OP:ED Brands and getting girls active

25 Feb 2019

By: Sport Industry Group

In this exclusive feature for Sport Industry Group, Katie Matthews, Head of Sport and Fitness at The PHA Group, outlines why sponsors should play their part when it comes to encouraging and inspiring girls to play sport and get active.

Earlier this month, Mims Davies, the new sports minister, gave her first major speech outlining her priorities for the role

She covered a wide range of topics from racism in football to stadium safety, but a significant part of the speech focused on the need to encourage more youngsters to get involved in sport, and rightly so.

The benefits of being active from a young age cannot be stressed enough and it should remain an absolute priority at least until the stats tell a better story. 

At the moment, they don’t make for great reading. A Sport England survey released in December found that one in three children do less than 30 minutes of physical activity a day (the Chief Medical Officer’s recommendation is 60 minutes a day) and girls fare particularly poorly. 

According to the report, only 14% of girls were active every day (compared to 20% for boys) and the gap between girls' and boys' activity levels widens from the end of primary school. 

Research by the Women in Sport Network found that only 8% of girls aged 13 – 15 were hitting the daily physical activity recommendations. 

A lot has been said and written about what needs to be done to encourage greater participation amongst girls and indeed Davies covered some of this in her speech. 

She talked about the role schools play and she made the case for greater visibility for women’s sport on TV and in the media. In her words; “women’s sport on television still remains too much of a novelty. Sometimes we are surprised to see it appear on terrestrial channels.”

Davies is right of course. We are very far from women’s sport receiving the attention it deserves, and we shouldn’t be surprised or grateful when a broadcaster shows a major international tournament such as the women’s football World Cup or the Netball World Cup (both of which will be being broadcast on the BBC later this year, with Sky Sports also showing the netball).

But there is no doubt that progress is being made. More broadcasters are showing women’s sport, more journalists are covering it, more people are watching it and governing bodies, organisations and teams are putting more energy in to promoting the women’s game and their female athletes. 

None of this is likely to stop anytime soon, which presents an obvious opportunity for sponsors to get involved with women’s sport whilst the exposure (and associated cost) is still modest, and reap even greater rewards as it becomes more prevalent.

As well as the comparatively low risk/high reward on offer, women’s sport also offers sponsors a better opportunity to reach the much sought-after family audience, including both mums and dads making purchasing decisions for the whole household. 

The demographic of fans currently watching women’s sport both at live events and on TV tends to be more varied than for the men’s game, which again provides sponsors with a great way to engage with that important family market.  

Perhaps even more compelling than all of this though, is the opportunity for a brand to be part of delivering a significant social change, by activating their sport sponsorships in a way that directly encourages, inspires and motivates girls to take up a sport or at least to give one a try. 

In this way, brands could play a major role in improving the levels of physical activity amongst young girls and, if they get the activation right, the rewards could be huge – for the brand, the sport and the athletes involved, and for the girls who find a new health hobby to love and a new appreciation for what their bodies are capable of. 

Of course, plenty of brands are already doing this. Disney’s ‘Dream Big Princess,’ in collaboration with the FA, is a recent example, and last year, adidas partnered with tennis legend Billie Jean King for a campaign aimed specifically at teenage girls in New York city who are likely to drop out of sport altogether when they leave school. 

adidas made the most of the CSR benefits of the campaign but it had an explicit commercial purpose too, coinciding with the US Open and the launch of a limited-edition Billie Jean King shoe. 

Mouthguard company OPRO have activated their relationship with world Taekwondo champion, Bianca Walkden, partly by running classes for girls in schools across the country. 

For less mainstream sports there is a real opportunity to give children a chance to try something they may otherwise never have tried, and therefore the potential to unlock a passion that could easily never have been discovered. 

Replicate that across dozens of sports and a range of different activations and it’s easy to see how sponsors can make a real difference to female participation levels.

So, given that women’s sport presents an opportunity for brands to reach a growing and increasingly mainstream audience, the chance to engage with - and indeed create - customers of the future, as well as the potential to transform the lives of young girls by helping them to find a sport they love... tell me who wouldn't want to be a part of it?

I can only assume that there are meetings happening in boardrooms up and down the country with brands vying for a piece of the action, and that we can all look forward to some really exciting collaborations and inspiring campaigns being unveiled in the very near future.