By Joe Pridmore, Fuse
Nearly 15 million people tuned into the Women’s World Cup final in August, making it a new UK record for a women’s football game. Yet too many of the world’s best athletes were also watching from the sofa with us, rather than being out on the pitch. The reason? Healthcare.
Nine players from different countries missed the tournament in Australia due to ACL injuries, with last year’s Ballon d’or winner Alexia Putellas recovering just in time to claim a spot on Spain’s bench. Although shocking, this is sadly no surprise with women between two to eight times more likely to suffer ACL tears than their male counterparts.
This is an issue that is repeated across all areas of women’s health, in all sports, at all levels. Just 6% of all global sports science is dedicated to female athletes, a huge disparity that impacts not just performances on the pitch or in the stadia, but wellbeing off it – as well as holding back the global development of women’s sport as a whole. Looking back to the era of ‘marginal gains’ during the London 2012 Olympics, and the importance of squeezing out that extra 1%, it is madness to think that a full decade later female athletes are still deprived the base level of kit, training and tailored solutions. It’s hard to imagine Chris Hoy winning six gold medals wearing shoes designed for women’s feet.
However, from adversity comes opportunity. The silver lining to this cloud is that there is huge growth potential in the area, and a clear role for brands to step in and make their mark in a number of rapidly growing women’s sports. Driving meaningful change in this space does not even require any technological revolutions or miraculous new inventions, just the application of the same impetus, attention and funding as has always applied in the men’s game – something brands are perfectly placed to provide.
From changing conversations around periods or contraception, sharing nutritional advice tailored to female bodies, to providing well-fitting boots and sports bras, there are numerous areas where brands can get involved and make a difference. By working with the right partners and picking the topic that fits best, brands can make a genuine impact within women’s sport, and reap a host of benefits from doing so. Let’s consider three specific reasons why brands should tap into healthcare in women’s sport.
Firstly, health and wellbeing are universal issues. Women’s health impacts the daily lives of 50% of the world’s population, and tapping into this allows brands to engage in conversations that extend far beyond the sporting arena. Far from a niche area for sports nerds, a well-considered platform can become a springboard to engage with a much broader audience.
Secondly, a performance-focused campaign can help make a brand truly endemic within their chosen sport – one of the greatest challenges of modern sponsorship. With the level of investment already present in the men’s game, there is little opportunity for sponsors to make an impact on the sport itself, even with the scale of investment available to the very biggest names (and even potentially beyond them).
Brands are often forced to find value on the periphery, by engaging with off-the-pitch areas such as fan culture, player-led content, and improving the viewing experience. This can still be incredibly impactful when done well but can also be dismissed as not truly integral to the sport, especially by core fans and media outlets. By directly benefitting the performance and wellbeing of the athletes involved, a brand can make a rare impact to the sporting product itself, making it impossible for even the most cynical fan to ignore.
This also applies to athlete deals. With sports stars from Leah Williamson to Dina Asher-Smith speaking out on women’s health related issues, an authentic campaign provides the perfect opportunity to turn talent ambassadors from a rent-a-quote into a genuine advocate for your brand.
Finally, campaigns around real issues are inherently newsworthy, and ripe for impactful storytelling, allowing brands to deliver significant results that aren’t dependent on the profile of their partners or talent ambassadors.
Vodafone is a shining example of all three. Working with the Welsh Rugby Union, its PLAYER.Connect platform uses mobile-first tech to help female athletes measure the impact of the menstrual cycle on their performance, wellbeing and recovery. This placed them at the heart of the conversation during the Women’s Six Nations and achieved media cut through despite the relative size of the property (Welsh women’s rugby typically doesn’t have the pull of a Wimbledon or World Cup). What’s more, the data from PLAYER.Connect is now being used to develop tips and advice that women at all levels can use.
Likewise Puma, who recently announced research into female ACL injuries, as well as Nike’s long-awaited Phantom Luna boot, their first specifically designed for women’s feet. Though both are already endemic within sport, engaging with female health and performance specifically allowed them to achieve editorial cut-through above and beyond a usual launch.
While not every brand will have the product or identity to deliver these results, the sheer breadth and scale of support still needed for women’s sport means there are more opportunities than may first meet the eye. With the eyes of the world finally turning to these issues, and many rights holders and organisations still slow to act, now is the perfect window for brands to step forward and seize the moment.