With the 2024 Guinness Women’s Six Nations kicking off last weekend at the Stade Marie-Marvingt, where France played host to Ireland, the buzz around this year’s tournament was more apparent than ever. Following the first round of fixtures, there are several storylines that make this year’s Women’s Six Nations incredibly intriguing.

Will anyone close the gap to the dominant Red Roses, looking to make it six titles in a row?

After an opening round win against Ireland, can France finally bring an end to the Red Roses’ authority after coming so close at Twickenham last year?

Which teams will take the top 3 slots, and secure automatic qualification to the 2025 World Cup in England and a spot in WX1?

One of the biggest headlines came during the build-up to this year’s tournament when Guinness signed an unprecedented £15 million per year deal to become the title partner of the Women’s Six Nations, replacing TikTok. With Guinness now the title partner for both the men’s and women’s Six Nations tournaments, it demonstrates the changing landscape of sponsorships in rugby and how major brands are becoming more committed to levelling the playing field between the men’s and women’s game.

So, why has women’s rugby become so attractive to brands?

‘The women’s game is the biggest growth engine for rugby’. This was a quote from Six Nations CEO, Tom Harrison, following the announcement of the partnership with Guinness, and when you look at all that has happened just in the past year, he isn’t wrong. Whether it be increased investment, record crowds, a higher quality product on the field, or vastly improved participation numbers at all levels, women’s rugby has seen significant progress across all areas in recent times.

A major step forward was World Rugby’s announcement of their ‘Accelerate Programme’ which has the sole aim to fast-track the development of women’s rugby through a new targeted investment approach. As part of the programme, World Rugby will look to form new partnerships with like-minded brands to help sustainably develop the women’s game on and off the pitch, following in the footsteps of the partnerships that they have already formed with Mastercard and Capgemini. With a US World Cup coming in 2033, the race is on for brands to be a part of the journey.

A major selling point for brands is the fact that women’s rugby and tournaments such as the Guinness Women’s Six Nations, offer a more diverse and engaged audience in comparison to the men’s game. During the 2023 edition 9% of those who watched were Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic, compared to 6% who watched both the men’s and women’s competition.  Also, 21% of the audience were aged 35 and under in comparison to 9% who watched the men’s and women’s competition1. This diversity and engagement are crucial for brands / sponsors. Conrad Wiacek, Head of Sport Analysis at GlobalData says, ‘sponsorship is buying access to an engaged audience’ and with women’s sport this is exactly what you get.  65% of women’s sports fans are more likely to recall brands they have seen, a staggering number compared to 35% of men’s sports fans. This is a drastic difference, and in my opinion, comes from women’s sport fans advocating for new brands to enter women’s sport and become a driver for change.

This point is supported by a 2023 report conducted by the Women’s Sport Trust, that found that 29% of fans think more favourably of brands that support women’s sport through their sponsorship, compared to 17% that support men’s sport.2 While specific to the UK, 16% of the population are more likely to buy from a brand that sponsors women’s sport, compared to 13% that sponsor a men’s sport.3 This data clearly shows that by investing in women’s rugby, and sport in general, brands are speaking to a far more valuable audience in comparison to the men’s game, hence why we have seen a far greater number of brands, such as Guinness, commit to major, long-term partnerships in the women’s game.

Women’s rugby has also become more visible than ever. Following a successful World Cup in New Zealand in 2022, World Rugby announced the launch of a new, three-tiered international competition, known as WXV. The first edition took place in 2023 and saw 18 teams compete across three different tournaments in three different countries. This significantly increased the visibility of international women’s rugby to a level not seen outside of a World Cup year.

2023 also saw viewership and attendance records broken across the Women’s Six Nations. A new TV viewership record was set in the UK, with 10.4 million viewing hours clocked up for the 2023 tournament, breaking the previous record of 7.7 million. While the Red Roses set a world record for the highest attendance at a women’s international rugby match, with a staggering 58,498 making the trip to Twickenham, Wales also set a record at Cardiff Arms Park with nearly 9,000 people watching them face England. This surge in interest and support for the Wales team has led to the WRU announcing that the team would be playing their first standalone fixture at the Principality Stadium when they face Italy in their final fixture of this year Championship.

Women’s sport also offers brands plenty of opportunity for rich storytelling, and this is no different with rugby.  After significantly less media attention over the past decades, women’s rugby can provide audiences with a genuine sense of discovery. There are countless untold stories from female rugby leagues and teams across the world which are finally being shared with audiences and brands can play a role in providing access to this content in partnership with media outlets or via their owned channels.   

A recent example of this can be seen through Vodafone’s partnership with The Good, The Scaz and The Rugby podcast which offers a unique insight into women’s rugby and shines a light on all the untold stories from across the professional landscape, whilst also taking every opportunity to promote the grassroots game. Through partnerships like this, brands have the platform to directly impact the relationship between players and fans, showcasing the incredible individuals who have helped make the sport what it is today and providing them with the media attention that they deserve. We are only going to see a rise in partnerships like this as the familiarity of the stories in women’s rugby continue to become more apparent.

What are the key takeaways for brands?

  • First, the awareness of women’s sport sponsorship is only going one way. 14.6m people are aware of O2’s sponsorship of the Red Roses, while 24.5m people are aware of at least one women’s sport sponsorship.4 This figure has only continued to rise over recent years and there is no sign of this slowing down, with women’s rugby becoming more visible than ever.
  • Second, the women’s rugby audience wants to see investment from brands. Unlike with the men’s rugby audience, who are less aware of the comings and goings of sponsors, fans of women’s rugby are far more conscious of brands entering into the sport. This is due them being far more engaged with the women’s game and actively calling for greater investment.  So, it is important that brands take this into consideration when looking at potential new sponsorship properties.  
  • Finally, celebrate the differences that women’s rugby offers.  Women’s rugby is a very different product to men’s game, and this is one of its main strengths. There are plenty of avenues through which brands can impact the women’s game and it is important that they recognise it, embrace it and don’t fall into the trap of thinking that a certain activation worked in men’s rugby so it must work with the women. Be comfortable celebrating the distinctions!

In summary, the trajectory for women’s rugby has never looked more positive. During the rest of the 2024 Guinness Women’s Six Nations expect the product to be better than ever and more records to be broken. And keep an eye on the growing number of brands that you see associated with the game.  If other brands want to seize the opportunities that the sport has to offer then they are going to have to act quickly as the market is only going to become more competitive with a World Cup approaching in 2025, and a US based World Cup confirmed for 2033.

[1] O2, RFU and Women’s Sport Trust join forces (englandrugby.com)

[2] Women’s Sport Trust produces comprehensive industry report into the positive impact of women’s sport sponsorship on brands – Womens Sport Trust

[3] Women’s Sport Trust produces comprehensive industry report into the positive impact of women’s sport sponsorship on brands – Womens Sport Trust

[4] Women’s Sport Trust produces comprehensive industry report into the positive impact of women’s sport sponsorship on brands – Womens Sport Trust