WTA Campaign Sparks Discussion of How to Market Women’s Sports

The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) is drawing attention to its players — top-ranked stars from all over the world who are now also stars of the organization’s marketing campaign. Called “Strong is Beautiful,” the campaign showcases the muscles and tennis prowess of the ladies, but, according to some, also sexes them up. Perhaps a little too much.

TIME magazine quotes a couple of experts and cites some recent campaigns featuring world-class female athletes, making a case that the message speaks more to looks than skill.

At the same time, the article points out that coverage allotted to women’s sports has dropped recently.

The situation places those in charge of marketing these female athletes and their associations in the position to ask: How to appeal to potential and existing fans in order to grow the women’s sides of their sports without the whiff of sexism? Just this weekend, there was a lot more Twitter action surrounding today’s men’s final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal than there was for yesterday’s women’s final between Maria Sharapova, a big name in women’s tennis experiencing a resurgence after an injury, and Petra Kvitova, a number eight seed who had upset the women’s Wimbledon tournament this year.

In my opinion, the ads, and particularly the behind-the-scenes footage, strike the right note to appeal to women, which is where women’s sports needs to start. The players may be oiled up with hair done and lots of glitter, but there’s lots of muscle and sweat, power and strength involved. Moreover, the ads give the women personality. On the men’s side, the guys showcase their skill. But, Djokovic frequently plays up his playful side, Rafa, his sexy side, and Federer, the sophistication that likely makes him a favorite to Anna Wintour. Which is probably why the men not only dominate the coverage, but the most popular ads as well.

There’s no need to be crass. But from the videos and images I saw on the WTA site, the organization didn’t cross that line. I agree with the WTA: Strong is beautiful. And there’s nothing wrong with telling people that.