The many roles brands can play in elevating women’s sport

Brands are often uncertain about how to truly leverage women’s sport for the good of business and community. Two leaders at CSM have a few suggestions.

The Thailand 7s Team (yellow) plays against the Singapore 7s team (Shutterstock)
The Thailand 7s Team (yellow) plays against the Singapore 7s team (Shutterstock)

We are at the start of a new era of women’s sport. Women’s sports are arguably some of the most compelling opportunities out there with huge reach, social agenda, and value for money. As female leaders in a male-dominated industry, it is only natural that we are passionate about the growth of women’s sport and commercial agenda, but the numbers speak for themselves.

When speaking to brands in the region about female sport and partnerships, we are often met with questions and uncertainty in a space less-trodden. Will this resonate with our audiences? Will it support business objectives? What role can we play? To support clients, CSM recently defined seven roles for brands in women’s sport—a number of relevant ways brands can leverage women’s sport to make a true business and community impact. Three of these roles particularly stand out to us, both professionally and personally. Let’s go through them here.

The inspirer

Brands and sporting organisations in Asia-Pacific have a significant role to play in inspiring and driving the growth of sports participation in the communities they operate in. Becoming a role model, challenging norms, and increasing accessibility can drive long-term cultural change and improve wellbeing. As consumers are increasingly looking to brands to drive a social impact, the long-term commercial gains are undeniable.  

Asian insurer AIA continues to work alongside long-term partner Tottenham Hotspur to drive football participation and over 85,000 youths have been impacted to date by using the power of football to level the playing field. More recently, AIA has been working with primary schools in Hong Kong to encourage female participation in sport. This initiative is being driven by Tottenham Hotspur international development coach, Shannon Maloney, who said:

Equipping girls with the skills and confidence to be active and play together will transform their outlook on life. I had fantastic role models growing up who inspired me to pursue a career in a male-dominated sport, and we all have the power to do the same for the next generation of females whether it be through business or personal relationships.

And as individuals we need to continue challenging ourselves to inspire—not only through the work that we do, but also in our everyday. Whether it be taking part in a mixed corporate basketball tournament or kicking a football around with your daughter on the weekend, small daily decisions to inspire can make all the difference in breaking the bias.

The biz leader

Female representation in top positions within Asia-Pacific is still not what it should be.  Entrenched attitudes and limited advancement options continue to hamper women in the workforce, with fewer than 20% of director positions being held by women.

Learning from gamechangers and experts in the sporting industry, brands and leaders can empower their female audiences and teams by developing targeted programmes to support equality and inclusion at all levels of business.

And as leaders, the challenger mindset and passion to break the bias is something we should be demonstrating in our everyday workplaces. It is about influencing behaviour and leading by example to evoke positive change. We all have a responsibility to foster an environment both in sport and business that enables girls and women of all ages to have the freedom to participate, lead and excel.

The visionary

With huge opportunity for growth in women’s sport in the region, brands can help define this new era by driving innovation to shape and transform the future. Budweiser’s ‘Future Official Sponsors’ campaign called on brands to step up to support the National Women’s Soccer League. It shone a light on the gender pay gap by focusing on the disparity in sponsorship. Nike and Adidas provide examples of brands committed to product innovations to drive inclusivity within the sporting landscape. Thoroughly researched designs for various body types, and tailored to cultural norms, are driving female recognition and confidence in participation in a pursuit to break down barriers.

We can all be visionary leaders with the foresight, imagination, and persistence to drive actionable change. The opportunity is there for the taking, to run with and soar in a region that holds significant potential for female sport that is yet to be fully activated. Hesitancy now will be proven a missed opportunity later.

Kathryn Rhodes & Lesley Murphy, regional directors, Asia, CSM

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