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  • Writer's pictureLewis Wiltshire

How the #StopHateForProfit campaign could boost women's sport at its time of need

When some of the world’s biggest brands pull their advertising from Facebook and other social media platforms, leaving billions of dollars of planned budget unspent, it’s tempting to ponder whether that money could be put to good use elsewhere.

The coronavirus has devastated all sport this summer - but women’s sport has been affected disproportionately. The virus came along at the worst possible moment - women’s sport had built huge momentum before corona hit but hasn’t been at that level of commercial revenue for long enough to have the deep pockets men’s sport was able to fall back on during lockdown.

Is there an answer in sight? With a little imagination, possibly yes.

The virus is just one defining moment of this year. The US presidential election is another. The latter is at the centre of a campaign called #StopHateForProfit which is calling on advertisers to “send Facebook a powerful message.” Many advertisers have responded emphatically.

Household names like Coca Cola, Starbucks, Ben and Jerrys, Levi’s, The North Face and Patagonia have pulled advertising from Facebook (and in some cases other social platforms). Unilever, one of the largest advertisers in the world, has joined the campaign too, citing the “polarised election period in the US.”

Between them, those brands have advertising budgets worth billions (the parent company of The North Face spends more than three quarters of a billion dollars per year on advertising) Much of Unilever’s ad spend is on digital.

Compared to these sums - measured in units of millions if not billions of dollars - the golfer Justin Rose and his wife Kate spent £35,000 sponsoring a series of seven women’s golf events. It was a wonderful gesture of support to women’s sport - and there is no reason to think that it was done for PR reasons. However, it did generate a lot of positive publicity - and the smartest marketers at commercial brands would have taken notice.

Women’s sport is ripe for investment. In the decade just gone, it saw exponential growth and, as Megan Rapinoe says, “this is only the start.”

At Seven League, we have seen first-hand how quickly women’s sport has grown and we’ve been proud to support it. We’ve worked with England Netball for more than three years (a sport which is female-only at the professional level), we’ve trained England Lionesses footballers and professional female badminton players in growing their social media profiles), and we worked on the FIFA #LegendsAssemble campaign before the Women’s World Cup, among many other examples.

Some of the female members of our team are working hard to support women in the digital sport industry with the creation of Upswing (make sure you subscribe if you haven’t already!)

Personally, I have been an activator on the Women’s Sport Trust’s brilliant #Unlocked programme, which pairs industry people like me with elite female athletes, in order that we can help and add value wherever it’s needed.

Women’s sport will continue to grow in this new decade but there is no doubt that coronavirus has been disruptive. New commercial revenue streams would clearly help - and brands could achieve huge PR gains by investing a tiny fraction of the budgets they just pulled from paid social media marketing.

It isn’t that easy of course.

Major brands have direct spend commitment with the platforms plus contracts with media buying agencies. It isn’t as easy as just moving a budget line.

Equally the rightholders need to be set up to woo the brands. The revenue not being spent by the brands was destined for digital - and not just any digital, but Facebook, which has some of the best targeting in the world. Brands know exactly the audiences they are reaching when they place their spend there.

To compete for a slice of that pie, rightsholders will need to be hot on their own analytics to communicate exactly which audiences they can help brands reach, and they’ll need to truly understand the value of their digital. Some sports rightsholders do - many don’t.

It’s a service Seven League provides for many of our clients - we are able to segment and analyse digital output and attach a commercial value to the engagement levels that output will reach, benchmarked against the rest of the industry. In short, it helps our clients do better deals with commercial partners.

Sports rightsholders that already have that strong overview of their digital are in a strong position to go out and compete for some of the revenue which was earmarked for Facebook before the #StopHateForProfit campaign.

However if the brands are smart, they’ll see the opportunity at the same time that rightsholders do - and make the first move. The positive PR for the first major brand that reinvests even a tiny percentage of their planned social media spend into a sponsorship deal with a women’s sport rightsholder will pay for the investment many times over.

The game has been paused - but with a little imagination and creative thinking, it could be very much game on.

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