The influence of the sports industry on our society is immense. Athletes, teams, federations, leagues, brands, advertisers and sports media form a powerful cultural fabric that has the strength to change mentalities and behaviors.
With the debut of the new Professional Women’s Hockey League (LPHF) and a new year, let’s hope that a truly new era of sport begins here, in Montreal, in Quebec and in Canada. An equitable, healthy and inclusive era, where we finally close the gap in value between sports practiced by men and those practiced by others.
Professional sports and everything surrounding it are, by default, masculine. According to a recent study published by the Wasserman firm, women’s sports receive 15% of sports media coverage (when we talk about it, it is often from a male point of view) and barely more than 1% of sports sponsorships. industry (statista.com).
Women’s sport has aroused a semblance of interest for too long because it seems good to our collective conscience. Yes, we must have female role models for the next generations, but these athletes must also be fairly compensated.
The inequity is aberrant. American soccer legend, Abby Wambach symbolized this disparity by receiving the Icon Award at the 2016 ESPYs alongside Kobe Bryant and Peyton Manning. Although all three athletes received the same tribute, the reality of their retirements was radically different: both men were billionaires, while Wambach had to find a job to pay his rent.
Another edifying example is found in the NBA: the person who hides under the costume of the Denver Nuggets mascot earns US$625,000 per year, while in the WNBA, Diana Taurasi, one of the greatest players in the league history with three championship titles and five Olympic gold medals, receives US$234,000 per year (making her one of the highest paid players).
According to Deloitte, women’s sport will generate more than 1.3 billion worldwide in 2024, or 300% more than in 2021. And the fans are there, if we rely on attendance and attendance records. ratings which continue to be shattered. The popularity of women’s sport in the media and economic space is particularly felt among our neighbors to the South with the activities of university sport, the WNBA, the NWSL and the WTA. Still surprising that a country that calls itself open and progressive like ours seems miles behind them in this sense. We can think of our hockey players, our Canadian boxers and so many others; the list of examples of inequities is still far, far too long.
The business and media communities need to do more than nod their heads. It takes more Canadian Tire1 who choose to invest half of their sports sponsorship budget in women’s sport, but also all the stakeholders to succeed in this development: sports organizations, media and fans. We must change the codes and the face of real decision-makers, media personalities and people of influence in sports and business circles by including women and members of under-represented communities.
Couldn’t Montreal become the first Canadian city to host a WNBA franchise in addition to – or instead of – an NBA franchise? It is high time to transform the discourse on the commercial and marketing value of women’s sport: it is a business growth strategy and not a community involvement strategy. Respect and true recognition of female athletes requires financial commitment and prime time media visibility.
The market will only be rebalanced when federations, leagues, advertisers, investors and their media partners recognize the value of female athletes.
The good news is that there is still time to invest. The Montreal business community should rush to the doors of the 21.02 High Performance Hockey Center, the LPHF, the future professional soccer league led by Project 8 and Diana Matheson, and any other project that ensures the sustainability and development of the women’s sport.
It is a page of history that could be written by recognizing those who, after all, form 50% of the population. That a professional women’s hockey game is sold out shouldn’t be news, it should be the norm for all games in 2024. It’s time to get on board, invest, change the culture and finally have a positive and lasting impact.