Building a stage for Women’s sport

media_710097_DF_CDN_8167Women’s sport in Ireland presents a green field site for commercial partners where they have great opportunity to shape the kind of programmes that will deliver for them in terms of consumer marketing, business to business development and staff motivation.

That was one of a number of clear messages to emerge from The Business of Women’s Sport Conference at the UCD Smurfit Business School yesterday.

The conference heard from those who have begun to capitalise, including Annette Ní Dhathlaoi, Head of Marketing with Liberty Insurance on the ground breaking sponsorship of both the All Ireland Hurling and Camogie Championships; from Simon McBeth of eFlow who have demonstrated equality in their various sporting sponsorships across soccer and rowing, and from Liz Ferris of the Women in Business Alliance who considered what business needs from Women’s Sport in order to support it.

The attendance of 100 leaders in sport and business participated in innovative round table sessions which produced a number of clearly defined action points which we will reveal over the coming days and push for action on in the next months.

They also heard from panels including Malachy Logan, Sports Editor of the Irish Times, as well as from Sue Ronan and Gemma Crowley, managers of the Irish national soccer and rugby teams, 200 Cap Hockey international Nikki Symmons, 12 time All Ireland Medal winner Mary O’Connor and Maire Scully and Kelli O’Keefe from the world of sports marketing.

To set the tone for next week’s coverage of the projects to emerge from the discussions, here is the address given to open up the conference by Sport for Business Founder Rob Hartnett.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Welcome to The Business of Women’s Sport and thank you for believing that what we will talk about, explore and improve today is worth the effort.

Women’s sport is not something to be brushed aside or left to the sidelines.  We can send out a message today, amplifying the work that has already begun, that Women’s Sport is right here, right now and worthy on merit of the right to be given parity of esteem, as well as much greater consideration in terms of sports coverage and commercial investment.

A recent survey in the UK revealed that of the total commercial investment in sport 33% went to events like Wimbledon that give Men’s and Women’s Sport an equal billing.

Over 60% went exclusively to sporting teams and events for men, and only 0.5% to those for women.

I’ll do the sums.  Men’s sport accounts for 120 times that of Women’s in terms of commercial investment.

Substitute sport with health spending, with education spending, with money spent on the marketing of goods and services.  Would it be in any way shape or form acceptable?  No.

Is it in any way shape or form acceptable in sport? No

So what needs to happen?

Well today we will look at what Women’s sport has to offer. 

It is the equal in terms of effort and preparation.  It is the equal in terms of achievement on a national and international stage.  We have one Grand Slam winning team in 2013.  Three in our entire rugby history and it was made up of women.

It is becoming the place for broadcasters.  Next month the Women’s European Soccer Championships take place in Sweden, they will be televised live on the BBC for the first time ever.  On mainstream, prime time television.  Could we have imagined that two years ago never mind 20.

On Super Saturday at the London Olympics Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah won over not one nation but an entire world.  They wore the same kit, ran on the same track and were cheered by the same crowd.  Nobody remarked that they men or women, just that they were sporting heroes.  That is as it should be.

Women’s sport is an uncluttered market, meaning smart business can own vast swathes of sporting assets for amounts that will fit neatly even into today’s constrained marketing budgets.

When Chill Insurance looked to sport for marketing they chose to go with Cork Men’s Football and Hurling.  They will spend €1 million over three years.  For three years, and that same expenditure how many events reaching how many hundred thousands of women could they have reached?  Did they consider the market that controls the vast bulk of domestic spending power?

Our job today is to nudge forward the momentum in women’s sport, help translate it into  language and stories that will attract business and make sure that when the next major contract comes up for renewal that the decision makers are considering women’s sport.

Do not think that is impossible.  Do not believe that we are tilting at windmills and that this will never happen.  It’s happening now.  In five years time my eldest daughter will be nearly 18 years old.  I want her to be playing sport, enjoying sport and living a healthier life through sport, just as I hope the same for my sons.

I had the pleasure of speaking to John O’Shea, the founder of Goal this week.  He spoke of how he had no credentials or experience to help starving people in the third world but he was damned if that was going to stop him trying. 

That’s how we have to approach this today.  To take what we have, work it as hard as we can and through determination and smart thinking make a difference.

Sport makes impossible dreams come true.  Sarah Attar ran at London 2012, the first ever Saudi Arabian woman to compete.  That could never have been imagined ten years ago.

Women’s national League in England where Continental Tyres and Vauxhall are among the major sponsors.  That would never have been imagined ten years ago.

Investec are pumping £2.2million over five years into women’s Hockey in England.  They don’t wast money and neither do PwC who are supporters of women’s rowing.

BMW, Cadbury and Electric Ireland are supporting Women’s sport and making it more attractive to ever wider audiences.

And in the last month close to home we have deals that change the rules on a big scale, the coupling of hurling and Camogie All Ireland Championships under the one banner of Liberty Insurance.  The coupling of club championships in the same GAA sports under AIB.  Game changers that  couldn’t have been imagined at the start of this millennium.

TV audiences are there already.  For every ten that watched the 2010 Ryder Cup in golf, eight watched the Women’s British Open.  More people watched England’s Women’s World Cup Quarter Final than watched any single game of Premier League men’s soccer in 2010/2011.  More people watched the Women’s European Championships Final in 2009 than watched the Carling Cup Final in the same year.

And this is not just women watching and talking.  77% of the conversations about women Olympians like Jessica Ennis and Victoria Pendleton were by men.

Our excellent panels from business and the highest levels of sport, as well as the contribution you will make through two round table networking sessions today will fuel this debate and move it along.

We need to imagine a future and then engineer it.  We are looking at today but we are looking forward to tomorrow.  With the right smart thinking and the right imagination we can produce a better future for women’s sport, and for the businesses that have the courage and the foresight to back it.

Coming up:

Today – Pre launch announcement of the Sport for Daughters initiative which will go live in September and which will help in the creation of role models for the sports stars of tomorrow from within Women’s sport.

Monday – Three initiatives that can be implemented within weeks, three more within months and three more in the longer term that emerged from The Business of Women’s Sport

Tuesday – Programmes to be considered that will make Women’s sport as attractive to commercial partners as it deserves to be

Wednesday – Considered reaction from those who attended and those who listened from afar.

There has been strong media interest in the day including a main feature article in the Irish Timesin the Irish Examiner and via a lengthy interview with Rob Hartnett of Sport for Business and Mary O’Connor of the Camogie Association on the Last Word with Matt Cooper on Today FM (at 39 minutes).

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