September 1, 2023

Leveling the Field: Equal Opportunity in Women’s Sports Sponsorships

Over the past few years, we’ve seen female athletes dominate the sports industry with win after win. Our AG athletes have racked up amazing wins in 2023, including Zoe Benedetto’s success at the East Coast Surfing Championship and Brittany Weiss’ victory at the CrossFit Games with Team Invictus. But even as women continue to show their strength and success within the sports industry, there's still a lack of opportunities for female athletes to generate sponsorships and brand deals. Too often, companies who use sports to market their product do not look to women first. 

While 40% of U.S. athletes are female, women’s sports sponsorship comprised less than 1% of total sports sponsorships back in 2020. In addition, female athletes received a mere 2-4% of media coverage compared to male athletes. This lack of representation could be rooted in outdated gender stereotypes. Sponsorships for male athletes are primarily influenced by their strength, skill set, and popularity, rather than their alignment with conventional beauty norms. Conversely, female athletes often encounter greater challenges, as their appearance can sometimes receive more attention than their abilities.

sponsorship for athletes

Gender inequality in sports leagues has contributed to this disparity, too. Lack of media exposure compared to male teams and lower salaries work hand in hand to limit the sponsorship opportunities available to female athletes. Recently, the Women’s U.S. National Team decided to fight back, filing a groundbreaking equal pay lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation. U.S. forward Alex Morgan explained that “as players, we deserve to be paid equally for our work, regardless of our gender." Former team member Abby Wambach voiced her support, describing the monumental move as a “beacon of hope for women everywhere.” The lawsuit was settled for a record $24M just last year and continues to spark conversation regarding the obstacles women face in sports.

While the struggle for female athletes is far from over, there’s hope on the horizon. Increased media coverage in leagues like the WNBA and the National Women’s Soccer League has revealed the profitability within women’s sports sponsorships. With 84% of sports fans now interested in women’s sports, the time is ripe for brands to capture this growing audience. One unique draw is the inherent storytelling capacity of female athletes. While viewers are drawn to the game itself, they also feel a personal connection to the athletes and their stories. Brands like Buick capitalized on this connection during last year’s NCAA March Madness with their #SeeHerGreatness campaign. Each Buick ad featured a mini-documentary of a female athlete, showcasing her life achievements and inspiring others to overcome obstacles. The connections female athletes can create is motivating more brands to invest in stories inclusive to all demographics, not just the male sports fan.

sponsorship for athletes

Brands are also finding success by weaving social activism into their partnerships with female athletes. Visa recently renewed their sponsorship with the U.S. Women’s National Team. In an effort towards inclusion and equality, Visa pledged 50% of their investment to programs supporting the team and other women’s soccer initiatives. This deal was a step forward for increasing support of women and closing the gap of injustice. Other brands including Nike, LPGA, Adobe, and Coca-Cola showed support by becoming a part of the Women’s Sports Club, an initiative dedicated to improving media investment in women’s sports. Adidas also took a stand against the lack of visibility for women by entering into the second phase of their “She Breaks Barriers” initiative, which included a film featuring female athletes and a call for their equal representation. Brands utilize these activism-based sponsorships as a way to boost their image, increase popularity, and bolster brand loyalty among women’s sports fans. It’s proven to be a profitable approach, as women’s sport fans are 25% more likely to buy a sponsor product than men’s.

With this positive trend in women's sports, it's evident that overcoming obstacles in areas like sponsorships is becoming an achievable reality. As more attention is directed towards female athletes and their remarkable achievements, the barriers that once hindered sponsorship opportunities are slowly giving way to a new era of inclusivity and recognition. By continuing to foster support, challenging stereotypes, and promoting equitable representation, the future of women in sports looks brighter than ever before.



Stay in the loop.

Enter your email to sign up for the Athelo Group newsletter.