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Why brands and the production industry need to support the UK's female sports stars now.

Why brands and the production industry need to support the UK's female sports stars now.
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Surely now is the time for female sports talent to get the sh*t- hot brand endorsements and sponsorships they deserve?

As a female-led business with a kick ass sports production team it has been so rewarding to watch this summer's sporting success from the female national teams and see women’s sport dominating the headlines in an unprecedented fashion. Special mention to England’s netball team reaching the final of the World Cup, and I don’t think any of us are ready to forget that ‘oh so nearly’ once in a lifetime victory for the Lionesses. Heartbreaking and glorious in equal measure - generations young and old will have been inspired by following the highs and lows of their heroes this summer - widening horizons and shattering glass ceilings, shouting out loud that there is no blueprint or barrier to female achievement.

A moment of genuine change?

Tentatively, it feels like we’ve finally reached a genuine watershed moment for female sport to be acknowledged on the same platform as male sport. However, as the headlines begin to fade and with the all consuming news machine behind the men's Premier League in full flow and the Rugby World Cup and Ryder Cup not far away, will there be genuine and long-lasting change for female sporting icons elevated to the same platform as their male counterparts?

Right now the momentum is there, but the opportunity must be seized. It strikes us that one critical area to supercharge change for good is the role our industry can play in cementing these gains. Now is the time for sport, fashion and commercial brands to raise up the stars of female sport to the same iconic status as the male counterparts, but in a meaningful way, that feels entirely natural and non-tokenistic.

The LS view from the terraces.

With sport being one of our core production streams, we’ve had the privilege of working on multiple global productions for powerhouse brands such as Nike, adidas and EA Sports. We’ve worked with Ronaldo, Marcus Rashford, Trent- Alexander Arnold, to name but a few, and delivered cross-over fashion projects with male sporting talent, but as of yet we’ve not delivered any jobs with female sports stars. The jobs do occasionally appear, but based on our experience they tend to run in cycles around major tournaments, like the Football World Cup, when interest is high and then disappear again. Unlike the men’s games where campaigns and sponsorships are ongoing year round.

Nevertheless the seeds of change and the work is starting to appear, recently The Sun branded Lioness Alessia Russo the ‘million pound golden girl’ for her work with brands like Gucci, Playstation, Beats by Dre. Plus Nike have finally backed down and will sell the England women's team’s goalkeeper kit, (but admittedly this was only following a huge public outcry and a petition from fans supported by Mary Earps herself). It has also just been announced that the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) have just announced that the England women’s team’s match fees will be equal with the England men’s team. Moreover, according to the Women’s Sport Trust, the commercial value of women’s sports in the UK could triple in value to £1 billion by 2030. But yet the marketing opportunities are currently about 5% of their male equivalents.

Female sports talent needs brands who are willing to take risks.

So how do we make progress? One issue that strikes us is that brands are struggling with how to present female sports stars. Particularly team sports players, who are often seen as one homogenised set, rather than a collection of unique parts and different identities. All weighed down with worthy tropes of breaking down barriers and a ‘Go Girls / didn’t they do well’ attitude and a stint in the ‘I’m a Celebrity Jungle’ that almost trivialises their otherworldly talents.

Whilst this is essential to raise awareness, it doesn’t create an image that is edgy, iconic or extravagantly aspirational for youth, the absolute basics of sports and fashion brand campaigns. Brands need to be built around individuals and they need to be unique, rooted in a clear visual identity. As of yet can you imagine any individual female football player being treated with the same gravitas and godlike status that players like Haaland or Ronaldo are given when they front top fashion or sports campaigns?

The visual language around female sports stars is also currently unsure too, particularly in the UK and Europe. Right now it feels like there is an element of uncertainty on how to present athletic bodies and strong empowered characters with ample individuality and personality. Female bodies that don’t necessarily conform to conventional female beauty standards but can still deliver high fashion, visual diversity or sporting excellence all at once. Brands and creative teams need to be bold and create these blueprints for their stars to give young girls the icons they can copy, aspire to dress like and put on a pedestal in the same way they do with music and fashion stars.

The heavy price of progress.

However the price of progress comes at a heavy price. The Spanish women's team are now dominating headlines, not for their talent on the pitch and stunning victory, but because of the fallout after Spanish FA President, Luis Rubiales, forcibly kissed player Jenni Hermoso. The narrative overshadowed in an instant, to the alarming issue of female consent. If in a moment of sporting triumph, a woman collecting a World Cup trophy is reduced in such a way on a global platform, then what hope do other women have when it comes to being believed.

Never has it been more urgent for brands and sponsors to build the right platforms and campaigns for female stars to help promote messages that stamp out behaviour like this for good.

Are there any blueprints we can learn from?

Whilst there is still a way to go, some female tennis players have achieved a global platform and fanbase where they are firmly in demand for brand and sponsorship work. Due to the nature of their sport being both international and individual as well as being traditionally a battleground for sporting equality, has ensured that some female tennis players have achieved something close to an equal profile to their male counterparts. For example, despite only winning one Grand Slam to date, Emma Raducanu has built up an enviable list of sponsors doing campaigns for Nike, British Airways, Evian and Porsche.

However the blueprint for brand building in female sport has to be Serena Williams. Like Billie Jean King before her, Williams has broken down barriers and transcended her sport for the better. With a Nike sponsorship since 2004, Williams has cultivated her own aesthetic, built a totally unique brand and driven reappraisal of what a female athlete is, what she should look like and what she should say. She demands respect because not only is she the GOAT but also because she has built an identity that is unforgettable that does not conform to lazy beauty standards. Williams has weaponized her look through clothing on court to create an image that bridges the worlds of high fashion and sports apparel - which has placed her firmly in demand.

Looking across the pond.

In this exciting new chapter for women's sport, maybe UK and European brands need to look across the Atlantic at how stars like Serena Williams and US football players like Megan Rapinoe are building brands that are era-defining and exciting, placing them in demand to be the face of leading commercial, fashion and sports campaigns. It seems like there is an element of confidence in the US that we can learn from, with blueprints being created to build platforms for female talent that aren’t apologetic or humble but built around the star's individual character and appeal.

Playing our part.

What the future of sport looks like has long been its reality. Now it’s high time we see the limitless talent of women in sport become the primary focus of the camera lens through advertising campaigns, docu-series, and especially (as it clearly still needs to be said) the closing ceremony of an incredible World Cup final.

So in 2024 we’re making it our mission to complete our first job with a female sports star. With our production hub in Manchester we are uniquely placed to deliver sports production work on a global scale. At LS we know what it takes to drive change in the industry and we want to be part of the risk takers who are willing to build campaigns for female sporting talent that inspires trends, excites youth and supercharges sporting equality.