Once again, it was Irish female athletes and teams that largely dominated the Teneo Sport and Sponsorship Index (TSSI), a 1,000 person nationally representative piece of research that explores Irish people’s attitudes towards sport and sponsorship.
The Irish women’s soccer team took top spot with over a quarter of the country (26 per cent) citing Vera Pauw’s team as their team of the year. Last year they made the top five but this year saw them propelled further into the country’s consciousness and hearts.
[ Amy Broadhurst named Irish Times/Sport Ireland Sportswoman of the Year 2022 ]
This deserved recognition was the standout statistic and is reflective of where women’s sport is at in Ireland as we reach the end of 2022. Last year we were celebrating a breakthrough year for women’s sport in terms of performances and recognition on and off the pitch, and this year has confirmed that it was no flash in the pan.
For the sixth consecutive year, the enduringly excellent Katie Taylor claimed the most admired Irish sports star spot in this research (21 per cent) but for the second year in a row she was followed by two more female athletes with Rachael Blackmore (7 per cent) in second place and Kellie Harrington, who was joint third with Jonathan Sexton on 6 per cent.
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When it comes to Ireland’s greatest sporting achievement again our female athletes featured heavily in this category. The Ireland team who beat Scotland to earn their place at the 2023 World Cup took second place (13 per cent) and Katie Taylor took third for her Lightweight World Championship win over Amanda Serrano in Madison Square Garden (9 per cent).
All this, and that’s before you recognise our female rowers, the GAA stars, the Women’s AFL players, our golfers, our female rugby and cricket players and up-and-coming boxing talent, as well as the brilliance of young athletes like Rhasidat Adeleke.
What has become obvious is that the likes of Katie Taylor, Kellie Harrington, Ellen Keane, Sinead Goldrick, Olivia O’Toole, Ciara Mageean, Leona Maguire, Rachael Blackmore and others have inspired a new generation.
The sheer depth of talent now is unprecedented as we compete on a local and international stage in sports such as soccer, athletics, horse racing, golf, rowing, boxing, cricket and rugby. What is even more inspiring is how the next generation look set to emulate the greatness of the current crop. Boundaries continue to be broken and standards are ever improving. Excellence is now the expectation of our sports women.
The topic of media coverage is never too far away when a discussion on women’s sport arises. Once again this year 60 per cent of Irish people feel that women’s sport does not receive enough media coverage. However, on a more positive note, 81 per cent believe that both the quality and the quantity of media coverage for female sport in Irish media has improved in the last 12 months.
Another positive statistic is that 52 per cent said they have watched women’s sport either on TV or online in the last 12 months, this is up from 46 per cent in 2021 and 37 per cent in 2020 so this is certainly going in the right direction. Equally it should be noted that in 2021 42 per cent of women in Ireland said they had tuned in to a female sports event while in 2022 this has jumped significantly to 51 per cent.
These positive statistics can be attributed to the increased opportunities to watch our female athletes in action on our national TV channels as well as online, coupled with an impressive product that is ever improving once people do tune in.
When it comes to attendances, only 15 per cent of people said they attended a female sports event in 2022. While the number of those tuning in has improved significantly, attending in person is an area for further concentration for those promoting the sports next year. The research would suggest that there is real opportunity in this space with almost a quarter of respondents (24 per cent) saying they plan to attend a female sports event in 2023. Time will tell whether people vote with their feet in 2023 but certainly with the women’s soccer internationals, the Six Nations, major Gaelic football and camogie matches and golf’s Irish Open there will be plenty of opportunity to watch.
As women’s sport gets more and more successful, the time is right now for more investment by sports authorities, Government and corporate partners. Almost three-quarters of Irish people (74 per cent) believe that businesses should increase their investment in women’s sport while 69 per cent said the Government should increase their investment in the area.
Through its Women in Sport policy which was launched in 2019, Sport Ireland has invested significantly in this area and we are seeing the benefits across the four key areas; participation, visibility, coaching and officiating and leadership and governance.
Specifically when it comes to leadership and governance Sport Ireland has set the target for funded national governing bodies (NGB) to have 40 per cent gender balance on their boards by the end of 2023 or there will be funding implications. The update issued earlier this week on gender balance on NGB boards demonstrates that this is working and is another key area going in a very positive direction, while there is still a way to go.
2022 saw new investment from commercial partners in women’s sport with the likes of TikTok sponsoring the Six Nations, Glen Dimplex sponsoring the Camogie All-Ireland Championships and PwC the Camogie All Stars, while KPMG came in as headline sponsor of the Irish Open. Vodafone have come in as sponsor of the women’s interprovincial rugby tournament and the likes of VHI continue to support women’s participation at all levels through the VHI Women’s Mini Marathon.
While this list is not endless, it shows that investing in women’s sport is not just the right thing to do to grow the sports, and for a diversity and inclusion strategy, but sponsoring female athletes and women’s teams and competitions is working and provides profile and, importantly, a commercial return.
We expect more investment by corporate partners in women’s sport in 2023. This has the knock-on impact of more endorsement and ambassador deals for players and athletes and more revenue for the sports.
Crucially, the time is coming where more and more of our female athletes are paid professionals and a clear pathway to a career in sport now exists for up-and-coming rugby players, underage soccer players, golfers, jockeys, boxers and even some GAA players through AFLW. This is significant progress and will ensure that standards continue to improve in every area.
We are blessed with outstanding female sports stars and ambassadors who dominate at local and international level and a pipeline of young talent that is unprecedented. The time is now to capitalise on this success and invest even more. The tide has turned, and the momentum is unstoppable.
Kelli O’Keeffe is Managing Director of the Sports Advisory practice at Teneo Ireland