Fall 2023 State of the Union on the Women’s Sports Movement
October 25, 2023
Photo credit: Elizabeth Flores/Star Tribune via Getty Images
In April, our Consumer Lifestyle & Sports Group (CLS) highlighted the incredible momentum surrounding women’s sports and how female athletes and their respective leagues, clubs, and teams had finally earned their well-deserved spot at the center of national consciousness. The term “a movement, not a moment” was reverberating through the business, marketing, and entertainment worlds, and everyone wanted a piece of women’s sports. They wanted to invest in it, feed off of it, and slap their logos on to women’s sports entities to shout “we are here and we are a part of this incredible groundswell.”
In reflecting on the progress that’s been made in the past six months, there is no doubt that the fervor continues to build. While we were able to see and feel the initial energy and potential around the women’s sports movement this past spring, we are now LIVING in the midst of it in real-time – and there’s no better representative of the current climate than Iowa Women’s Basketball Star Caitlin Clark.
Clark’s on-court accolades and performances speak for themselves but off the court there isn’t one facet of ‘the business of women’s sports’ that she hasn’t touched and completely transformed:
- Marketing & Branding: In August, Clark was immortalized at the Iowa State Fair with a massive sculpture made of butter, alongside NFL legend Kurt Warner and Iowa State standout Jack Trice. On October 10, Clark announced that she had signed a deal with State Farm, joining Kansas City Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes and Golden State Warriors star Chris Paul as spokespeople for the insurance company. The partnership makes her the first college athlete to partner with State Farm, and she also has partnerships with notable brands including Nike, Topps, Buick, Bose, and others.
- Revenue Generation: Clark’s incredible popularity is not only a financial boon for her, but for the networks as well. Her electric playing-style has become must-see TV; When she led Iowa to this year’s Final Four, Clark became the first player in NCAA tournament history to post a 40-point-triple-double in a win over Louisville that garnered 2.5 million viewers; ESPN saw a 94% increase in viewership of that game from the same tournament game of 2022. For the NCAA, 2.5 million viewers means more potential revenue from advertisers.
- Fan Affinity and the Rising Popularity of Women’s Basketball: College basketball exhibition games have notoriously been lackluster events comprised of uneven matchups that draw limited crowds. Not so when Caitlin Clark is playing. The Iowa Women’s Basketball team made history (yet again) last weekend when the team hosted DePaul for an exhibition game that set a new attendance record for an NCAA women’s basketball game, with 55,646 fans packing Kinnick Stadium. It’s a testament to Clark’s star power; the allure of watching a Caitlin Clark performance in person is compelling fans to spend on tickets and attend games, and Iowa has already sold out the entire 2023-24 regular season.
This week, Clark announced she has signed with our client Excel Sports Management, where she joins Excel’s roster of globally recognized athletes including the Manning Brothers, Tiger Woods, and Derek Jeter. Excel Sports’ Women’s Division represents many of the best female athletes as well, but the fact that the narrative continues to position Clark alongside some of the best male athletes to ever play their chosen sport has broader significance – We’re getting closer to where we need to be, as the distinction between men’s and women’s sports continues to shrink and equality increases; where descriptors for the Caitlin Clarks and the Megan Rapinoes of the world will be “One of the best basketball and soccer players of all time” rather than “One of the best female basketball and soccer players of all time.”
At FINN, our client work has afforded us the opportunity to develop an insider’s perspective as women’s sports has continued to grow in scope and influence. We were there at the beginning working on Title Nine’s Kick In for Equal Pay Initiative. We’ve seen top business executives like Sheryl Sandberg join the movement through investments in new NWSL expansion teams, and recently announced that Tiffany & Co. has partnered with the NWSL to re-design the league’s championship trophy. We’re feeding off the energy and excitement emanating from athletes like Excel Sports’ Napheesa Collier, who is building her new Unrivaled basketball league that will give top WNBA players the opportunity to play domestically during the off-season.
The phenomenon of Caitlin Clark is one of the most exciting spectacles we’re all about to have the privilege to experience, and it’s built off of the incredible milestones the women’s sports movement has seen in the past year. Our work through each of these milestones continues to inform the current work we’re doing within the women’s sports space, and the future projects we’re excited to embark on with some of the remarkable women and leagues that are leading the charge forward.