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Special Report on Reaching Girls: Marketers’ interest in female athletes rising

Even though the female demographic represents half the children's viewing audience, studio executives and television programmers continue to consider shows aimed at girls as niche programming. But as this coming season suggests, change appears to be on the horizon. Several new...
August 1, 1997

Even though the female demographic represents half the children’s viewing audience, studio executives and television programmers continue to consider shows aimed at girls as niche programming. But as this coming season suggests, change appears to be on the horizon. Several new TV shows and a number of upcoming features have girls starring in lead roles. And in the CD-ROM business, a series of products are finding particular popularity among females. The following report looks at how the entertainment and marketing communities are reaching out to girls.

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Female athletes, many of whom are teenagers, are in high demand to bring their star qualities to promotional activities, as marketers attempt to tap into the positive message of sports.

‘We’re getting very interested in women athletes, and we found great interest in that at Licensing Show,’ says Susan Miller, president of Momentum Partners, a licensing and merchandising firm. The firm has represented female athletes such as Mary Lou Retton, and recently signed World Figure Skating champion Michelle Kwan. Kwan, at age 17, typifies the kind of sports role model that is in demand. In addition, properties such as Parachute Press’ Silver Blades, fictional books centering on the skating world, are experiencing brisk sales and licensing activity.

Miller attributes the rise in interest in female athletes to last summer’s Olympic Games.

‘So many U.S. women’s teams won medals. In soccer, softball, gymnastics, basketball all of these categories the women won gold medals. This jump-started the trend for female athletes in North America as a marketing possibility,’ Miller says.

Momentum has been involved with female athletes for several years, yet Miller notes that this year has seen a windfall.

‘Michelle Kwan, for example, has a major relationship with Scholastic for a line of books and other products.’ Promotional opportunities came rolling in immediately after the firm signed the athlete, according to Miller.

‘There’s a whole new movement afoot, especially in traditional licensing categories: apparel, toys, collectibles and real mass-market products targeted to girls.’

Current launches of Sports Illustrated for Women and Sport Women magazines from Condé Nast indicate rising consumer enthusiasm for women’s sports, which is definitely shared by young girls, Miller says. This trend began six years ago, when the Title 9 bill was adapted for U.S. public schools, stipulating that boys and girls must have equal opportunities in sports, she notes.

‘Sports present a great analogy to life where girls can learn lessons for their future life,’ says Steve Herman, vice president and general manager of consumer products for Parachute Press. Outlining the company’s plans for its hit girls book series Silver Blades, Herman says he intends to undertake a ‘tightly focused’ lifestyle licensing and merchandising campaign, concentrating on high-end teen sports/fashion items. The campaign will broaden into more categories when the Silver Blades TV series, now in development, airs on a major network, says Herman.

More than two million copies of the Silver Blades books have sold so far in the U.S. and Canada, mostly to girls. Heather Alexander, senior vice president and editorial director of direct media at Parachute Press, attributes this success with girls to the fact that figure skating is dominated by athletes in the age 13 to 16 range. ‘That makes it reachable to the girl audience. It’s very hot.’

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