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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

In the last few months, multiple big name brands have pumped significant dollars into women's sports, signaling that an increase in media exposure could be having a seismic impact on the business of female athletics.

Driving the news: AT&T signed a multi-year partnership with the WNBA, becoming the first non-apparel company to have its logo featured on the front of all 12 team jerseys. Barclays made the "largest single investment in British women's sports," signing a three-year, $11 million sponsorship deal that will see the top league rebranded as the Barclays FA Women's Super League.

  • Budweiser announced its first-ever sponsorship of women's soccer, inking a deal with the English national team.
  • Nike has shifted its entire business around to take advantage of what they consider to be a massive opportunity.

WNBPA director Pam Wheeler told sports business outlet, JohnWallStreet, that she believes this heightened sponsorship interest is a byproduct of the increased visibility of women's sports.

  • The proliferation of streaming services and the rise of social media has allowed the WNBA (and others) to reach more people, and the league recently parlayed that uptick in eyeballs into a multi-year deal with CBS Sports that will nearly double its national TV exposure.

The backdrop: Brands have historically ignored women's pro sports, as have televised news and highlight shows — two realities that go hand-in-hand.

  • Between 2011 and 2013, just 0.4% of all sports sponsorship investments made across all sports were in women's sports, per GumGum.
  • In 2014, one study found that L.A.-based network affiliate sports news programs devoted just 3.2% of all broadcast time to women's sports.

The big picture: When the WNBA debuted in 1996, the league had almost no young fans. Fast-forward to today: "My 12-year-old daughter has never lived in a world without professional women's basketball, so the fan demographics have become far more appealing to an advertiser," said Wheeler.

  • On top of that, you also have superstars like Serena Williams completely changing the game, evidenced by the fact that her 2018 U.S. Open final against Naomi Osaka drew 50% more viewers than the men's final.

The bottom line: As Wheeler points out, this is the first time time in women's pro sport history that sponsorship deals are being made as the result of "economic decisions, as opposed to emotional connections."

  • It seems brands are finally realizing that there is serious value here. Women do, after all, control 70-80% of all consumer purchasing.

What's next: Now it's up to the leagues to ensure that this influx of sponsorship cash trickles down to the players.

Go deeper

1 hour ago - World

U.S. drone strike victims' families in Afghanistan seek compensation

A relative of Ezmarai Ahmadi, who was killed by a U.S. drone strike, looks at the wreckage of a vehicle that was damaged in the strike in the Kwaja Burga neighbourhood of Kabul on Saturday. Photo: Hoshang Hashimi AFP via Getty Images

Relatives of 10 Afghans killed by a U.S. drone strike in Kabul last month said Saturday they want to see punishment and compensation over the deaths.

Driving the news: The relatives said it's "good news" that the U.S. had "officially admitted" that "they had attacked innocents" in the Aug. 29 strike that killed Zamarai Ahmadi, an aid worker with a U.S.-based group, and nine family members, but they still need "justice," per AFP.

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
5 hours ago - Science

All-civilian Inspiration4 is back on Earth after flight to space

A side-by-side of the Inspiration4 crew and a shot of their capsule on the way back to Earth. Photo: SpaceX

The all-civilian Inspiration4 crew is back on Earth after their three-day mission in orbit.

The big picture: The launch and landing of this fully amateur, private space crew marks a changing of the guard from spaceflight being a largely government-led venture to being under the purview of private companies.

28 U.S. citizens depart Afghanistan on Qatar Airways flight

Passengers board a Qatar Airways aircraft bound to Qatar at the airport in Kabul on September 10, 2021. Photo: Aamir Qureshi/AFP via Getty Images

The State Department on Saturday confirmed that a Qatar Airways charter flight left Kabul on Friday with 28 U.S. citizens and seven lawful permanent residents on board.

The big picture: Friday's flight is the third such airlift by Qatar Airways since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, AP reports.