Changing Perceptions in Women’s Sport

On Monday 26th September there was a picture on the front page of the Guardian showing Manchester City Women celebrating the moment they became WSL Champions. On the front page. Now that is a step in the right direction. Less than a week later, the football club completed the double by winning the Continental Tyres Cup. There wasn't even time to put the champagne back on ice.

Female sporting role models surround us and it is brilliant. But, with all of these successes, it is important to take a step back and assess the impact this is having on women’s sport and, more pertinently, on young girls around the country. It would be difficult to argue that the aforementioned role models aren’t encouraging women to be active. But do they engage those that simply aren’t huge sports fans? Yes, Manchester City Women were on the front page of The Guardian and quite rightly the story focussed on their on-pitch successes. However, would you flick to the back pages to read the full story if you didn’t like football? Would you even notice it on the front page? Maybe not.

Inspiring young girls around the country to play sport can’t only be about the success of elite athletes. Moreover, changing perceptions of women in sport won’t be achieved solely in the back pages of the paper. It is, in fact, this prerequisite for somebody to like sport in order to play it, that might actually be putting people off. Instead, the value of sport and the impact it can have must be communicated in a much broader way which is relatable to all (sports fan or not). Not everybody should require an ambition to be the next Steph Houghton in order for them to feel empowered to kick a football. Young girls should instead want to go and play because the results are more far-reaching, they transcend sport itself. And because their everyday role models (enter mum and dad) are encouraging them to do it. Even mums and dads that don’t have a deeply ingrained passion for sport themselves.

A recent post on the Facebook account of ‘Parenting Girls – Raising Good Women’ argued that parents don't simply pay for their kids to play sports; they pay for the opportunities that sports provides to develop attributes that will serve them well throughout their lives. Respect, teamwork, winning and losing. The fundamental life skills that make up a well-rounded person. A recent ParkLives film by Synergy client Coca-Cola takes this one step further showing that sport can quite simply bring children, parents and communities together.

And the simplicity of this is what makes it the perfect area for brands to explore. It’s far too easy for us to simply tell the story of a female that has defied the odds to reach the pinnacle of her sport. Of course these stories can be incredibly powerful, but they aren’t always relatable. Instead we should be telling the stories of how football, and sport generally, has impacted the day-to-day lives of normal young girls. How it can build their confidence and enrich their social lives. How it has given them the tools to succeed academically. But most importantly, how their parents supported them through this process and encouraged them to play. Because this is a parent’s responsibility.

Which might just be the key.

Parents have a responsibility to encourage their children to be active. They also have a responsibility to change the perceptions of women’s sport with their own children – it should start at home. So let’s encourage them to do it. At the very least, we might make mums and dads think more about the power of sport. At best, we might empower parents to take their daughter to the park to play football, regardless of their ability or previous interest in the sport.

So what is the endgame? Somebody with no interest in sport is impacted by a sporting story. It’s something we tried to achieve when working with SSE on their ‘Dads and Daughters’ series. A football story that is about way more than just football. It’s about family bonding. It’s about overcoming challenges in life. It’s about togetherness, inclusion, equality and being a part of something that can change your life for the better. And it so happens that it couldn’t have happened without two things: dedicated parents and the power of football.

Therefore, the challenge is clear: we must talk to all parents about sport, not just those that are sports fans. And we must engage them with the power sport can have on the everyday lives of their children – regardless of whether or not their daughter might one day be pictured celebrating on the front page of The Guardian.

Sponsorship Deals: Picking the Right Partner

FC Barcelona and Nike look like they couldn’t be happier together, having signed a new sponsorship deal reportedly worth £120m p.a. and therefore breaking adidas and Manchester United’s previous £75m p.a. record.FIFA and the IOC may be in slightly rockier relationships. After all, a lot has changed since they reported record revenues of £2.1bn ($5.7bn) in 2014 and c.$850-1,600m from Toyota for eight years on their TOP programme.

Yet in both cases, friends have asked me the same question: “Who is the winner in this sponsorship deal?”

Unlike sport, sponsorship is not a game of Win and Lose. It’s time someone articulated why brands and rightsholders (and my mates!) need not see deal-making as a zero-sum game. So here goes…

Thinking Win/Win underpins any successful partnership. But, in sponsorship rightsholders and brands often enter discussions with a Win/Lose mindset, leading to no deal or a Lose/Lose outcome. It’s time the sponsorship articulated why deal-making need not be seen as a zero-sum game, and how rightsholders and sponsors can create Win/Win partnerships.

“Not a technique; a total philosophy of human interaction” is how Stephen Covey, author of best-seller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, defines Win/Win. To Covey, it means that in any deal “all parties feel good about the decision and feel committed to the action plan”. I find it surprising that many rightsholders and sponsors do not think the same way.

Many rightsholders focus on revenue and price rights without understanding their value to would-be sponsors. It’s like a first date spent pitching all the reasons you are a 10/10 without once stopping to ask what your potential partner about their passions.

What happens without win/win thinking?

Many rightsholders are out to maximize the price they get from sponsors at pretty much any cost, even if it means a bad deal for their partner. In a sense, this is not surprising if we consider their profit maximization problem:

Rightsholder Profit = Revenue from Sponsor – Cost of Providing Rights

(Rightsholder ROI = Revenue from Sponsor / Cost of Providing Rights)

Seemingly, the rightsholders’ profit will be maximized by bleeding the sponsor dry while incurring as few costs as possible. This can cause Win/Lose partnerships, as demonstrated when thinking from a sponsor perspective and their profit maximization problem:

Maximum Sponsor Profit = Incremental Value from Sponsorship Cost of Sponsorship

(Sponsor ROI = Incremental Sales from Sponsorship / Cost of Sponsorship)

As shown in our two equations, Revenue from Sponsor = Cost of Sponsorship. Looked at like this, taking the size of the pie as fixed, both parties could be forgiven for seeing any relationship as Win/Lose.

Except that the size of the pie is not fixed. We must recognize that Incremental Sales from Sponsorship are variable. More incremental sales can mean more value to be shared between both parties.

What would you rather have?

Fortunately, not all first dates are one-way pitches, and insightful rightsholders realize deals are not a zero-sum game. Instead, they search out and build Win/Win partnerships.

However, even for those with the right mindset – even for those daters who could be a perfect match – many still struggle to find the right words to make it show. In sponsorship, the debate and media coverage today is focused on revenue and cost. We know FIFA generated £2.1bn in revenue from 2011-14, but we collectively lack the language and metrics to understand how much is created for sponsors. The point here is that the sponsorship industry needs not only to think Win/Win, but also to talk through a Value lens. Put another way, sponsors care about value and ROI. Rightsholders must demonstrate their ability to deliver maximum value and ROI for sponsors.

They can do this by replacing the one-size fits all rights packages and proposals of today with value-based discussions with sponsors. Instead of metrics like # fans, demographic of fans, # followers and broadcast exposure, potential partners could discuss how to maximise value and ROI through the sponsorship Pathways to Value relevant to them. Consequently, the likelihood of creating a Win/Win partnership and sharing a bigger pie would be significantly higher.

If it becomes clear that a partnership is value-creating, as it appears to be for FC Barcelona and Nike, both parties can negotiate a price and go on to live happily ever after. Time will tell if their tale of romance continues. For now, as Stephen Covey suggests with another of his 7 Habits, let’s Put First Things First and start thinking Win/Win.


If you want to chat Win/Win sponsorship deals or anything to do with sponsorship measurement and evaluation please do send me an email at and, if you haven’t already, take a look at how Synergy think about sponsorship value in our white paper here