As we come to the end of the first Women’s Sport Week, Y Sport makes the case for greater investment in women’s sport. Sally Horrox, Chief Executive, explains why she is committed to developing this emerging market and how she will do it.

3 weeks ago I launched Y Sport, a new women’s sport business that will focus exclusively on the commercial and professional development of women’s sport. I stood up at the #BeAGameChanger Awards and pledged that Y Sport, with the support of its partners the Women’s Sport Trust and Helena Morrissey’s 30 % Club, would work to attract £1 million of new investment into women’s sport over the next 12 months.

So, why would a business want to invest in women’s sport, and how will we make this happen?

Women’s sport, athletes, events, competitions and fans currently present a major opportunity to business, and to sport itself. This emerging market is growing fast, attitudes are changing and barriers to entry are low.

Since 2011 when we launched The FA WSL, the first women’s professional football league in this country, I have seen tangible and compelling evidence that investing in women’s sport makes good business sense. Smart investors are influencing and shaping this emerging market with first mover advantage. Businesses are waking up to the fact that inclusive businesses perform better. Companies that choose to invest in women’s sport are sending out a clear message about their brand and their people – a message of forward-thinking, intelligent and innovative business that recruits and retains the best talent whilst also sourcing new markets.

When we restructured The FA’s women’s commercial rights 2014-2017 it enabled us to value and sell the women’s rights independently of the men.  As a result we’ve seen significant new investment come into women’s football. Sponsors with a clear strategy and intent were able to align their brand and investment with girls, women and their families. A good example of a stand-alone sponsorship deal is that of Continental Tyres, whose investment has grown exponentially since 2011.

Whilst great progress is being made by a small number of committed sponsors, there is room for many more Continental Tyres. Compared to men’s sport it remains a relatively uncluttered market and across the whole of women’s sport there are great stories just waiting to be told.

All the key ingredients are there: the medal winning athletes themselves; captivating competitions that are being created and re-structured to provide sports entertainment and as a result, much more visible media coverage. The fan base is growing and sponsors and broadcasters can engage with and sell to more knowledgeable consumers

Much of this has been in place for a while but experience tells us that three things are making a difference:

1. The pick up in broadcast coverage and the growth of new and social media channels, which for much less money provide greater access to women’s sport content.

Critically, it’s smart business men and women, in forward thinking broadcast, media and sponsor businesses who are now starting to appreciate the value of women as buyers, consumers and viewers.

50 % of the population cannot be ignored. The vocal support of journalists, government and business leaders is making an impact.

2. The commitment from major corporates to run more balanced and inclusive businesses and to partner with women’s sport as a meaningful way of demonstrating this.

Y Sport, The 30% Club, and the Women’s Sport Trust are all driving this concerted, business-led change.

Women’s sport sponsorship is providing proof to a cynical world that statements about being inclusive are more than just talk.

3. New and attractive opportunities are being created by the rights holders and the sports themselves but more still needs to be done.

Creating a new Netball Super League, a new Team Wiggle Honda, a new FA Women’s Super League with BT Sport shows how a sport can build new, agile and attractive commercial opportunities.

It is often difficult to respond where there are established governance and competition structures. This may require fundamental change for some sports and rights holders. This is one area where Y Sport can help: there may be a need to take a long-term strategic view on the importance of new commercial partnerships, to re-structure a sport and its corporate and financial strategy accordingly.

Over the next 12 months business opportunities in women’s sport will multiply significantly, dwarfing Y Sport’s pledge to attract £1 million of new investment.

We will be working with a group of progressive brands and investors to understand their objectives and to develop new commercial partnerships. Our challenge – and opportunity – is to identify and introduce like-minded individuals with the vision, strong leadership and creativity to make this happen.  This process has already started and we are actively seeking other groundbreakers from business, sport and the media to join with Y Sport in actively shaping the market.

We have every intention of exceeding our £1 million pledge – but it would be a good start. Our real ambition is to accelerate progress towards greater investment that will transform and secure the financial future of women’s sport, guaranteeing sport for all.

Y Sport has been founded by Sally Horrox, an expert on women’s sport, commercial and broadcast partnerships. She is joined by Jo Bostock, who will link Y Sport to WST and provide inclusive leadership expertise. They will work with business, media and sport to reinforce the rationale for commercial investment.