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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

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Jeffrey Housenbold, who recently stepped down as a managing partner of SoftBank Vision Fund, has formed a new SPAC with Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, who was president of ticket resale firm StubHub until it was acquired last year by Viagogo.

Why it matters: The death of SPACs has been greatly exaggerated.

51 mins ago - World

U.K. government sets out agenda in first COVID-era Queen's Speech

Queen Elizabeth II walks behind the Imperial State Crown in the Royal Gallery of Parliament. Photo: Richard Pohle/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Queen Elizabeth II laid out the U.K. government's agenda at the State Opening of Parliament on Tuesday, marking the first Queen's Speech since the pandemic began and her first major public appearance since the death of her husband, Prince Philip.

Why it matters: In a pared-back ceremony, the queen set out Prime Minister Boris Johnson's vision for recovering from a pandemic that inflicted the worst death toll in Europe and worst recession in 300 years.

The ransomware pandemic

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

"We are on the cusp of a global pandemic," said Christopher Krebs, the first director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, told Congress last week. The virus causing the pandemic isn't biological, however. It's software.

Why it matters: Crippling a major U.S. oil pipeline this weekend initially looked like an act of war — but it's now looking like an increasingly normal crime, bought off-the-shelf from a "ransomware as a service" provider known as DarkSide.