Irish women make their sales pitch

Huge changes were proposed to raise the profile of women’s sport in Ireland during a press conference at the UCD Smurfit Business School yesterday.

The Business of Women’s Sport seminar thrashed out a number of ideas for growing their games, such as Ireland’s women’s rugby team playing their Six Nations games directly after the men’s, and pairing the men’s and women’s All-Ireland finals.

The conference and discussion groups also want to see women’s sports continue to unearth ambassadors and use these stars to attract a bigger media following, in turn leading to more money being generated. Rob Hartnett, presenter and Sport for Business Founder, described women’s sports as a “green field” of opportunity for potential sponsors.

The managers of Ireland’s women’s rugby and soccer teams, Gemma Crowley and Sue Nolan, agreed that success on the pitch and pushing their willing stars out in front of the media will make an impact. Crowley, whose Ireland team had no sponsor during this year’s Six Nations Grand Slam-winning season, saw that as a huge lost opportunity for potential backers.

“Women’s sport in Ireland is thriving both at an elite level as well as a domestic level,” says Crowley. “I think we really are part of a movement at the moment that’s growing the women’s games and I think anybody involved in sport in general should be really excited about what’s to come from women’s sports in the future.

“I was talking to a woman here this morning and she said her 14-year-old son, in school they were asked to list who their sporting heroes were. And he listed Fiona Coghlan, the Irish women’s captain as one. As she said herself, it’s not cool for a 14-year-old boy to list a female as his sporting hero but that just shows you now that people are paying attention to women’s sport and to rugby.”

Hartnett feels that companies should get into women’s sport as quickly as possible because, as the likes of Continental Tyres, Cadbury and BMW have shown in other countries, it’s a market that pays its way. “There is so much potential in there and yet it’s not cluttered,” Hartnett explains. “If you go and try and get involved in any of the big men’s sports, you are competing with dozens of other organisations that are all trying to get their name out and their message across. Whereas in women’s sport, you can get access to the stars, access to the people making decisions and, most importantly, you can actually see the programmes that work best for you in business.”

Ireland women’s soccer manager Nolan says there are plenty of great ambassadors to push their sports, with boxer Katie Taylor being the obvious example. “Take Denise O’Sullivan, she’s one of the top players on the national team, just 19 years of ages, she would have been part of the successful U17 European silver medallist team in 2010. As a result, she’s very well known in Cork where she’s from, she’s very high profile there, so she’d probably have more of a profile than the team would in her area.

“There’s a few others around the country with similar sorts of profiles. There’s a young lassie, Savannah McCarthy, who featured on Nationwide last week, she’s from Listowel and has done well in the local area. So you have role models in local areas moreso than national within the team. It seems to be the individual sports (where the women’s fame is) but if you look at Katie Taylor and Katie Walsh — I’m sure that if we win something or are successful, we’ll get some profile. Success attracts sponsors.”

Nikki Symmons will win her 200th cap for Ireland’s hockey team this weekend against Canada and feels there is a mindset change needed. “It is hard for females to be the one to put yourself out there,” she explains. “I’m doing a little bit of it myself now to promote the sport. In women’s sport it is harder because people look at you and say you should be, why are they always there? In male sports, it’s more like they don’t care, “it’s for me”, you know? If someone is getting out there and they’re moving the sport forward, you have to get behind them.”

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