I attended the espnW Summit Canada earlier this month. It was a breath of fresh air, not only because of the positive vibe in the room but the beautiful indoor-outdoor setting!

It was inspiring to hear many of the new league leaders wanting to both leverage best practices and rethink traditional norms.

Drawing on my 15+ years in and on the business side of sports, and as business owner, I've put together some of my key takeaways from the event.

🎯 New Market Creation

Research from Canadian Women & Sport | Femmes et sport au Canada and others shows that we're not just pulling fans from existing viewership but attracting a new, diverse audience.

This is reminiscent of how Cirque du Soleil reimagined the industry by merging music, dance, and theatre to create an entirely new market. Similarly, women’s leagues are opening doors to underrepresented groups and thinking about tweaking the product to create unique aspects of the game.

💲 Investment Opportunity

As Billie Jean King aptly put it, "Women's sports are now seen as an investment, not a charity." The Canadian professional women's sport market is ripe for development.

The Major brands are taking notice but so too are the venture capitalists and angel investors who are apt at identifying burgeoning industries and markets. They also bring different perspectives and viewpoints.

📱 Masterful Content

Women athletes have mastered social media to connect deeply with fans, a necessity due to historically limited broadcast visibility. This has led to deep rooted, authentic bonds with fans who have worked harder to support and follow.

💡 Innovation

Leaders on the stage echoed the need for rapid learning and adaptation, adopting startup-like mindsets and implementing quick feedback loops with fans and athletes ensuring they stay relevant and ahead of the curve.

No team names? No problem! We launch anyway and name them later. Done!

⛹‍♀️ Merchandise Evolution....or Revolution

So. much. opportunity! Boxy jerseys and fan gear haven’t evolved all that much over the years. Let's talk about inclusive sizing, styles and cultural aesthetics and ways to incorporate more lifestyle and household brands.

If the merch at the conference was any indication, there's lots of room to think outside the box/rink/ring and bring in new sponsorship categories.

This is not just about the game(s) but a broader push for innovation.

I'm so excited to follow and participate in the growth of the entire ecosystem—there's ample space to leverage the tried-and-true best practices while also to explore the "white space" where innovation can thrive.

About the author

Isabelle Perreault

Isabelle is the Founder and CEO of Differly. She has spent her career helping business leaders understand the major drivers of change and helping them survive and thrive in a digital economy. She brings deep expertise in business transformation, corporate and business model innovation and go-to-market planning.

For over 20 years, she has been helping leaders in a wide variety of sectors develop and deploy human-centric, tech-enabled growth strategies. Passionate about entrepreneurship she also serves as a business coach to Startups with several incubators. Prior to launching Differly, she led one of the first Digital Transformation Practices in Canada and was head of Digital Strategy and Marketing for the Ottawa Senators, NHL Hockey Club. Isabelle is Chair of the Ottawa Youth Services Bureau Foundation and a champion for women entrepreneurs.

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