Star Female Athletes Spark More Recognition for Women in Sports Marketing

Headlines featuring the names of NBA and NFL athletes like Stephen Curry and Tom Brady have permeated the news, while women in sports have been left out of the lead. The sports industry has always been male-centric, but with the rise of strong female athletes, women too are finally getting their full page spreads. Whether it's tennis player Serena Williams, the U.S. Women's Soccer Team, or swimming Olympic Champions and World Record holders Katie Ledecky and Missy Franklin, these women are part of a much larger movement bringing more recognition to females in athletics and the sports market.

A lack of female visibility in the male-dominated sports world has only served to further the divide between men and women in sports. Traditionally, some leagues offered women's clothing lines, but they were selling products that many women didn't want to buy and wear. Most marketing geared towards women had originally revolved around a "shrink it and pink it" mindset, but not every girl wants to wear a small pink jersey. I used to buy men's clothes and cut the bottom of the t-shirts off. I didn't want a tight pink shirt with a mascot on it. I wanted to wear the men's shirts, but have them fitted for women who are athletically built.

Media and advertising have begun to play a huge role in the changes that have led to more representation for women in the sporting industry. According to this infographic by MBA@UNC, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School's online MBA program, women account for 70-80 percent of consumer purchases. This statistic has piqued advertisers' interest in targeting female sports fans and athletes. Now, visibility has increased with a number of major players using women in their marketing campaigns, and developing clothing lines that women actually want to wear.

Big names like Nike and Gatorade have started to recognize the presence of female athletes and the growing female sports fan base. At the MTV Movie Awards, Nike, the largest retailer of women's athletic wear, launched their #betterforit campaign marketed towards women to encourage female athletes to push themselves outside of their comfort zones with their fitness levels. Gatorade emphasizes female athletes in their ad campaigns to connect with female consumers. One of their most recent ads for their "Win from Within" campaign featured Serena Williams.

This increased visibility for female athletes has provided young females with an opportunity to identify with strong female role models and has changed perceptions of women in sports for both men and women alike. The more women there are in advertising and the sports industry, the more likely other women are to see this as encouragement to pursue their own goals. Success in sports isn't limited to male athletes and men's sporting leagues -- women have the potential to make names for themselves in athletics too.

Sports are for women of all shapes and sizes, and from all walks of life. This is an important message to be sending to young women through marketing, and one that has been incorporated into Under Armour's marketing campaign "I Will What I Want" featuring ballerina Misty Copeland. Copeland's destiny was not to be a ballerina. When critics told Copeland her body type wasn't fit for someone who wanted to be a ballerina, she continued to practice to beat the ballet odds. She's an inspiring example for young women who are accustomed to attributing women's success only with a specific look or body type. Personally, I understand what it's like to struggle with body issues as a female athlete. As a swimmer, I felt pressure to look a certain way and felt the impact that had on my performance. Seeing athletes overcome traditional views of female body image is a big step for women.

The industry has started to see female athletes as champions and role models, not just reality TV stars and fashion icons. If they continue to market towards women with these types of positive messages, advertisers will profit from a huge consumer base.