Women sportspersons are wowing the world but brand endorsements still elude most
Some months ago, a young tech startup was looking for brand ambassadors and approached my brand building company for advice. After doing meticulous research, we gave them three names – a male sportsperson, a female sportsperson, and a female actor. Even though the female sportsperson was a rising star, more accomplished than the other two, the company was not excited by her. This got me thinking about the inherent gender bias of brands in sports.
While a Virat Kohli will be endorsing everything from cars to toothpaste, female sporting counterparts find it difficult to score even a few. Sure, the picture is changing for the positive with badminton star P V Sindhu and cricketing sensation, Mithali Raj picking up decent endorsements, but these are still few and far between. So deep is this gender divide in the world of advertisers and corporate endorsers that even a has-been cricketer-turned-balding commentator wins bigger bucks than female sportspersons.
A GroupM ESP-SportzPower report in 2016 said that women were finally bucking the trend. P V Sindhu and Sakshi Malik improved non-cricket endorsements from Rs 42 crore in 2015 to Rs 77.1 crore in 2016. An improvement indeed, but it pales into insignificance when pitted against Kohli's going rate of Rs 5 crore a day that he charged in 2017! Cricket endorsements, however, increased by 15.77 per cent in 2017 while non-cricket endorsements shrunk by 21 per cent according to the report in the following year.
Once the gender bias is shunted out, there are other concerns too. Brands would rather have a glamorous female actor back their products seductively squeezing a mango for a soft drink advertisement than have a world-class female sportsperson. In the hierarchy of demands, it is usually male sportsperson/actor, followed by women actors, and then, if lucky, female sportspersons; no matter if they have won a gold medal and done the country proud.
It goes without saying that brands must shatter the gender stereotype and be more willing to bring on female sportspersons on board, but it would be unfair to blame the brands alone. After all, they are businesses looking for maximum visibility for their company and products. Take for instance, women's cricket. The ladies' team's phenomenal performance has yet to strike a chord with the entire nation. Adulation and popularity are yet to garner mass support. The onus lies on the organisers and sports bodies such as the BCCI to create this euphoria. Only when the visibility of the game increases, will the sportspersons themselves find greater acceptability among fans and brands.
The solution to this gender divide in the brand endorsement space can be addressed by women sports stars too. They must connect more with fans, be seen at the right events and most importantly, treat themselves as brands too. Various social media platforms are effective means of spreading the word of one's work and achievements. This will again create more visibility and traction for the sporting stars leading to more brands coming their way. And once brands become more open to women sportspersons, we can finally hope for a level-playing field devoid of gender bias.
(The writer is a journalist and media entrepreneur. The views expressed are strictly personal)