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Home †>†The marketing of womenís sports

A New Age of Womenís Sports
by Stu Watson

Wherever thereís a rolling camera an audience gathers. And an audience broadens marketing appeal. And so it is with womenís sports.

"The rise in popularity of women's tennis is phenomenal," says Lynn R. Kahle, a professor at the University of Oregon's James H. Warsaw Sports Marketing Center. He also notes the growth of interest in the Womenís National Basketball Association. So, reflecting this social change, more advertisers are beginning to make women the centerpiece of campaigns.

And when it comes to sports, they ainít what they used to be. The top new-entry sport is now soccer, extreme sports are commanding more attention from young people and a media explosion has created a huge need for content.

And in the midst of this foment, the role of women is expanding. American Sports Data reports a 20 percent rise over the past decade, to about 40 million, in the number of females frequently participating in sports. Of all high school athletes, 41 percent are girls; in colleges itís 38 percent.

And women are nearly as avid about watching sports as men. In a poll for ESPN, 84 percent of women polled said they were sports fans, not far below the 93 percent of men.

But women are more selective about what they watch, says Douglas Pirnie, senior vice president of IMG, an event organizer and athlete-management company.

IMG represents Venus and Serena Williams, Olympic gold medalists and consecutive winners of the U.S. Open tennis tournament. As hot as any athletes alive, the two have signed endorsement deals with Nortel.

ďAt least in tennis, the women are the story, because you have such riveting matches and rivalries,Ē Pirnie says.

Some marketers find security in women athletes. Sue Rodin, president of Stars & Strategies, a New York sports marketing and management company, cites the ongoing litany of male athletes running afoul of the law or civic standards.

ďItís not that female athletes arenít capable of being Tonya Harding, but if you look at the numbers, most women athletes are better role models,Ē Rodin says.

Expansion of professional sports leagues will extend opportunity for women, Rodin says, and adventure quests like the Bancroft Arnesen Expedition will expand the publicís perception of women.

"Sports is a metaphor for life," she says. ďAdventuring is part of women being strong, fearless and setting goals. Itís an umbrella for this new age of women and how they are viewed in society, and how these days, there are no limitations.Ē

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