How Brands Can Smash Sport’s Glass Ceiling

How Brands Can Smash Sport’s Glass Ceiling

It was a Barty Party at the Australian Open this year, with Ash Barty becoming the first Aussie to win a grand slam at home in 44 years, writes Kate Rourke, head of creative insights, iStock, APAC.

While the win made Barty (Pictured above) hot property in the media, this isn’t the case for most sports stars.

Only seven per cent of female athletes in Australia and 15 per cent of female athletes in New Zealand currently receive adequate representation in media and advertising.

For women’s sport to grow sustainably, fan and industry interest and perceptions of value need to be more widely spread.

According to the latest Visual GPS research from iStock by Getty Images, consumers want to see this visibility gap closed.

They also expect more from brands when it comes to authentic representations of females in sport.

For companies looking to connect with these avid sports fans and help smash the industry’s glass ceiling along the way, here are some top tips on how to select visual content to create unbiased, inclusive visual storytelling.

Group of female soccer players listening to their african-american female coach before game

Photo credit: Wundervisuals, iStock.

Show The Pain And The Gain

While visuals of male athletes focus largely on the actual athletic undertaking, visuals of female athletes are driven more by personality, drama and key moments.

Being able to show women in sport in a more holistic way allows for all sides of one’s character and ability to be revealed.

Think of Sam Kerr’s passionate shriek when celebrating an almighty goal.

Nicola McDermott’s sigh of relief after clearing the high jump to secure a silver medal during Tokyo 2020.

These visuals remind us that despite their superhuman sporting talent, these athletes are in fact still human.

Conversations around mental health in sport have also been a huge talking point led by female athletes, with Naomi Osaka opening up about her struggles after dropping out of the French Open in 2021.

Another instance of this is when Simone Biles pulled out of the USA team finals in Tokyo.

According to iStock Visual GPS data, 96 per cent of women in ANZ think it’s important to take care of themselves emotionally as well as physically.

There is clearly an opportunity for businesses to encapsulate this notion in their advertising.

In order to continue to change some of the stereotypes around women in sport, it’s important to depict a wide range of emotions, whether the women pictured are determined, angry, disappointed, or elated.

Consider showcasing an athlete’s skill and athleticism and don’t shy away from grime, dirt, sweat or blood.

Physical wellbeing is also broader than just “sport”, so consider activities like online exercise classes or walking with friends.

Crafting a realistic view of the physical and mental capabilities of women and girls is powerful and can help communicate the values of the businesses embracing these visuals.

Don’t Forget The Fans, Support Staff And Teammates

Pre-pandemic 10 per cent of iStock’s top 100 sport images used by media in ANZ featured female athletes but during the first wave of Covid, this dropped to less than 1 per cent.

This stands in stark contrast to the increased interest by fans in female sports teams.

The Matildas competed in front of a record crowd in Newcastle last year and the Diamonds netball team and Australian women’s rugby sevens team have won over legions of fans.

Women are also increasingly taking up roles in the industry previously dominated by men.

This ranges from coaches to managers, team owners, journalists, physical therapists and medical staff.

When crafting an advertising or marketing campaign focused on sport, visuals of all of these relationships are critical.

For marketers and SMBs it’s important to capture the passion, engagement and power of female fans as well as support staff.

Consider including depictions of women competing against each other as well as participating in team activities.

Be Holistic And Realistic In Your Visual Choices

79 per cent of women watching sport want to see female athletes portrayed in an authentic way that focuses on their skill and athleticism rather than their beauty, glamour or sex appeal.

However, only  33 per cent said sports visuals are inclusive according to the latest Visual GPS research.

Sadly 7 out of 10 women are still encountering bias in their everyday lives due to either body shape, age or gender.

There is a big opportunity for more inclusive sports imagery, encompassing women of different body types, ages, ethnicities and abilities.

To help choose inclusive and effective visualise in marketing and advertising, businesses can ask themselves questions such as:

  • Am I using images of women and girls in the same way as I use images of men and boys?
  • Am I showing disabled athletes and fully representing how they fit within a larger team?
  • Am I showing real bodies of all shapes, sizes, and muscularity in an action-oriented, not passive, way?
  • Am I representing parenthood in sport, such as images and videos of active pregnant women and parents supporting their children to play sport?

Marketers and SMBs can play a large role in the growth of female sports by shifting the narrative of how female athletes are represented in the media and advertising.

Crafting authentic visuals that fully realise the emotion, physical ability and comradery involved with women in sport will have a continual impact on participation and visibility.

There is an opportunity for businesses to differentiate themselves from their competitors and increase revenue by connecting with the legions of sport-loving Aussies.

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