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Women in sport – it’s getting better

Much has been written over the years about how sport played by women gets less coverage, less money and is taken less seriously than when it is played by men.

It’s a chicken-and-egg scenario - if you don’t have public interest, you don’t get the media coverage; if you don’t get media coverage, you can’t build the public interest. 

If you don’t have either, you can’t expect commercial sponsors to get behind it.

" As with most movements, it’s a hard to pinpoint a single cause or catalyst to this changing mood. But as a whole, things are looking ever more positive for women’s sport."

Challenges

I recently caught up with some of our sponsored athletes and found the challenges of being elite sportswomen were tricky issues for them to discuss.

No-one wants to appear negative. They all feel lucky to be doing the thing they love. They feel grateful for all the opportunities to date. They love the fact they can inspire younger players.

However when pressed they feel the burden of the well-documented issues of lower pay than sportsmen - and the fact many have to hold down part-time jobs (which is true of many individual and non-professional sports, regardless of gender).

They talked about the moments which had influenced them as athletes - like the time Valerie Adams’ Olympic gold medal was usurped by domestic rugby results in one of the newspapers.

In fact, New Zealand research commissioned by the International Olympic Committee showed during the Rio Olympics male athletes were 67 per cent more likely to be on the front page or as lead in a bulletin than their female counterparts.

This is despite our female athletes winning 61 per cent of the medals. 

Female athletes, the research also found, were ‘framed’ in different ways to their male team mates.

They were nine times more likely to be pictured with their partner and 39 per cent more likely to be referred to as ‘girls’ than males athletes referred to as boys. 

The tide is turning

It’s not all bad. Over recent years I have seen a huge groundswell of support for women’s sport internationally. Here are some trends I’ve noticed.

• Awareness, appetite, advocacy

As a society we’re developing a stronger appetite to level the field - and this has been reflected in sport.  There are more voices, research, analysis and more groups dedicated to growing different aspects of women’s sport.  

One example is newly formed Women in Sport Aotearoa (Ngā Wāhine Hākinakina o Aotearoa) – New Zealand’s first national advocacy organisation for women in sport.

The foundation board, comprising female sporting, academic, business and political leaders, will be researching female progression across all levels or sport and sport leadership.

Another sign of progress is former Black Ferns Captain Farah Palmer, who last year became the first female elected to the board of New Zealand Rugby in its 125 year history.

White Ferns captain Suzie Bates cites (see video) having more women in leadership and decision-making roles in New Zealand Cricket as a key reason behind her sport’s recent hike in public profile. The team has also received a funding boost, with more annual retainers being offered at a substantially higher pay rate. 

This follows an international trend – the International Cricket Council not only more than doubled the prize pool for this year’s Women’s World Cup, but guaranteed every ball would be broadcast live. This led to an estimations of more than 180 million people around the world viewing the tournament. It has also committed to pay parity in the next 15 years. 

• From the grass roots up

Cricket Australia has recently committed $A50 million to funding the grassroots game. This kind of support has been vital to increasing the success of many women’s sporting codes around the world.

One of the reasons ANZ New Zealand spends so much of our sponsorship dollar at grassroots level is to use our involvement in New Zealand communities to support those who are passionate about the game.

While sponsorship is important, I think it’s the National Sporting Organisations who have the big role to play in funding the development and pathways for our future athletes.  The more people playing sport, the higher the standard and the greater the demand and commercial appeal at the top end.

ANZ New Zealand recently reinforced our commitment to women’s sport by announcing sponsorships with golfer Lydia Ko, the Silver Ferns netball team, and the WHITE FERNS cricketers.

This is in addition to being the naming-rights sponsor of the ANZ Premiership, New Zealand’s elite netball league, continuing a nine-year sponsorship of netball in New Zealand.

 “Often our female athletes don’t have as much public profile, or receive as much media coverage, as some of their male counterparts,” ANZ NZ CEO David Hisco says.  “As a result it’s harder for them to attract commercial sponsorship.”

“I’m really proud that we’ve gone against the grain. As well as being the right thing, we think it stacks up commercially too.”

 

• Using the success of the men’s game

One way to fund some of these programs is by diverting some of the profits from the men’s game. This is happening a lot more in Europe where extreme money is made from traditional team sports.

For example, the FIFA Forward Football Development Program uses the success of the FIFA World Cup to fund member nations. To get the extra funding, the member nations must commit at least two of their focus areas to developing the women’s game.

Increased interest creates increased demand which increases TV broadcast rights, the main source of funding.

There are similar examples in Australia – the opening round of the Australian Football League’s Women’s competition attracted more than a million viewers. This was done within the framework of the financially strong AFL. 

By using simple but effective initiatives to make broadcast possible include playing men’s and women’s matches in succession, you get more opportunities for attendance and broadcast.

Not all bad

Like I said – things are looking up. As with most movements, it’s a hard to pinpoint a single cause or catalyst to this changing mood. But as a whole, things are looking ever more positive for women’s sport.

With the support of government, the community and business - including ANZ – women’s sport can take its rightful place alongside men’s at the front of public consciousness (and hopefully the front of our newspapers).

Sue McGregor is Head of Sponsorship at ANZ

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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