As the value of traditional sponsorship finds itself on the wane, women's sport finds itself with an opportunity.
Instead of a big, glitzy TV campaign, advertisers are discovering a targeted email campaign or content marketing may be more effective at driving both sales and brand sentiment – where the stories of female athletes have an opportunity to shine.
Commbank, which has been sponsoring the Southern Stars for 17 years as part of a broader deal with Cricket Australia, has observed that investment in their own social media channels and content has become just as effective as a TV ad.
“The difference in the media channels the modern day marketer has available is significant compared to when this sponsorship started,” Commbank's general manager of sponsorship and brand, Stuart Tucker, told Zela.
It means the bank invested in its own media creation, creating social only content – with entire campaigns run through its own Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat platforms rather than through traditional broadcast platforms.
Increasingly, this means Commbank is investing in long-form video content purely for its social channels – meaning there's more space to feature the stories of female cricketers.
“We're not fighting for column centimetres or TV space with the stories we also like to tell about the men cricketers – there's now space for both,” Tucker said.
A video the bank created last year featuring Ellyse Perry for International Women's Day has close to a million views – costing far less than a TV ad.
“I think the evolution of sponsorship over the last decade is a lot more about content marketing and utilising assets without your own social channels,” Tucker said.
Commbank is finding that the stories of the Southern Stars resonate with their audience – and the stories aren't being told to sell something but rather as a sentiment play.
“We don't have a brand awareness problem after all. We're one of the biggest brands in Australia,” Tucker said, and the value of sportswomen’s stories toward brand sentiment has risen “dramatically”.
The shift towards more content marketing, Tucker said, means that brands have become story tellers – and have an opportunity to tell the stories of female athletes.
“I think that's an interesting question,” Tucker said when asked whether brands have an opportunity to spread the stories of women athletes and increase their visibility.
“We now do have a role to play in telling these stories, and when we look around I think women's sport is going from strength to strength.”
Brands creating their own opportunities
Rebel Sport managing director Erica Berchtold told Zela that the company saw women's sport as an area of untapped potential, and was working to create its own opportunities rather than wait on the sidelines – such as becoming the naming rights sponsors of the inaugural Women’s Big Bash League.
“Cricket Australia was talking to us about a sponsorship of some other properties they had available, but it was us who said 'what can you offer us in the women's space', because we would like to look at how we can support the women's side as well,” Berchtold said.
“We didn't just want to be another sponsor of the men's competition”
Sports bodies put more time into trying to commercialise men's sport through commercial partnerships because they pay men more and therefore need to find more money to re-coup that cost – leaving women's sport an afterthought.
“So we thought that we needed to jump out here and actually put a foot forward in that space,” Berchtold said.
“Hopefully by brands bringing suggestions to the table, it will get sporting bodies to think about how to commercialise as well.”
For Berchtold, it's also a personal passion.
“I'm a woman running a big sporting business in Australia – if I'm not going to support female athletes, then who will?” Berchtold asked.
Aside from being the responsible thing to do – it also makes good business sense for Rebel to be in the women's sport sponsorship game.
Berchtold said she had been focused on a particular issue with half of her potential customer base – namely that they seemed to stop playing sport as they entered the teenage years, and therefore stopped buying sporting equipment.
“I think a lot of that is because they don't have as many female role models to look up to,” Berchtold said.
“To those young girls, they're probably interested enough in cricket that they'd watch the men's side, but are they actually going to look at Mitchell Johnson or Steven Smith and say 'I want to and can be like them'?”
That's where Berchtold says brands have a responsibility to help create role models – beyond trying to create more potential customers.
“You can't do these things saying 'okay, how many cricket bats do I need to sell to make this worth my while?'. To me that's a bit of a false economy,” she said.
“For us it's not about product, it was us stepping out and saying we want to support female athletes...it's about us coming out and telling have our customer base that we support you.”
Marketing to the base
Sponsoring women's sport has been read in the modern context as a way of connecting with core consumers, but, that of course that depends who you're trying to talk to.
Ausdrill, a mining contractor, through its sponsorship of the Hockeyroos also supports women's sport – and how it came about is a tale of how deals are done in the west.
Group payroll manager for the company and keen hockey player, Peter Chisholm, told Zela that a couple of months out to the London Olympics he caught a TV package on the Hockeyroos – and noticed the side didn't have a sponsor.
The amount of time between him bringing the idea to Ausdrill managing director Ron Sayers and the deal being done with Hockey Australia was six hours.
It helped that this was during the height of the mining boom in the west, but the fact that the company signed on again in 2014 during the mining downturn speaks volumes.
Chisholm admits that initially it was seen as the company to 'de-blokify' its image – at the time the company had a female participation rate of 12.5%, a figure not out of the norm for the broader industry.
The main aim, however, had more to do with employee engagement.
Part of this was an agreement between Hockey Australia and Ausdrill for the Hockeyroos to play internationals in the outback town of Kalgoorlie, where about a quarter of Ausdrill's workforce is based.
“I remember the first time [they played] there we had about 3000 people turn up to the game, and Mark 'Jacko' Jackson on the same night had an event at one of the sporting clubs in town, usually a big night out in a place like Kalgoorlie,” he said.
“They had eight people turn up, and Jacko was sitting there like 'where is everybody?'. Turns out they were all at the hockey.”
Along with bringing games to Kalgoorlie, the sponsorship also involves doing things like sponsoring clinics and getting the Hockeyroos to have lunch with staff.
“I think the biggest impact for us is about pride in the company,” Chisholm said. “When you see Olympians wearing your company's logo when they're out competing at world championships, and you know the players personally..nothing beats that.”
It's why for Ausdrill, the return on sponsorship dollars isn't about brand awareness in the broader commercial community. After all, at most it has 12 customers.
It's more about the company's image with its employees.
Chisholm said one result of the sponsorship had the board of Ausdrill tearing up in the board room.
One of its employees had trouble with her son, who was shy and depressed when it came to going to school – as he was being bullied.
During a community camp in town, one of the Hockeyroos took the kid under her wing.
“That employee wrote us a really heartwarming letter after thanking us because as soon as that clinic was over, the next morning the kid leapt out of bed and was ready for school,” Chisolm said.
“She thanked us because she wasn't sure what the Hockeyroo had said to him, but her son was no longer suicidal or upset.
“That letter was shared around the boardroom and a far few of eye had tears in our eyes when we were reading it, because we as a company made that happen.
“That's the sort of thing we view as a success, that's how we define it.”