Women’s Sports Can Launch the Next Era in CTV Advertising

June 3, 2024

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Billie Hirsh

Originally featured on ANA

For the past 60 years, Super Bowl ads have been the pinnacle of advertising. Coca Cola, Budweiser, Apple, Nike, some of the largest brands in the world, spend millions to create a 15 or 30-second spot in order to capitalize on the power and exposure of what is known to be the biggest night in men's sports. Despite the countless memorable moments provided by highly entertaining Super Bowl ads over the years, I am still most affected by the poignant messaging of P&G's "Like a Girl'' commercial. The video effectively exposed a gender stereotype, while inspiring girls everywhere to be proud of themselves and fight for women's equality in sports.

It's incredibly exciting to think that #LikeaGirl might finally mean what it should. Fueled by Caitlin Clark's breakout season, the women's college basketball finals garnered 18.9 million viewers compared to 14.8 million viewers for the men's basketball. Not only that, many of those views took place across screens of every size and shape.

In 2023, a Wasserman/The Collective report found that women's sports made up only 15 percent of total media coverage, with much of that on streaming and social media. But these norms and old channels are changing fast and for the better. A new era of advertising is emerging, and women's sports are squarely in the center of it.

The Female Buying Power Is Real

Growing up I was glued to the screen for the Women's College World Series, watching Cat Osterman battle for the University of Texas and the Women's College Basketball tournament (they didn't have the right to use March Madness at the time), watching Diana Turasi hold up the custom three-peat Nike sneakers after clinching another title for UConn. Watching amazing women go for their dreams on the big screen filled me with excitement, and I still feel that way now. I'm thrilled that advertisers are finally seeing how women's sports open up a unique opportunity to reach female-first audiences watching sports content.

Women are far and away the primary purchase decision makers for many of the things that a household spends money on in a year, from food and clothing to home décor, cars, and technology. One reason why companies like Ford, Budweiser and Apple spend so much to advertise during the Super Bowl is to get in front of large numbers of women, because they're the ones who will ultimately decide what to buy.

And appealing to women will be more important for marketers in the future. Women are bringing home a larger share of total household income, making their influence on household purchasing even larger. But for the near future, women reign supreme, and women's sports represents a blank slate for reaching them.

Emerging Ways to Reach Women

The most exciting thing about advertising in women's sports is that there is so much opportunity for innovation. There are no precedents set, no such thing as the Super Bowl commercial, and a limitless amount of new ad formats waiting to be tested.

One study found that three quarters of viewers watch women's sports through streaming apps, which opens CTV opportunities for commerce and interactivity. Today, CTV advertisers can already take advantage of solutions like direct-to-glass, audio-to-video, and commerce-enabled creative on the channel. Many advertisers are just getting started with these formats, and they're testing concepts like dynamic advertising that personalizes creative based on factors like household purchases, location, and weather.

Many of these concepts will be tested in real time during the summer Olympics in Paris. The most followed sports are gymnastics, swimming, and diving, sports where women either dominate the coverage Simone Biles-style or get near equal billing as the men. Advertisers will be testing contextually relevant messages, testing out concepts that work on the big screen and smartphones, and will likely do some last-minute creative development to take advantage of breakout-stars or timely themes that arise, all things that would be impossible on linear broadcasts only a few years ago.

Rather than a single commercial meant to appeal to the average viewer, CTV opens opportunities to create thousands or even millions of different versions of the commercial, meant to appeal to a huge variety of viewers. With elements like QR codes and links that allow people to navigate to a website with their remotes or phones, ads will increasingly become interactive, not only can advertisers focus on conversion opportunities, but they can also deliver extended experiences that engage viewers more immersive than a single commercial.

Imagine What's Next for Women's Sports

The future holds promise for both sports content and the ads that accompany it. Younger generations will grow up assuming that women's sports always got prime coverage and that all ads are personalized, relevant, and interactive. In the coming years, watching a game and seeing ads will look totally different. Imagine being able to pause the game and click on a player to see what they had for breakfast and put it in a shopping cart or watch a pre-game interview of them in their Nike-sponsored gear and clicking to buy their hoodie.

Similarly, advertising might become much more social. People's screens might be split between the game and social media or betting app content, which they navigate seamlessly. A brand might sponsor a dashboard for fantasy women's sports scores that appears right on the screen below the game.

Advertisers will get value from supporting women's sports, and simply paying premium prices for prime real estate is an exciting advancement. Given the fact that there is so much uncharted territory in women's sports, innovating early and often will help advertisers get even more bang for their buck.

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