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GroupM Aims to Boost Ad Spend on Women’s Sports in TV Upfront

There’s a new game launching in the world of sports — wooing more ad dollars to games featuring female athletes.

GroupM, the large media-buying consortium backed by ad giant WPP, vowed Wednesday to double the amount of money its clients spend on women’s sports in 2024 and said it would seek to create a dedicated marketplace for the programming genre, starting in the industry’s next “upfront” negotiation period. The firm has already secured interest from advertisers including adidas, Ally, Coinbase, Discover, Google, Mars, Nationwide, Unilever and NBCUniversal’s Universal Pictures.

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“There is a business opportunity for women’s sports, and we can feel it,” says Denise Ocasio, executive director of investment for GroupM’s U.S. operations, in an interview. One client, Ally, pushed the media buyer last year to consider the effort, which will seek to create new broadcast sponsorships and other types of content packages, as well as pacts with leagues and even athlete-owned entertainment companies.

GroupM makes its announcement as increased attention is being paid to the WNBA and the women’s March Madness basketball tournament. Deloitte, the large consulting firm, in November predicted that women’s elite sports will generate global revenues of $1.28 billion in 2024, the first time such totals have topped $1 billion, and marking a 300% increase over what was spent in 2021.

“Over the last few years, we have seen increased attention, increasing ratings and increased presence,” says Martin Blich, executive director of sports and live investment for GroupM U.S.

The business of sports was already large, but it is poised to become even bigger in TV’s streaming era. Games from leagues like the NFL and NBA are one of the few types of content that can command the sizable audiences advertisers crave. As such, the matches have begun to draw the interest of advertisers who might have sought other opportunities in the past to cultivate female consumers.

Women’s sports represents “a smart place to put your money,” says Kate Johnson, global marketing director of sports and entertainment for Google, in an interview. Fans, she says, represent “a very different consumer, far more brand loyal. Overall, they tend to be more tech savvy and they kind of bond with brands that show up for women’s sports.”

In recent years, Google has formed new alliances with sports properties including the WNBA and the National Women’ s Soccer League. The company struck a deal with The Athletic in 2022 that called for more staff and resources to be devoted not only to typical game coverage but also deeper reporting and analysis of women’s sports. In 2021, Google launched an effort to get more WNBA games broadcast on ABC and ESPN and pressed for a segment on women’s sports to be included on “SportsCenter.”

One of the company’s goals, says Johnson, is to “increase the number of hours and content” devoted to women’s sports. “Not just on linear, but on social, too.”

To make the content more appealing to a broader swath of marketers, however, backers need to position programming in key places such as primetime linear TV, which still delivers some of media’s largest audiences.

There seems to be a supply of ad dollars at the ready. “Women’s sports is a natural place for Unilever’s brands to show up, and we have been increasing our investments in this space for years,” says Aaron Sobol, head of U.S. media investment for Unilever. “We’re thrilled to see audience engagement and marketer investment increasing and for the media buying opportunities to continue to mature.”

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