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Why Believing in Women Is a Slam Dunk

Did you know that almost all women senior managers and executives played sports at some level? In fact, 90% of high-level women are current or former athletes, according to recent studies—and the proportion rises to 96% among women in the C-suite. What’s more, 52% of these women played at the collegiate level. 

From left: WNBA Legend Taj McWilliams-Franklin, Sarah Kustok of YES Network, Tamika Catchings of Indiana Fever, Sonja Henning of Nike, Rosalyn Gold-Onwude of ESPN, Becky Bonner of Orlando Magic in the FQ Lounge x WNBA

It’s undeniable: There’s a strong correlation between playing sports and business success. Why? Athletics help us develop teamwork skills, learn that setbacks are a natural part of life, and boost our confidence. 

In the FQ Lounge x WNBA, leaders discussed the ability of women’s sports to serve as a catalyst for change and help brands make a social footprint. Here’s why these pros think brands should embrace the opportunity of women’s sports — and top advice on how brands can reframe their approach so that all of us can bring our unique strengths to the table, on or off the court. 

 

Understand the Changing the Face of Sports

Players in the WNBA are shooting for greatness — which means taking risks, allowing yourself to fail, and having the courage to try again. So, when it comes to pay equity and working conditions, why do they find themselves in a similar situation as the world champions of the U.S. Women’s soccer team? In short, women in basketball wrestle with the same widespread, systemic gender stereotypes that prevent all women in sports from getting the visibility they need to advance.

“It’s incredibly important to feel confident in your own potential,” says Sonja Henning, Global GM NBA and WNBA, Nike, “But, it’s equally important to have a group of supporters — a tribe — who have your back and lift you up.” By tuning in to female sports, we can all demand diversity in media to ensure these athletes are broadcast to a wider audience.

 

Give Her Equal Airtime

We talk a lot about the wage gap for women in sports, but the issue really stems from the marketing and promotion of female athletes. While women make up 40% of all participants in sports, they receive just 4% of all sports media coverage. Without equal airtime (this includes equal representation in highlight reels), female athletes miss out on equal sponsorship, fans, money, and the leverage to serve as a role model (#SeeHer). If we each do our part to promote the equal coverage and accurate portrayal of women in sports, we will eliminate gender bias for all women. 

We’re basketball players—men, women, kids, people with disabilities,” says Tamika Catchings, VP of Operations, Indiana Fever. We might be women playing basketball but, at the end of the day, it’s the same game.”

The FQ Lounge x WNBA

Full house in the FQ Lounge x WNBA

Increase Women’s Sports Sponsorship

According to the most recent figures from a study on the market between 2011 and 2013, female sports account for just 0.4% of total sports sponsorship. That means a mere $427.2 million was spent on women’s sports out of $106.8 billion (the total worth of global sports sponsorship in that 3-year period). 

It’s time for brands to commit to telling women’s stories, so fans can develop a deeper connection to female players. If there’s one thing the USWNT taught us, it’s that the appetite for watching female athletes and their success stories is only growing. As Clare Hamill, VP of Global Growth Initiatives at Nike, says, “Great brands tell great stories. Sports stories are easy to tell. Market her. Market the game.” 

 

Use Different Metrics to Measure Women’s Success

When measuring the success of women’s sports, we can’t rely on the same old metrics of sports sponsorship that we use to measure men’s sports. As NBA Commissioner Adam Silver reminds us, “Things that may work in the NBA may just be non-starters for the WNBA.” Rather than looking at broadcast reach, brands should look at women’s sports as an opportunity to make an impact and boost employee engagement. 

Thanks to the rise of social media, brands that are purpose-driven often yield a higher return than brands that focus solely on commercially driven metrics. “A lot of the times, we [at the WNBA] are compared to the men’s side of the house, which puts a lot of strain on us,” says Carol Stiff, VP Programming and Acquisitions, ESPN. “It’s really the stories and humanity of our players that allow us to break down the barriers and ask, ‘Why Not?’” 

FQ Lounge x WNBA. Cathy Engelbert. Adam Silver.

Commissioner Cathy Engelbert of the WNBA and Commissioner Adam Silver of the NBA in the FQ Lounge x WNBA

Women’s sports will not achieve parity unless we break down the barriers that keep them from generating real interest. We need to start investing equally in how we market women’s leagues and promote female athletes. Until then, we won’t see women within sports and throughout the workplace as equal. Remember: It takes a player to shoot a shot, but it takes a team to win a game. That’s why diversity of mindset is always a winning game plan.

 

For more on the state of equality for women in sports, check out:  

How to Level the Playing Field For Women in Sports

#SeeHer 2020: GEM’s Global Influence on Increasing Gender Equality in Media

What Happened in The FQ Lounge @ Advertising Week: Day 2