Women viewership in sports show a steady growth, but are the brands ready?

New Delhi: It has been long believed that television mostly provides content aimed at its women viewers. The family dramas and reality shows have pivoted around this notion and advertisers have made the most of it to reach out to their rooted female audiences.

But what has perhaps remained largely untapped is the slow, but steady rise of female viewers who enjoy watching sports on television as much as men do. Be it a working woman or the housewife who takes out time to watch her favourite game, while juggling between her work and daily chores, they have ensured that gender no longer defines sports viewership.

Sample this: The women viewership in the sports genre grew by eight per cent from 17.6 billion impressions in 2018 to 19.1 billion impressions in 2019. During the same time, the urban market of Hindi GEC recorded a decline of 4 per cent in its female viewership compared to 2018, according to the data released by Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC).

Women also contributed to the record TV viewership of the Indian Premier League (IPL) when it returned with its thirteenth edition in September last year. As per data, there was a 21 per cent growth in female viewership compared to its previous edition and it garnered a TVR of 5.4 among women compared to 2019 when it was 4.3. The female attention was also1.8x higher than other genres showed Tvision panel data.

This not only led to an uptick in advertisements targeting female audiences, but also instilled confidence in brands to leverage it to promote their campaigns. One such bold marketing move was made by Niine Hygiene and Personal Care which used the cricket arena to launch its ground-breaking campaign, 'RuneForNiine' and create awareness around menstrual hygiene. The Rajasthan Royals team stepped on the field with the brand logo printed on their purple jerseys and won admirers across aisles. It was also the first time an Indian sports team was sponsored by a feminine hygiene products brand.

FMCG brands also did not hold back to leverage the festive time on the biggest marketing platforms of the country. Several brands including Mondelez, Adani Fortune, Nestle, Unilever, Coca Cola, Pepsi, Colgate saw an opportunity in the last edition of the league and came on board to reach out to the combined audience of a family. One of the key factors and uniqueness of IPL is that it has become a family viewing program, a time for brands to reach out to not just one section of the audience, but also the other members who may influence the purchase section.

In 2019, Indian cosmetic brand Lotus also used IPL to launch its exclusive range of sports sunblock. “Till date, we are market leaders in the sports sun protection category too given our targeted campaigns around sports and highly innovative product offering. While our core focus target group continues to be women, men also get exposed to the brand and its products via IPL and any other sport events that we target,” said Dr Ipsita Chatterjee, head of innovation, development and brand Strategy, Lotus Herbals Pvt. Ltd.

The recognition of the female audience has also been driven by growth of women’s sports which have garnered popularity over the years and demonstrated ability to drive substantial audiences.

“Women-centric sports and their sponsorships are great opportunities for us as a brand. In fact, in 2019, we were the official beauty partners for Pinkathon, India’s biggest women’s run. 2020-the world changed and we couldn’t execute a lot of professional collaborations for women’s centric sports events. Hope 2021 gives us a platform to leverage and focus more on women-centric sports events. That’s definitely a part of our future strategy,” added Dr Chatterjee.

Over 74.9 million viewers had watched the ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup 2020 held just before the world was put under lockdown in March last year. India’s success in making it to the final with Australia made it the most watched ICC women’s T20 event in history. The final match recorded 1.88 billion viewing minutes of which 1.1 billion minutes came from male viewers and 0.8 billion minutes came from female viewers.

The Women's T20 Challenge held in November last year also recorded a TVR of 1.3 compared to 0.5 in 2019. The tournament accounted for a reach of 105 million as compared to the figure of 66 million for an international tour featuring the Indian men's cricket team around the same time.

Industry heads contend that brands are now not only leveraging mainstream popular sports but are also exploring domains of the emerging ones.

"If you look at the overall viewership in sports, it is skewed towards men. But I don’t think brands are ignoring women. Be it cricket, tennis, table tennis, badminton, brands are now open to considering these sporting events for women audiences. If the outcome of the event is going to give a higher viewership and a higher rating, then brands will decide accordingly, provided the audience that views that event has to have an affinity to the product. It is a function of the pricing to the equation to the return on investment and how it pans out. It is a targeting-led era. I think the differentiating factor is if I can catch the same audience somewhere else far cheaper,” said Priti Murthy, chief executive officer, OMD India.

With the rise in female audiences on cricket, IPL is growing to be gender and age agnostic for brands to target all sets of audiences en-mass. It provides the required food for thought to categories like FMCG, who have historically left sports out of their media plans due to the lack of their target audience viewing those properties. As the rise in viewership from all sections of the society and families continues, sports platforms like IPL continue to evolve to become more inclusive for viewers and brands alike.

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