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Super-charging the virtuous circle of women’s sport

Technology and sport have worked hand in hand for many years. However, in many ways, the possibilities of digital transformation in women’s sport – to drive commercial growth, fan engagement and sports participation – are still waiting to be realised. At this nascent stage of growth, women’s sport is well positioned to pioneer industry leading digital innovation, while supercharging the growth of women’s sport assets in the process.

Propelling the virtuous circle

The virtuous circle of growth in women’s sport depends on capital continuing to develop grassroots activities, professional prowess, and everything in between. Crucially, the circle begins and ends with investment funding initiatives to expand the pipeline of talent, promote the story of female players and professionals, and empower the next generation of participants, fans, and industry talent. In recent months, the development of this virtuous circle has been clear to see in the UK, with strides taken to professionalise, commercialise, and digitise women’s sport. Powered in part by the success of the Lionesses’ Women’s EURO 2022 victory, women and girls across the UK have seen female athletes celebrated on a national stage. And, as a result, sports participation among women and girls was reported to have experienced an uplift. According to the Post Tournament Flash Report of the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022, more than half of local residents and two in five spectators and volunteers were inspired to do more sport following the tournament.

Sustaining the path to parity – which we define as men and women’s sport being seen, celebrated, and participated in at an equal level – will depend on the continuation of the virtuous circle of women’s sport. And, at this stage of the game, stakeholders across the industry can use digital and data platforms to supercharge the speed of innovation.

Digital platforms, particularly streaming sites and social media platforms, will play an important role in engaging fans outside of major events. The opportunity, whilst still in the nascent phase, is to build the infrastructure that supports long-term sustainability.

To increase the visibility of women’s sport, some digital organisations are already working to grow media coverage of women’s teams and female athletes, while others are lowering barriers, such as paywalls, to make women’s sport easier and more affordable to follow.

In some cases, this is yielding impressive results. For instance, when broadcast via a free-to-access streaming site, the UEFA Women’s Champions League 2022/23 group stage matches alone garnered 8.4 million total views. The competition’s social media reach also exceeded 20 million, a 76% increase on the year before.

Fans’ appetite to watch women’s sport content online is particularly apparent and technological advances and digital platforms are making this easier to support. 43% of viewership for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup came from digital channels, compared to only 9% of the viewership for the 2018 Men’s World Cup, according to Sports Innovation Lab.

In tandem with digital platforms, social media is providing new opportunities for fans to engage with an international base of women’s leagues, clubs, and players. In SportPro’s 2022 ‘Most Marketable Athletes’ list, 21 places were filled by female athletes, the highest proportion of women to be included since the list first began in 2010.

The reach and influence of these athletes marks a considerable opportunity for brands and organisations to broaden their audience, activate the women’s sport community, support female athletes in their messaging, and, crucially, attract lucrative commercial partnerships deals.

Key questions to consider:

  • How can you best engage your audience through digital content and technological innovation?
  • How will your organisation distinguish itself through content and digital media?
  • How does your organisation embrace digital practices to promote the growth of women’s sports?

Community level sport is often the starting point. It is where players fall in love with sport, where a professional career may start, and where lifelong fans are created. To encourage participation, some organisations are beginning to use digital tools and data centralisation to understand the barriers to entry and the ways in which they can be lowered.

For example, the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) has envisioned a ‘Tennis Opened Up’ campaign, focused on making tennis more accessible and inclusive through digital transformation. By redesigning their website and mobile app to make it more intuitive and user-friendly, users are now able to access tennis court bookings more easily.

The effect of this has directly increased participation and engagement: Advantage, the new LTA membership portal designed for players and fans to organise bookings, matches and rankings in one place, surpassed one million sign ups 12 months ahead of schedule.

Data collection and analysis is also advancing to improve understanding of female sport performance. Research demonstrates that two-thirds of female athletes feel their performance is negatively affected by their menstrual cycle. There is also a clear drop in participation among girls as they grow, particularly at puberty when some may confront a lack of information and misconceptions on their ability to play when menstruating.

As highlighted in FIFA’s Benchmarking Report: Setting the Pace, Orecco, a menstrual tracking and data analysis application programme, views collecting this data as an opportunity to achieve unrealised potential in sport.

By centralising this data, the knowledge gap and awareness on women’s health and sport performance minimises. Coaches and players can make more informed decisions about nutrition, load management, and other factors to alleviate the burden of menstruation from players.

Devoting resource to data collection, such as menstrual tracking, will enable female athletes to overcome a barrier to entry unique to gender, provide a more equitable starting point and create insight that will support sport organisations to be more inclusive in their offerings.

Key questions to consider:

  • How will your organisation collect and analyse data to better inform your decisions?
  • Is your organisation investing in digital tools to better understand and remove barriers to entry for girls & women in the sports industry?
  • How will your organisation create role models at all levels of sport and in sport business?

Partnerships between technology and sport organisations hold the potential to spark innovation, creativity, and visibility across women’s sport.

Technology and design businesses are increasingly joining forces to support the growth of women’s sports assets, whether that’s by working together to reach new audiences, or to create new content.

Many are approaching this as an opportunity for cross-industry innovation, with targeted stakeholder groups and a clear set of results to be achieved.

Organisations testing ideas such as NFT ticketing, virtual reality streaming, artificial intelligence overlay or even in-seat merchandise/food and beverage delivery through their organisations’ mobile app, may also benefit from women’s sports’ nascent growth phase and technologically savvy audience.

Key questions to consider:

  • How can clubs work together with the league to grow at this stage in development?
  • Does your organisation leverage partnerships to create and enhance digitally focused campaigns?
  • How can your organisation use digital tools to attract the next generation of women’s sport fans?

Women’s sport is on an accelerated growth trajectory

The implementation of digital, data, and sports technology services can enable and accelerate business objectives and opportunities for investors, while providing mutual benefits to the pace of the virtuous circle in women’s sport.

Implementing robust digital and data strategies at this nascent stage can be easier and provide longer term benefits than having to re-engineer legacy systems and processes; working collaboratively will determine quicker results.

What’s more, investing in digital and data will drive forwards the virtuous circle and will pay dividends across all levels of participation, commercialisation, and professionalism in women’s sport.

It will also ensure that in growing women’s sport, organisations do not simply emulate the framework of the men’s game, set historically.

We look forward to the future of women’s sport as a distinctive global powerhouse, drawing unique audiences, and delivering significant commercial value through its authentic narrative.

Deloitte’s work in women’s sport

Deloitte Sports Business Group is a leading advisor to the sports business market, providing clients with knowledge and insight to build growth, investment, and resilience across sport.

For a number of years, the Group has advised clients across its international network on the commercial development of women’s sport. This has included advising leagues, clubs, governing bodies and investors on growing the financial returns of women’s sports assets; growing sports participation among women and girls and developing professional event and competition strategies.

The team regularly publishes new insight and data, and provides media commentary, on the development of women’s sport and women in sport business.

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