In the ever-evolving realm of sports marketing, 2023 has brought a significant shift in the landscape, highlighting the growing commercial influence and value of women's sports. SportsPro's annual ranking of the world's 50 Most Marketable Athletes (50MM) has not only crowned Argentine soccer legend Lionel Messi as the most marketable athlete but has also underscored the prominence of female athletes, reshaping the narrative of sports marketing.
52% of the Top 25 Most Marketable Athletes are women 🔥up from 44% last year.
The top woman on the list is @alexmorgan13 claiming the number 3 spot behind Lionel Messi and Lebron James ⚽️
Data powered by @SportsPro pic.twitter.com/SAONYz6uMh
— SHOT:CLOCK (@shotclock_media) November 8, 2023
This year's list boasts four women in the top 10, marking a substantial increase in the marketability of female athletes. Soccer superstar Alex Morgan claims the third spot in the global rankings, alongside other iconic figures like Messi, LeBron James, and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Her presence in the top five, alongside fellow U.S. women's national team forward Megan Rapinoe, speaks volumes about the global recognition and marketability of women athletes. US Open tennis champion Coco Gauff takes the title of the most marketable teenager, with the 19-year-old sitting in 12th place. In total, 23 female athletes have secured positions among the top 50 most marketable athletes in 2023, showcasing a nearly 50% representation. The diversity and inclusion evident in this ranking send a powerful message about the rising influence of women in the sports industry.
— Blavity (@Blavity) October 26, 2023
Meredith Geisler, a visiting assistant professor of sport management with extensive experience in sports public relations at the George Washington University School of Business in Washington, D.C, emphasized the unprecedented exposure gained by women athletes through increased broadcasting of women's sports.
More sports fans are watching and consuming more women's sports because more women's sports are being broadcast."
Major events like the 2023 Women's World Cup and the NCAA women's basketball championship have shattered viewership records, allowing women athletes to build their brands on a global scale. Furthermore, the convergence of heightened consumption of women's sports and the proactive use of social media has propelled female athletes like Alex Morgan, Simone Biles, and Coco Gauff to unprecedented marketability. These athletes have taken charge of creating their own media coverage, leveraging their social media presence to connect with fans and corporate partners. Geisler explained,
The women and men on the most marketable athlete list have integrated their personalities, incredible athletic achievements and creative marketing strategies to help build their personal brands, which allows them to connect to fans and corporate partners.”
Notably, sports such as soccer, basketball, tennis, and motorsport dominate the top 50, while major international sports like rugby find no representation. The impact of name, image, and likeness (NIL) rights is evident, with college sports stars like Angel Reese and Olivia Dunne securing spots in the ranking.
The economic benefits of investing in women's sports are becoming increasingly apparent. The inclusion of qualitative research alongside quantitative marketability measurements in this year's ranking highlights the comprehensive assessment undertaken by SportsPro. The trend indicates a growing importance placed on authenticity and shared purpose in athlete-brand relationships.
According to data from ONSIDE, a consultancy group specializing in sponsorships, two-thirds of sponsorship industry professionals in Ireland selected a woman as their most marketable personality in 2023, a trend expected to continue into 2024. Ireland's captain, Katie McCabe, leads the way, demonstrating the potential for marketable personalities in women's sports. Sponsors are recognizing the untapped potential, and early movers in women's football sponsorship, such as Sky, Carlsberg, and Cadbury, have set essential proof points for other brands considering entering the women's sports arena.
Former Socceroo Craig Foster has encouraged Australia’s biggest brands to get behind some of the Matildas players and use them for TV advertisements and sponsorships.https://t.co/yTJSLNq4hs
— Sky News Australia (@SkyNewsAust) November 9, 2023
As traditional markets face volatility and uncertainty, women's sports present a stable and promising investment opportunity. The impressive social and digital growth, increasing fan engagement, and powerful financial gains in women's sports contribute to a compelling investment narrative. The 2023 Women's NCAA tournament generated 177 million impressions and over $5 million in social value. Female athletes consistently garner twice the social engagement compared to their male counterparts, despite having fewer followers on average. Brands that have invested early in women's sports, such as VISA, DoorDash, Nike, and Budweiser, showcase strong returns on investment and positive interactions with fans.
The economic benefits of investing in women's sports extend beyond sponsorships. The WNBA achieved double-digit growth for partnership revenue in 2023, reaching an all-time 27-year high. The 2023 Women's World Cup increased prize money to $152 million, three times more than in 2018. In contrast, traditional markets such as Twitter/X advertising revenue have experienced significant declines.
Women's sports demonstrate consistent social and digital growth. This stability in social and digital growth presents an attractive investment proposition for brands looking for a secure and engaged audience. The recognition and economic value attributed to these athletes underscore a transformative moment, marking a new era where women athletes are rightfully taking their place in the spotlight. The ripple effects of this shift will likely extend beyond the sports world, influencing broader societal perceptions and fostering a more inclusive and equitable future.