Following the report revealing women’s sports make up 15 percent of sports coverage, Her Football Hub sat down with Thayer Lavielle and Shelley Pisarra of Wasserman.
Lavielle, the Collective lead, and Pisarra, the Insights lead, discussed Wasserman’s recent report in partnership with ESPN.
What is Wasserman all about?
Thayer Lavielle: “Wasserman is essentially one of the largest agencies in sports entertainment and music. It really spans across two primary functions. One is representation of athletes, broadcasters, coaches, artists, and entertainers in a multitude of ways and across a multitude of geographies. On the other side of our business, is a business that is largely consultation-based. It is one that spans across brands, and rights-holders, and media companies, in everything from research and insights to how that informs strategies.
“Shelley is someone in the centre of the same as The Collective, which is a centre of expertise that just looks at the lens of women as consumers, fans, athletes, artists, etc. Shelley is very much a right-hand to me in that. She has her own centre of expertise through the global insights and research lens that brings across the entirety of our business. It’s a kind of interesting ecosystem that both feeds itself and feeds the industry.”
What inspired this research?
Thayer Lavielle: “For many years in the sports landscape, there has been a known stat, and very much talked about stat, that says less than four percent of all sports media coverage is attributed to women’s sports. It comes from a study that started around 30 years ago. It thinks primarily in the premise of linear television, very select types of newscasts, very select types of times of year.
“In partnership with ESPN, really through conversation, we contemplated there being a different set of numbers in a different definition of coverage to be looked at surrounding the idea that this number was probably far greater than less than four percent.”Embed from Getty Images
Shelley Pisarra: “Not only did we feel that the number itself was low, over the last five to eight years, the significant shifts in consumer behaviours and how they were accessing and engaging with sports through media now wasn’t one medium. It was at least four, when you think of linear streaming, social and digital, as well as multi-screen formats.”
What was the process behind the report?
Shelley Pisarra: “The call to action was: how do we capture an updated share, to better reflect the investment in the momentum of the growth of women’s sports? How do we do it in a way that really captures fans? That led us to take on this research in partnership with ESPN and really look at each of these mediums and what was being covered across them over the past five years.
“We wanted to also be able to capture pre-COVID timings and then pull it through to 2022. We’ll update it again at the end of 2023, because a lot has happened. We made sure that we captured pre- and then all of the way through COVID, and then through this year. The report was literally examining 1.2 billion-ish lines of data and occurrences of coverage. Think about this in terms of three major buckets of coverage: competition coverage, highlights coverage, and human-interest coverage. Those were the three big categories. We were looking at understanding content across all these mediums (linear television streaming, social media, and digital media).”
What do the results of the report mean for women’s football specifically?
Shelley Pisarra: “The one thing that we’ve seen over the last five years is those major events like a World Cup are massive inflection points. The coverage grew across all mediums. But digital publications and social media — those two seem to go hand-in-hand. Digital is where you’re getting the highlights or the update on the coverage. Social is where everyone’s having conversations about it. We didn’t see any in the collective group of sports that had any sort of decline there. So, the assumption would be that this growth is spurred by those major events. These drive growth in conversation and engagement for women’s football.”
Engagement and accessibility
Shelley Pisarra: “This project itself that we’re talking about did not cover viewership and the value of that. We were looking at coverage, the opportunity to see and engage. In terms of the background of the accessibility of women athletes via social media, I’ll bring in another study. In partnership with RBC, we looked at the value of women’s engagement over time.
“Looking at women’s sport in general, women athletes have had to work much harder in terms of building their brand, building their reach, and the level of awareness about them and about their sport for years. Much more so than the men’s side, women make 80 percent of their compensation off the pitch. That level of engagement in accessibility from social media is because of all the work that they’ve had to do to build their brand. We know that when they do, they do reap over twice the level of engagement of fans than their male counterparts.”Embed from Getty Images
The athlete and the fan
Shelley Pisarra: “If accessibility is becoming an issue as the sport rises, the demands on their time might make it more challenging. In general, it poses more risk as there are topics to be talked about, things that the athlete might not be as in control over the conversation. We have so many societal issues going on in and around us. Through the RBC work we’ve done, women athletes are not shy in terms of standing up for what they believe in. Many times, they’ve had to mix competition, talking about their sport, as with social justice issues and conversations about equality. We haven’t seen women athletes shy away from this because it is so innate to them. This is something that we’ve talked a lot about inside Wasserman and care passionately about, given we’re all working towards elevating women athletes and women’s sports overall.”
Thayer Lavielle: “We feel very strongly that women’s sports has an opportunity to be a test case for how to reinvent many different things that are done within the traditional path that is the sports ecosystem today. Working to create sponsorships, partnerships, an evolution of an economy that really puts the athletes at the center, because of their importance to the fanbase is something that is mission-critical.
“This is not only for their own health and benefit as they continue to grow and gain more power and money within the industry. Also important is that the consumer and fan is getting younger and more interested in social causes. How we as an industry can really start to test and learn, particularly with women athletes at the centre, is super important.”Embed from Getty Images
How important is it for football teams to utilise this growth in coverage?
Thayer Lavielle: “We are all for growing all of it, really! Part of the reason that the collective creates thought leadership, custom research, and opinion pieces is that we try to bring a real awareness to teams and leagues. And, to essentially become an advisor in a way that is helpful to them.
“So, how can we continue to be a resource for the industry through data and insights that helps give them better information to make more meaningful and impactful decisions? If some of this actually leads into creating a stronger fan community, and better programmes, and better coverage overall, then that’s amazing. The point of it is really to be able to help scale impact as quickly as possible.”
Shelley Pisarra: “Continuing to press on investment to put more inventory into the marketplace globally is the call to action right now. We can leverage this to make sure we’re telling the right commercial story, as we need to really move away from the four percent number and start talking in bigger numbers.
“For example, the 15 percent and then a 20 percent, or maybe even greater by 2025. Knowing there’s so much great stuff already on deck, but continuing to press on investment for more inventory, more teams, more leagues, more programmes to be covered will only keep the cycle going and accelerate that growth.”
Access the full Wasserman report here: https://www.wearethecollective.com/the-new-15-percent