Women’s Sport – Don’t Get Left Behind

Bill Cooper
, Chief Operating Partner

A few months ago I wrote a column asking Canada to stand up and take notice of women’s sport in Canada. And while I have since seen an incredible increase in interest on the shoulders of the Women’s World Cup, I stand by my earlier challenge to the nation, particularly the advertising and marketing sector, to rise more substantially to the occasion.

I have had the good fortune four times over the last few weeks to attend women’s soccer matches in the company of over 53,000 other people similarly caught up in the moment and movement. My wife and I have done so, variously, with my three daughters, my son and an exchange student we have staying with us. To them (all below 16 years of age) this is their reality. Women’s sport is at an iconic level of community engagement such that host cities, broadcasters, sponsors, fans, onlookers, ambushers, ticket touts and counterfeiters are all on their tippy toes and craning their necks for a better view of the action.

This is the world my daughters and son are growing up in. And I can’t stop grinning.

Because there is a purity to this movement that is absent in other sources of consumer engagement. Everything is possible. Dream big. Train hard to succeed. Pride in playing for your country. Rising and falling as a team. Print the cliché bumper sticker and it will apply. And there is not one iota of consequence that the source of this excitement is women as opposed to men. It is simply a common source of entertainment, engagement and inspiration of remarkable calibre.

This is a significant milestone because the positive impact on youth and community that many consumer and public rallying points can generate – music, film, gaming, men’s professional sport, mega event hosting – can get diluted and over-shadowed by politics, biases, unsustainable financial influences, unhealthy lifestyle choices and a variety of other environmental factors. But in watching this Women’s World Cup there is a palpable enthusiasm, amongst the players and fans, that is not yet corrupted (despite FIFA’s best attempts!) by such less inspiring influences. There is an enthusiasm, warmth and shared enjoyment that you should join if you haven’t yet.  It is also important for the sponsorship, marketing and advertising sector to take note, because irrespective of the source of influence (women’s sport or otherwise) the Tournament is generating considerable consumer behaviour which is arguably the most sought-after environmental ingredient for marketing success.

In view of this I’d say we missed the boat. Fortunately there are still a few in the harbour, but Canada definitely missed a significant sailing that could have made a great event even greater thereby establishing a more certain legacy for investment into women’s sport in Canada into the future.

I say this because stadiums were ‘full-ish’, but not always full. I say this because there are some sponsors, but not many. I say this because some advertisers are leveraging this source of consumer passion in their creative, but not many. I say this because there are some causes harnessing the event to do good in a variety of communities, but not as many as the event could propel. Perhaps I am greedy, but when a milestone is this important I can’t help but think it could have elevated more potential had it been more widely activated. And I presume the early hesitancy that ultimately created the ‘almost, but not quite up to potential’ marketing standard that encircles this Tournament was significantly tied to an out-of-date doubt that dollars spent around women’s sport would sell enough widgets.

I say enough of that already. Have courage in your campaign. Kudos to Dairy Farmers of Canada, Coca Cola, Sport Check and Nike (to name a few) for making strides putting women’s sport in the middle of your campaigns, but why is the ‘club’ so small?

This is not a debate any more. Women’s sport, given the requisite resources to be presented to its potential, has the power to entertain, influence and engage like any other entertainment medium and in doing so can advance a wide variety of important commercial and marketing objectives that no other medium can. So enough with the skepticism and repetitive nature of how you spend your marketing or broadcast dollar. Tailor your strategy and your message and plough some spend into women’s sport. This is not a charitable request. This is a community service announcement that the next boat is leaving and you’d best be on it if you want to keep up with the few brands that have already grabbed common sense by the horns.

My daughters are watching, texting and sharing and their heroes are Erin Macleod, Christine Sinclair, Rhian Wilkinson, Karina Leblanc and Diana Matheson. So if you want to lay claim to some of their allowance now, and pay cheques of the future, you’d best start speaking their language.