Link to home page
Link to home

News from the open internet

Marketing Strategy

‘Nobody was talking to them’: Brands show their love to women’s sports at Cannes Lions

A lioness rests her head on striped beach tents while two vintage women play tennis above her.

Illustration by Robyn Phelps / Getty / Shutterstock / The Current

CANNES, France — If this Cannes Lions is any evidence, brands are finally waking up to the potential of women’s sports.

For the first time, Axios partnered with Deep Blue Sports+Entertainment to sponsor The Women’s Sports House, a space dedicated to women’s sports that dived into major topics around the rise of women’s sports, their underrepresentation thus far and how brands are finding their bottom lines benefitting from their association.

Throughout the week, advertisers took shuttles from the Croisette to the villa located about 30 minutes outside of Cannes to see sweeping views of the south of France, sip rosé and observe panels such as “The New Business Models Propelling Women’s Sports,” and “The Business of Covering Women’s Sports.”

Brands advocating for women sports during the week included Peloton, Snap, e.l.f. Beauty, MassMutual, Ally Financial, iHeartMedia, The New York Times, NBCUniversal, TIME and The Sports Bra, a new bar that only shows women’s sports. Alongside these companies, women’s sports leagues like the WNBA, PWHL, Chelsea FC, and star athletes like Olympic gold medalist basketball player Sue Bird, Olympic gold medalist skier Mikaela Shiffrin and World Champion soccer player Ashlyn Harris all showed their support across panels, events and activations.

“Women’s sports have inherently been difficult to find and more importantly, been difficult to buy,” explained Laura Correnti, Deep Blue Sports and Entertainment founder and CEO, introducing one of the panels. “We’ve created scarcity in a market where consumers are demanding it.”

But, as most of the speakers attested to, that is changing. The New York Times spoke to its acquisition of The Athletic with a record level of investment for women’s sports coverage and iHeartMedia chose their panel to launch the Women’s Sports Audio Network, which now streams women’s sports news and interest stories to 500 stations in 150 markets. “To be able to tell these stories, it’s going to push women’s sports even further than it is right now,” said Sue Bird.

Bobby Bones, Kory Marchisotto, Sue Bird, Gayle Troberman and Laura Correnti toast the launch of iHeartMedia's new Women's Sports Audio Network.
Bobby Bones, Kory Marchisotto, Sue Bird, Gayle Troberman and Laura Correnti toast the launch of iHeartMedia's new Women's Sports Audio Network

The growth of interest in women’s sports reached new ground in 2023, when the NCAA women’s basketball tournament and Women’s World Cup saw record-breaking viewership and female sports stars like basketball pro Caitlin Clark and tennis champ Coco Gauff took over headlines. In March, GroupM committed to doubling its investment in sports.

Deloitte is forecasting that women’s sports revenue could surpass $1 billion for the first time, a milestone that sits at a 300% increase on the industry’s evaluation from 2021.

Wherever eyeballs and money go, brands want to be — across the web, audio and streaming.

“There are over 100 brands working with Disney across 50 categories supporting women’s sports programming,” said Disney President of Advertising Rita Ferro on a panel at Women’s Sports House.

Advertisers are finding the business case is there.

In 2022, Ally Financial CMO Andrea Brimmer pledged that it would equally spend toward women’s and men’s sports within five years. At Axios Sports House, Bridget Sponsky, executive director of brand marketing at Ally Financial, announced that the brand did indeed increase its investment and it’s currently split at 47% women’s sports to 53% men’s sports.

Image of a pool with pool floaties inside taken at the Axios Sports House at the Cannes Lions festival.
Photo by Ilyse Liffreing

“Since then, we’ve seen double the growth across all our brand metrics — awareness, preference, likeability,” said Sponsky. “We’re seeing...from women specifically that [they] are six times more likely to convert to our products at a much more efficient rate. So, for us it makes business sense.”

Of course, brands seeking to reach women viewers should turn to sports in general. Women are increasingly watching and streaming sports at higher numbers — whether it’s football, golf or racing.

As Kory Marchisotto, CMO at e.l.f. Beauty and president at Keys Soulcare, said on stage of its first foray into the Super Bowl and jumping into women’s love of sports:

“We were needed at the Super Bowl because 50% of the audience is women, but nobody was talking to them...The same at the Indy 500 — 41% of that audience is women. Guess what? Nobody was talking to them either until e.l.f. arrived.”

This year’s Paris Olympics presents a unique opportunity to connect with more women viewers. For the first time, there will be an equal number of male and female athletes at the Olympic Games, and NBCUniversal has seen a steady rise in its female viewership throughout the last several games. Speaking at the Axios Women’s Sports House, Alison Levin, NBCUniversal’s president of advertising and partnerships, shared that women tuning into the Olympics has multiplied seven times over, from 2.7 million in 2009 to now a projected 18.9 million.

Levin pointed to a study from the last Olympics that found viewers had a 14% higher brand recognition for commercials that featured female athletes than male athletes. “To the point that this is good for business, it just straight up is, so we were excited to hear that we doubled down on that,” she said.