Sinead Finnegan: Huge strides have been made in women's sport, and I expect a new trend to emerge in the next 12 months
As I look back while my feet are finally touching the ground after a manic couple of weeks, it’s safe to say that September 24th will go down as one of the most momentous days of my life.
Transitioning back from being a member of an All-Ireland winning team into my day job in Sports Sponsorship with Ireland’s leading sponsorship agency, Teneo Sports, and after a couple of nights in Coppers admittedly, I can reflect on the record-breaking figures achieved on ladies football finals day.
With an attendance of 46,286 in Croke Park, and with a peak of 563,000 people tuning in to TG4 to watch Dublin captain, Sinéad Aherne, lead her team to glory for the first time in seven years, momentum behind the game and women’s sport has never been stronger.
Since taking part in my first senior All-Ireland in 2014, there has been a steady increase in attendance with figures jumping from 27,374 in 2014 to an impressive 46,286 in 2017 (almost a 70% increase). Similar support was witnessed back in August when Ireland played host to sell-out crowds in the Women’s Rugby World Cup, but what does this growth in popularity mean for women in sport?
A recent noticeable trend in the sponsorship industry is the realization by brands that female sports stars, artists and sports teams are now an extremely attractive proposition. Liberty Insurance were one of the first to sponsor male and female GAA codes with the hurling and camogie championships. AIG were also leaders of the pack when they took on both Dublin ladies football and camogie teams for the first time ever alongside their male counterparts. Life Style Sports followed suit with the Dubs in 2016 and Vhi have backed the Women’s Mini Marathon for the last number of years.
This year with Dublin, we witnessed a definite increase in the number of partners looking to come on board. This included sponsors contributing to a training weekend - a vital part to any team’s preparation - recovery garments, kit, nutrition and catering partners. From the outside looking in, these contributions might seem like small changes, but this additional support, in conjunction with the endless work conducted by our management and backroom team allowed us to prepare, recover and perform at a level like never before.
The increase in funding and therefore standards has led to a leap in popularity among the Irish public and media. This was clear to see when the Cork ladies footballers were voted RTÉ Sports Team of the Year in 2014. Katie Taylor was also named Ireland’s second most admired sports star in Teneo Sports’ 2016 Sports and Sponsorship Sentiment Index, the same position as 2015, after topping the poll in 2014.
Among the media we have now come to a point where teams and individual athletes are being reported on based on their abilities and tokenism is en route to extinction. This was evident earlier this year when the Irish Women’s Rugby Team took part in the Women’s Rugby World Cup. The team were given credit where credit was due, and criticized for shortcomings by pundits in the same way that their male counterparts are used to.
As momentum continues to build, there is an onus on players, managers, coaches and delegates to continue to push standards to develop and improve the game even further, likewise, there is a responsibility on brands to get involved to allow women’s teams or individual athletes be the best that they can possibly be through providing access to additional funding, whilst reaping major rewards in return. To put it simply, record attendance numbers in Croke Park and TV viewership on All-Ireland finals day meant record numbers witnessed TG4, Lidl, AIG and Mayo sponsor Elverys’ front and centre throughout the stadium on a memorable day for the game.
It’s safe to say huge strides have been made and I anticipate the next sponsorship trend to emerge from the rise of women’s sport is to champion some of the female sports stars. During the next 12-18 months we will hopefully start to see more females appear as ambassadors for brands in individual endorsement deals alongside their male counterparts.
This piece was written by Sinéad Finnegan, consultant at Teneo Sports and member of the Dublin Senior Ladies Football Team.