Data & Tech

The untapped market worth billions: women’s sports merch

Sport Innovation Lab found that there’s unmet demand in the space, with brands “leaving money on the table,” its CMO said.
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3 min read

There’s a gaping hole in the women’s sports marketplace.

Viewership and sponsor interest have been on the rise for US women’s pro leagues like the WNBA, NWSL, and LPGA and for less-established pro sports in the country like volleyball. As fandom grows, some supporters are looking to rep their favorite teams and players—but demand is so far outpacing supply for women’s sports merchandise, according to a new report from Sports Innovation Lab and Klarna.

Sports Innovation Lab estimated, based on US census data, survey data, and its proprietary dataset of transactions by more than 80 million US consumers, that the women’s sports merch market is worth $4 billion a year in the US, leaving room for opportunity for sponsor brands and others to step into the relatively unoccupied space.

Demanding: Over the past few years, about one in four fans of women’s sports purchased sports merch, compared to more than half of men’s sports fans, according to the Rep Her report, the fourth iteration of Sports Innovation Lab’s annual Fan Project series looking into the business of women’s sports. The report found that when women’s sports fans did buy merch:

  • They made slightly more purchases on a per-fan basis each year than men’s sports fans.
  • They also spent just as much per transaction and slightly more per year on sports merch.

Pain points: One reason why fans of women’s sports bought merch less often than men’s sports fans is due to “a challenging buying experience,” the report suggests.

  • About one-third (32%) of people who have purchased women’s sports merch said they had trouble finding a seller, per Sports Innovation Lab’s study.
  • Selection was also an issue, with similar shares saying they struggled to find their size (29%) or a style they liked (28%).
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Another 31% said that even when they did find something they liked, “inventory availability was a major issue.” Of respondents who intended to buy women’s sports merch but didn’t, 60% said it was due to lack of available inventory.

“That’s just unheard of in other industries,” Sports Innovation Lab CMO Gina Waldhorn told Marketing Brew. “It just wouldn’t happen. It’s leaving money on the table. I think we all knew there was a little problem here, but 60%? What exists now in terms of revenue coming into the industry is just a fraction of what’s available out there.”

Filling the gaps: Klarna partnered with e-commerce company Togethxr to sell t-shirts and tote bags with the phrase “A movement, not a moment” created by designers Sophia Chang and Mellany Sanchez. Klarna was already involved in the women’s sports space as a sponsor of Angel City FC, and Togethxr is known for its viral “Everyone watches women’s sports” T-shirt.

Though Klarna partners with retailers, the company doesn’t make goods itself, Megan Gokey, its head of B2C marketing in North America and the UK, pointed out. But contributing to the marketplace—as well as setting up a destination on its website and app for users to find additional women’s sports items—is “a way to take some real action as a brand,” Gokey said.

“They’re a representation of what’s possible, but there are a number of brands out there that can fill the role,” Sports Innovation Lab co-founder Angela Ruggiero said. “The barriers to entry are inventory disparities. It’s hard to literally purchase things…In spite of that, these fans are spending.”

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