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Female Athletes Win Big with Brands image

Female Athletes Win Big with Brands

By Mark Seavy

Brands are switching up their strategies to score deals with female athletes as the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament and the National Women’s Soccer League’s season get underway.

And while, in many cases, these female athletes have so far been deployed for promotional and sponsorship purposes, the success of those campaigns has made it clear that long-term brand licensing programs will soon be part of the gameplan.

Women’s sports programming posted a double digit year-over-year gain in TV advertising effectiveness in 2023, according to a report from TV viewership measurement firm EDO.

Tennis dominated the list of women’s sports events in surpassing the average primetime TV and cable advertisement (by 53% and 51%, respectively). The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) was the fastest growing association in 2023, registering increases across the regular season (7%), playoffs (23%), and finals (30%), EDO reported.

Individually, University of Iowa basketball star Caitlin Clark has appeared in six different State Farm Insurance commercials since November 2023 and Clark’s ads are 46% more likely to generate engagement than the average State Farm commercial since then, according to EDO. Overall, EDO found that footwear brand New Balance’s ads were 203% more effective than the average women’s sports advertiser in 2023, followed by cancer treatment Kesimpta (173%), and Cadillac (171%).

While there is no guarantee that advertising effectiveness will translate into brand licensing agreements, IP owners are certainly taking notice.

Running footwear supplier On sponsored New York City Marathon winner Helen Obiri and is backing 30 athletes at the Summer Olympics in Paris this year. Fashion brand Dior partnered with French women’s tennis star Emma Raducanu, naming her as the face of the campaign for its Lady 95.22 handbag. The program garnered more than 1.1 million engagements and over 40 million impressions across social media in 2023.

“The collaboration between athletes and luxury houses became a powerful marketing alliance,” said Jonathan Siboni, Founder and CEO of Luxurynsight, which produced the data measuring Raducanu’s social media effectiveness in partnership with influencer marketing platform Traackr. “Luxury brands have always benefited from athletes’ global reach and authenticity, as we have seen for years in watches. These partnerships have now spread to more categories to enhance brand visibility to younger audiences and even spark innovation and exclusive product lines, especially in a pre-Olympic period.”

Raising brand awareness and connecting with new consumer demographics was a focus for apparel and footwear supplier Lululemon’s sponsoring of the Further Women’s Ultramarathon earlier this month after finding its “brand awareness remains low across many markets,” CEO Calvin McDonald said.

Lululemon’s unaided brand awareness rose to 31% globally in 2023, up from 25% a year earlier, McDonald said. In China, specifically, it jumped to 13% from 9%. As part of the Further event, Lululemon designed 36 products through a “female-first lens” that will be gradually introduced into its core collections. Lululemon also designed the kits for the Canadian Olympic team.

“It is important to create authentic community activations which results in increased brand awareness through significant earned and social media attention,” McDonald said.

In the case of Nike, which has struggled recently with sluggish overall sales, female consumers have been a bright spot and are a focus moving forward. Women’s fitness footwear grew by a “double-digits” percentage in 2023, while leggings priced at $100 and up posted “strong sell-through,” CFO Matthew Friend said.

And while Friend reported that the footwear business has had a slower start to the year than expected, Nike’s pairing with Clark, who is making $192,000 annually from name image and likeness (NIL) deals, along with WNBA star Sabrina Ionescu’s sneaker deal have helped boost sales.

“It’s about elevating our brand and [telling] bigger, bolder stories [that are] grounded in sport and athletes that cut through and connect with impact,” Nike CEO John Donahue said.

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