Personalities, Participation, Special Events, and Fashion Are Keys to Sports Groups' Marketing Strategies

Article excerpt

For the major professional sports leagues, marketing to women encompasses several approaches:

* Positioning the sport as a family activity;

* Targeting some advertising to women;

* Developing fan interest through participation among girls and adult women;

* Creating special events in-stadium;

* Highlighting players' personalities;

* Connecting the sport with fashion and entertainment.

Most leagues use several of these techniques (see page 6 for details on individual programs).

Participation is a key driver of interest in any game, and all leagues mention the importance of youth and adult programs for creating new fans. "When you play a sport, your knowledge of it--and interest in it--is exponentially greater," says Major League Soccer's Dan Courtemanche.

The LPGA's Eric Albrecht attributes much of the growth in female fan interest in recent years to golf's improved image as more accessible and female-friendly, thanks to the combined efforts of courses, instructors, and apparel manufacturers, as well as his organization's own youth and adult participation programs. National Basketball Association research shows that involvement in basketball in the teen years directly drives adult interest in the professional sport.

The U.S. Tennis Association positions tennis as sports entertainment, through a focus on celebrity and fashion. Part of the strategy is to choose apparel licensees with high-fashion credentials, such as Polo Ralph Lauren, the USTA's official on-court provider. The NBA and NFL, too, have expanded their licensed fashion offerings far beyond the traditional t-shirt and hat, including sub-brands called NBA4Her and NFL For Her.

Major League Baseball's female-targeted promotions often include a charitable element, and its teams offer special events such as a sophisticated women's wine-tasting night.

In many cases, general-market advertising targets women as the gift-buyers and family entertainment decision-makers. "We know women are the entertainment gatekeepers for the family, so ... a lot of our advertising is targeting women to purchase tickets as gifts for men or children," says MLB's Jacqueline Parkes.

When women are targeted as individual consumers, say several leagues, the messaging focuses on players' personalities. "Women connect with sports on an emotional level as an entry point," says Carol Albert of NBA Entertainment. "That brings them into enjoying the thrill of competition; it's the ultimate reality series. It's also a social event--it's about watching with family and friends," she adds.

It's worth noting that while all of the leagues talk about the growing proportions of women in their fan bases, ESPN Sports Poll data on page 1 shows that the proportions of women overall who are fans of various sports have remained steady or declined slightly over the past 10 years. …