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NEW YORK: A gender-equal Olympic Games next year will coincide with increasing sponsorship opportunities for female athletes, experts say, after the Women’s World Cup soccer tournament underscored the growing popularity of women’s sport in 2023.

Organisers say Paris 2024 will be the first Games to feature an even number of male and female athletes, a landmark that has been a long time coming after years of work by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to create equal medal opportunities.

Regarding sponsorship, men’s sport is still king.

A Sports Innovation Lab survey this year that included more than 25 Fortune 500 brands found only about 9% of respondents’ sports media and sponsorship dollars were spent on women’s sport.

However, 83% of respondents from that survey said they planned to increase their investment in 2024.

“We heard from a lot of those that they were setting their sights on the Olympics and on doing more with female athletes,” said Sports Innovation Lab CMO Gina Waldhorn. “Brands are really celebrating all of the milestones in women’s sports each year. I think we’ll also see them celebrate this as another one of those critical milestones.”

The 2023 Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand could foreshadow women’s sport becoming even more appealing to sponsors in 2024, as tense pre-tournament TV negotiations gave way to record-breaking viewership across the globe.

Conrad Wiacek, head of sport analysis at research firm GlobalData, said that soccer had played a large role historically in developing the profile of female athletes.

“There is an opportunity there (for brands) to forge a relationship with female audiences directly through partnerships in women’s sport (be that) individual athletes or teams,” said Wiacek.

“And cynically, those opportunities at the moment are more cost effective than certain men’s sports and male athletes.”

Replica jerseys

The popularity of the Women’s World Cup this year prompted a quick response from brands such as Adidas and Nike, whose jerseys were worn by Spain and England respectively in the final.

Saudis ready to play long game to realise dream

A widespread outcry from fans after the tournament prompted Nike to release a replica England goalkeeper’s jersey, having initially not stocked one for Golden Glove winner Mary Earps.

“There’s a true benefit to doing business with women athletes,” said Thayer Lavielle, executive vice president at The Collective, sports and entertainment agency Wasserman’s women’s division.

“How that’s translating into 2024 I think is a little bit still too early to tell because we’re not seeing those campaigns roll out. But (there are) certainly positive signs.”

Visa, one of the longest-standing Olympic sponsors, announced in November the highest percentage of women athletes in their “Team Visa” programme for 2024.

Valarie Allman, an Asics athlete and Olympic champion in women’s discus, told Reuters that finding “authentic matches” with brands makes a world of difference for her peers.

“It takes that sense of being vulnerable to show who you are, to show what you value, to let you be yourself, kind of put your heart on your sleeve,” she said.

“And that ends up being kind of that magnet to companies that will show interest and provide opportunities.”

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