Blythe Hastings ’23
For four-time Olympian and gold medal-winning ice hockey star Angela Ruggiero, pushing for more media attention and sponsorship dollars for women’s sports comes naturally. During her playing days and her time as the chairperson of the International Olympic Committee Athletes’ Commission, she got a front-row seat to the disparities between men’s and women’s sports, and 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 in 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 spending to women’s sports. They include names such as Morgan Stanley, Nike, Gatorade, Coca-Cola, and Delta in addition to leagues such as the WNBA and LPGA. The Women’s Sports Club will meet at 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.” The 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 aren’t enough advertising dollars to justify media coverage. That means women’s sports often get unfavorable time slots, 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 that it is growing its fan base twice as fast as the general sports 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’s 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,” Brimmer said.