Global brands look to boost media investment

IOC executive board member Angela Ruggiero attends the Medal Ceremony on day six of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at Medal Plaza on February 15, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea.

Alexander Hassenstein | Getty Images

For four-time Olympian and gold medal-winning ice hockey star Angela Ruggiero, getting more media attention and sponsorship dollars for women’s sports comes naturally.

During her playing days and her stint as the chairperson of the IOC Athletes’ Commission, she got a front row seat to the disparities between men and women’s sports. Today, through her company, the Sports Innovation Lab, she’s dedicated to changing that.

Ruggiero’s Sports Innovation Lab on Tuesday announced a partnership with banking giant Ally to create the Women’s Sports Club, a coalition of major brands and media that will work to tackle some of the challenges in buying women’s sports inventory and to elevating investment in women’s sports.

More than 20 global brands that buy and sell sports media and sponsorships are coming together to drive media spend to women’s sports. They include names like Morgan Stanley, Nike, Gatorade, Coca-Cola, Delta, in addition to leagues like the WNBA and LPGA.

The Women’s Club will meet around significant media and sporting events throughout the year, beginning with the South by Southwest event next week in Austin, Texas.

“Women’s sports have arrived, and everyone agrees it’s smart business to invest,” Ruggiero said. “But there are real barriers inhibiting brands from placing scaled media buys. The Women’s Sports Club is addressing this challenge head-on.”

Villanova Wildcats forward Christina Dalce (10) drives to the basket against UConn Huskies forward Dorka Juhasz (14) during the Big East Women’s Basketball Tournament championship game between Villanova Wildcats and UConn Huskies on March 6, 2023, at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT.

M. Anthony Nesmith | Icon Sportswire | Getty Images

The Women’s Club is trying to tackle an issue that has held women’s sports back for decades: Brands say there isn’t enough media coverage to justify advertising dollars, while broadcasters say there isn’t enough advertising dollars to justify media coverage.

It’s meant that women’s sports often get unfavorable timeslots, which has translated to lower viewership and smaller media deals. This all trickles down and means less value for the leagues and lower pay for players.

Sports Innovation Lab has spent years researching the impact of women’s sports and has found the segment is growing its fan base twice as fast as the broader, general sports fan community.

“[Fans of women’s sports] watch longer, they’re more brand loyal. They’re a deeper consumer than the sort of casual men’s fan,” Ruggiero said.

“For us, it’s as simple as putting deeds over words. We already know emphatically that investing in women’s sports is good for business,” said Andrea Brimmer, Ally’s chief marketing and public relations officer.

Ally earlier this week completed a major media buy with ESPN. The one-year, multimillion-dollar deal requires 90% of its investment to be put to women’s sports, through expanding game highlights, branded content and features across ESPN. The company also teamed up with the National Women’s Soccer League and increased its media investment with CBS to elevate the league championship match into a primetime time slot for the first time ever. The company has committed to achieving equal spending in men and women’s sports over the next five years.

“The real challenge is figuring out where we’re going to put our money. There just isn’t enough inventory in women’s sports to get us to 50-50. And that’s a problem the Women’s Sports Club is going to solve, together with some of the biggest brands,” said Brimmer.