Op-Ed: Why the brave money is on women’s sport 

26 Nov 2020

By: Sport Industry Group

As sport looks to a year of recovery in 2021, CSM's Harriet Young looks at why women's sport should be a target for brands in the coming years - and in particular the growth of rugby.


The Women’s Six Nations is stepping out from its ‘big brother’s’ shadow, with a newly-defined, distinct identity.

With its players breaking boundaries, the championship is ready to join them by setting its sights on becoming the number one annual female sporting competition and has set a new strategic roadmap to achieve this.

The elements intrinsic to sport’s appeal are the social connection it offers, the sense of identity it gives, the pure pleasure it provides and, as one of the remaining bastions of live appointments to view, the compelling reasons for brands to consider investing in partnerships as part of their marketing mix. The question is, which sporting property is right for you? 

The traditional major men’s sports properties offer attractive reach and frequency, but standing out in a busy market can sometimes be a challenge. For brands willing to be brave, a real opportunity lies in women’s sport, where you have the chance to shape the future of the sport, to tell the story of a transformation and to help grow the property. In a nutshell forming a true partnership with the rights holder.

All of this should be considered in the context of 2020, which has seen the pandemic wreak havoc across grassroots and professional sport, often disproportionately affecting the women’s element. However, many brands and rights holders involved in sport have used the enforced shutdown to take stock from a strategic perspective and think about how long-term growth can be achieved.

Leading the field in this respect is Six Nations Rugby, the body that runs the men’s and women’s showpiece annual international rugby championship, which has undertaken a strategic review into the women’s tournament.

The review recognised the untapped potential of the Women’s Six Nations and identified that a key part of fulfilling this potential would be focusing on developing a standalone brand which would enable growth in its own right. One of the challenges the Women’s Six Nations has faced since inception in 1995 is that, despite being the elite annual women’s rugby tournament, it has perennially lived in the shadow of its male counterpart, the rugby institution that is the Guinness Six Nations. The halo effect of this association had taken the women’s championship so far, but to take it to the next level, clarity around the tournament’s audience, positioning and objectives was needed. 

What became clear from the research of more than 3,000 women’s and men’s rugby fans was that there were marked differences in perceptions between the women’s championship, and women’s rugby in general. Whilst men’s rugby is seen as traditional and powerful, requiring strength and pace, the women’s game was seen as inspirational, entertaining, skilful and inclusive.

These insights, coupled with a deeper understanding of the current and potential audiences, enabled the Women’s Six Nations to develop a distinctive brand positioning which seeks to inspire fans to love the championship as much as the players do and is being articulated using the line, Inspiringly Different. This new positioning provides a focal point and identity for the tournament moving forward. From telling the inspiring stories of the players and building role models for young people to aspire to, to celebrating the skill and entertainment on show for a great family day out. Rather than drawing comparison between the men’s and women’s events, the new brand positioning celebrates their differences in a bid to inspire a new generation of fans, as well as continuing to engage their existing loyal fanbase.

This clarity for the brand dovetails into discussions around a new window for the Women’s Six Nations - distinct from the men’s competition – as well as the centralisation and sale of the championship’s media rights. The aim of this is to improve the narrative of the tournament, making it available to as wide an audience as possible. 

With the new strategy in place, and the ambition and backing to grow exponentially, the Women’s Six Nations represents an exciting opportunity for brands who are willing to invest, help shape and grow a partnership with an exciting, distinctive women’s sporting property.