When England Women’s Cricket turned professional in 2014, another key element in their advancement was the announcement of the first women’s stand-alone sponsorship deal with Kia. It gave them kudos, income, and more to the point, a fleet of new cars in which to drive to training. It was a signal that cricket in particular, and women’s sport in general, was now a viable commercial product off the pitch.
Negotiations are now proceeding with a view to extending the initial two-year association, which could include Kia becoming the first title sponsors of the inaugural Women’s Cricket Super League, a six-team T20 event, this summer. Paul Philpott, President and CEO of Kia Motors (UK), reveals the thinking behind the ground-breaking deal and why he believes: “There’s no reason women’s sport should be on a different level to men’s sport, none at all.”
It is a fact of life these days that women are pretty influential in the car-buying process. I think around fifty-five per cent of our drivers are women and I’ve seen studies that estimate eighty per cent of car purchases are influenced by women.
Put that together with the fact that Kia are a challenger brand in Britain. It’s only 24 years since the first Kia was imported here. We’re youngsters by comparison to traditional car manufacturers like Ford and Mercedes, who go back more than 100 years. We are growing – we’re now the seventh largest biggest car brand in the UK – but we are still looking for something different to give us a disproportionate return on our investment. It means we can be a bit braver. Try new things.
We looked at the whole range of our sporting assets. Globally, we sponsored the football World Cup in Brazil – all men. In Britain, we invest in Surrey Cricket Club and the Kia Oval – all men. We’ve worked with Rafa Nadal for years. We were headline sponsors for the Australian Tennis Open – men and women. But no stand-alone deals with women.
That was the spur, the catalyst for us. It made sense. Women are a powerfully influential consumer base. Women are brilliant sporting heroes. We looked at the England Women’s Cricket team. Led by Charlotte Edwards, they had the talent, capability, skill, commitment to take them to No. 1 in the world. There weren’t many teams in the country – men or women – who could say that. The opportunity to be associated with such success and, if you like, with a challenger brand themselves was a great opportunity for Kia. And I’ll say, without question, it was also cost effective.
It’s possible I was also very receptive to the idea because of my previous experience of women’s sport. Not only do I have a daughter but my first real exposure to big-time professional women’s sport was when I worked in Germany. I went to the Women’s World Cup final in 2011 in Frankfurt with my eight-year-old son. It was a real spectacle. It was end-to-end, went to penalties, we didn’t leave the stadium until quarter to midnight. The atmosphere was fantastic. The game was dynamic, passionate but fun, too. My son still talks about it to this day.
So I’m a believer. There’s no reason women’s sport should be on a different level to men’s sport – none at all. The London Olympics were key to that dramatic change. Now Jess Ennis is everyone’s hero. The headlines have regularly celebrated the performances of our female athletes, and not just in traditional sports like hockey and netball. It was magical this summer when the Lionesses were the most successful England team – men or women – since 1966. The US versus Japan Women’s World Cup final went on to be the most watched football match in the US. Ever. Amazing!
The growth potential in women’s sport is huge and, at a human level, working with the athletes is a pleasure. If we were to sponsor, God forbid, Manchester United – we wouldn’t have access to the players, we wouldn’t have access to the management, we’d just be an asset. Whereas the beauty of our association with England Women’s Cricket is they’re known to us, they’re individuals, they’re people. We feel how passionate they are and how much they appreciate our sponsorship. It’s a two-way relationship.
In any commercial proposition the secret to success is to get in while something’s small and see it grow while you’re part of it. I can tell you that our board reaction has been pretty universally positive. As awareness of women’s sport grows and grows, I believe more and more large corporations will get into sponsoring women’s teams and women’s sport in general. We are in it ourselves for the long haul.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paul Philpott is President and CEO of Kia Motors (UK), sponsors of England Women’s Cricket. Paul’s latest articles