cut-through for his brand.
The sponsorship fee was, in his words, “a bargain” and the return on investment made him look like a hero to his board. “As well, there is the added bonus of not having to worry about waking up tomorrow or any day to a drug or s-x scandal associated with my brand,” he told me.
Almost two years later and not much appears to have changed. The male sports are still attracting the million dollar sponsorships, female sports are still a bargain to sponsor, and it is still the female sports that are less likely to give advertising partners heart failure.
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So why hasn’t there been a change — and will the latest drugs in sport scandal that is dogging the most high-profile of male sports provide the catalyst for a fairer alignment of sponsorship dollars in sport? If the sponsors of the clubs in question jump, where will those dollars land?
We don’t know if any women’s sports leagues have been accused of doping in the bombshell Australian Crime Commission report, much of which is still under wraps. But so far no women’s league has been implicated, and it appears the major issues with alleged doping may relate to (male) AFL and NRL. We’ll have to wait and see, but it may well be the case that women’s leagues have been less involved in doping than men’s leagues.
Data on sports sponsorship for Australia is hard to come by, but a UK report from the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation found women athletes attracted 0.5% of all corporate sports sponsorship — or 50 cents for every $100 spent.
When I joined the Netball Australia board in 2007 the sport had recently appointed a new management team. Under the leadership of CEO Kate Palmer and commercial director Marne Fechner, netball’s sponsorship revenue started to fly. But the base that we were working off was small. And the budgets allocated for sponsorship of women’s sport were relatively modest compared with the millions we know were swamping the male ball sports.
The difference, we are continually told, is related to media exposure. A male league player turned boxer attracts greater attention in the mainstream media than a national women’s sporting team winning a world championship.
Work commissioned by the Australian Sports Commission looked at media broadcasts for the year to July 2010 and found that women made up 9% of sport news coverage. Horse racing received more airtime than women’s sport. It was hoped digital TV would bring greater visibility for female sportswomen, but Netball Australia is now without a broadcast partner after Channel Ten dropped its coverage.
Janice Crosswhite, president of the Australian Womensport & Recreation Association says it’s still extremely difficult for professional female athletes to get corporate sponsorship and media coverage. “Netball Australia doesn’t have a TV sponsor, it’s appalling. It’s the most participated sport in Australia,” she told Crikey.
Crosswhite says part of the problem is that most of the people who make decisions about sponsoring or broadcasting women’s professional sport are male. She hopes the doping scandal will bring corporate dollars to women’s sport. “Hopefully sponsors will look to female athletes and teams,” she said.
A 2006 Senate report found several national women’s leagues faced questions around their viability. Women had a lack of professional career pathways, and had a much smaller capacity to earn a living from sport. While around 3000 males athletes earned over $40,000 per annum through their sport, no women in team sports could earn a living from it. Females are also under-represented on sports boards, making up 22% of directors.
We know netball is one of the best-performing female sports in the country — in fact possibly Australia’s most successful team sport — and is high on the wish list of companies looking to sponsor a female sport. That’s if they are looking to sponsor a female sport.
But Australia also has fantastic women’s basketball teams, soccer teams, hockey teams and cricket teams. There are so many successful female sports for companies to attach their brand and sponsorship dollars to. Most struggle for any sponsorships dollars. So why don’t brands place the same value on female sports as they do on male sports?
We’re stuck in a catch-22 situation. The companies will only pay the big bucks for sports with extensive media coverage of games and associated news. The sports that attract that coverage increasingly represent a high-risk to the brands that sponsor them. The sports that would allow marketing managers to sleep at night are attracting low or no sponsorship dollars.
Clearly the ideal scenario for sponsors, parents and fans would be to devote greater media coverage to those sports that represent a high fan base, low risk of scandal and the potential for positive brand association.
*Marina Go is an appointed director of Netball Australia; her term ends in April. Additional research for this article was provided by Crikey intern Callum Denness.