Bastion Collective: Women in Sport Event

Sports sponsorship is not a new concept to the Australian marketplace. Reports place the estimated value of combined investment at over $700M(AUD). Equally, women in sport is nothing new; participation rates across the nation have long reflected girls and women passionately pursuing netball, football, AFL, rugby and hockey, to name a few.

However, the ability for Australian girls to aspire to a profession as an athlete, and for women to have the opportunity to pursue their passion as a paid, dedicated professional, is a revolution that has only recently arrived.

The recent success of women’s sport, reflected in crowd numbers, commercial partners, and media and broadcast exposure is an exciting prospect for rights holders, brands, fans and participants alike. As an agency that has closely monitored this evolving landscape, Bastion Collective was proud to host its own ‘Women in Sport’ event, designed to provide a platform for key stakeholders within the industry, including female athletes at the forefront of the change, to share their thoughts.

Hosted on Friday 7 April at Bastion Collective HQ, the event brought together a diverse mix of stakeholders representing brands, rights holders, media and athletes to recognise and discuss the evolution of women in sport.  MC’d by netball legend Sharelle McMahon the room was treated to discussions from two expert panels, providing varying stories and views from athlete, media, and commercial perspectives.

Proceedings commenced with Australian Sporting Hall of Fame member McMahon welcoming all to the event and introducing the first panel, consisting of Western Bulldogs AFLW marquee player, Katie Brennan, Melbourne Vixens and Netball Diamonds star, Jo Weston and Channel 7 commentator and Fairfax media journalist, Samantha Lane.

Katie Brennan reflected on her recent transition from amateur football to the semi-professional AFLW and the challenges that she has faced with the league training capped at 9 hours a week. Katie flagged the challenges of many AFLW players, including herself, needing to balance their training and matches with study and full or part-time work commitments.

“We definitely want to do more, it’s getting that balance… when we’re still working full-time, some of us are still studying, and getting that balance between playing football, and life outside of football.”

“A lot of us have doubled our hours in wanting to learn more, and wanting to develop, and wanting to make the most of those resources that we’ve had because we’ve never had them before.”

Alternatively, Jo Weston provided insight into her journey, beginning her career in the semi-professional ANZ Championship, and transitioning into the fully professional Suncorp Super Netball League. As a professional athlete, and in contrast to Katie, Jo noted the level of balance the new league and host of commercial partners (Suncorp, Nissan, Samsung) had granted many athletes who no longer needed to juggle work and sporting commitments. 

“Before the new minimum wage came in, I was training, I’d go to uni, then I’d go to work on top of that… Now being able to combine training and working into one simultaneous activity really gave me more time to focus on my studies and focus on Netball. So I’m hoping it continues to develop in that strain.”

“I definitely think that monetary incentive is probably not enough to make you chose Netball over another career… But it definitely helps in terms of increasing the professionalism of our sport.”

When asked about the AFLW, Sam Lane provided a passionate account of her journey as a media professional who championed the league from humble beginnings and is not surprised by the success of the inaugural season.

“What I was interested in seeing, was the sport that I care about, which is AFL first and foremost, look a little bit more relatable.” Sam notes that the inclusivity of the AFLW has led her to have conversations with people who have previously not been in the space, and a shift in the audience from the traditional to a more diversified audience.

“One of my lasting impressions of AFLW [inaugural season] was that every time I was there, I looked around, and saw different audiences.”

Following the chance for a visit to the coffee cart, the second panel were introduced, including the AFL’s Manager for Corporate Business, Richard Simkiss, Nissan Australia CEO, Richard Emery and NAB’s General Manager for Brand Experience, Michael Nearhos. Unfortunately, the new CEO of Netball Australia Marne Fechner fell ill on the eve of the event and was unable to take her spot on the panel.

The panel explored women’s sport from the perspective of major brands with Richard Emery outlining Nissan’s recent decision to become a Major Partner of Netball Australia, encompassing the newly established Suncorp Super Netball, was not made as a token gesture but rather following a strategic sponsorship process with Bastion EBA that evaluated all options within the current market.

“Irrespective of whether it was a male sport, a female sport, or a general sport, actually netball came out on [top of] all the scores."

Nissan’s recent partnership with Netball Australia was contrasted by the journey of NAB, with Michael Nearhos explaining that as a long-time and consistent supporter of football at all levels, the brand was eager to extend its partnership following the creation of the AFLW.

“It was a natural extension of what we do. We’ve sponsored the pathways for a long time, from Auskick, to NAB AFL Academy, up to Rising Star, and unfortunately with the girls it sort of, stopped, at 12 or 13. So it was really natural for us to keep taking all that talent all the way through to the elite level.” Since the involvement with the AFLW, and the rich content which the partnership creates, NAB has seen positive brand sentiment results surpassing previous campaigns.

Richard Simkiss echoed thoughts from the previous panellist Sam Lane, supporting the position that the AFLW has brought more people to the game.

“We averaged 7,000 attending the games, of which 67% were female, 53% of those didn’t have a relationship with the AFL or an AFL club, so it’s a new audience that we’re attracting”.

The expansion into women’s sport has grown the fan base and participation levels, which in turn presents a stronger proposition for partnering brands, which has already been reflected in an increase in the number of sponsors and revenue generated, a trend reflected throughout the AFLW clubs.

“Bringing new brands in has been critically important for us, as well as the eight clubs involved, and we’ve seen some great brands come into the industry.”

In closing, Jack Watts, Bastion Collective CEO Marketing Division, remarked the change in women’s sport Bastion has witnessed in its time as an agency, and the positive impact this has had on the landscape as a whole.

Bastion Collective would like to express its sincere thanks to all those who attended the Women in Sport event and contributed to a memorable morning and echo the words of Sharelle McMahon “it is a revolution, and it is a part of the evolution, what I can’t wait for is the time that we don’t talk about women in sport, that we just talk about sport.”