Women’s football is without doubt one of the most popular female sports today. In 2015, the world watched the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada, with thrilling matches, a total stadium attendance of more than 1.35 million spectators, and TV coverage in 188 territories with record figures topping 750 million viewers globally. The final between Japan and the USA was the most watched football game ever in the United States.
Hosting the FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup in 2014 and the Women’s World Cup in 2015 supported an impressive 493,6 million CAD in economic activity for Canada – exceeding preliminary projections made in February 2014 by 46 percent according to an announcement made by Canada Soccer in 2015. Women’s football is generating great attention online and on social media. By the Canada 2015 final, fans had spent 247 years at FIFA.com and there were 9 billion impressions on Twitter. The #FIFAWWC hashtag was mentioned a staggering 1.1 million times.
Fast forward to 2017, the recent UEFA Women’s Euro had a tally of the same entity. The 2017 edition was the most watched in history, surpassing the 2013 audience by more than 50 million viewers. The final between the Netherlands and Denmark had the largest sports programme audience of the year in the Netherlands, watched by an average of 4.1m viewers (83% share); there was a global audience of 13m+.
The 2017 Women’s Euro reported 550K+ interactions on official tournament social media platforms, while there were 4.4m+ video views on the #WEURO2017 Facebook and Instagram accounts. Stadium attendance also surpassed previous hosts with the Netherlands becoming the first to sell out all their matches.
On a domestic level, we are also seeing improvement on TV and media coverage. The success of the English Women’s National Team in Canada 2015 with 11.9m following their journey, made the FA and clubs re-think their strategy, leading to broadcasters such as BBC to increase their coverage of women’s football and long-term sponsorship deals that have boosted development of the sport nationally.
Despite its steadily growing success, women’s football struggles to find widespread support from global and local sponsors. Many are still sceptical and believe women’s football is not commercially viable.
There are three elements which are important to consider as to why this still the case. First, global football’s governing bodies need to leverage the success of their women’s competitions and further explore their commercial opportunities separately from the men’s game. Second, brands need to be more exposed to the women’s game and acknowledge the economic value women represent today. Thirdly, the quality on the pitch needs to continue improving with consistent support nationally, regionally and globally.
A value in its own right
Women’s sports have come a long way on and off the pitch. This development has made many brands realise the value of a commercial proposition separated from the male side of sports. Football is no different and those brands and organisations that acknowledge this development will be ahead in the race.
In 2014, a study done by FIFA in key markets showed that women’s football is perceived as youthful, entertaining, dynamic, professional and fun to watch. A huge majority of FIFA Member associations globally agreed that women’s football is an expression of modern life-style and their gateway to international participation. Women’s football stands for unique values and uses a different tone of voice when it comes to marketing and communication. For a brand that wants to position itself with strong credibility, the partnership can deliver on: transparency, fairness, and community involvement.
LIONESSES TRIUMPH! @jodes__14’s fifth goal of @uefawomenseuro earned @england their first win over @equipedefrance in 43 years and a place in the semi-finals. The @lionesses will now meet tournament hosts @oranjeleeuwinnen in Enschede on Thursday. #England #Lionesses #threelions #France #AllezLesBleues #engfra #weuro2017
Football is a great pathway for women both on the playing field and at decision-making levels. Promoting gender parity is one of the strongest movements of our time. Brands that align with and genuinely care about this agenda will be rewarded by one of the most economically powerful segments of society: women. There is a very strong brand and economic case for why a brand would sponsor women’s football. One in five women is the main breadwinner in the family. There is a fast-growing female economy. Women have increased financial stability and huge buying power.
A growing movement to address compensation justice is gaining momentum and increasing the role of female footballers. Female footballers’ voices are now louder and stronger. This has led to great success in narrowing the pay gap in countries like the USA, Australia and Ireland. As the movement continues, millions of young girls will follow their heroes. Male footballers are also supporting the movement with the Danish Men’s National team making a bold statement in favour of their female compatriots.
— Football Australia (@FFA) August 18, 2017
Many strong brands have realised the value of promoting female role-models. Tapping into this potential have traditionally been sporting giants such as Nike, Adidas and Under Armour. Nike took the lead on this starting in 1992 by supporting the USA women’s football national team and endorsing iconic players such as Brandi Chastain. In the women’s Euro league, Nike recently supported a bold move by the Dutch women’s team, introducing a uniform that portrays the crest of a lioness which is meant to encourage more women to take up football. Moreover, in the United States, Nike started selling the US women’s team shirts in men’s sizes. Following pressure from female gamers, EA Sports introduced female footballers into its FIFA video game series.
Non-sporting brands are also tapping into this opportunity. In a bid to increase awareness of and participation in the sport and empowering women, Avon has made a commitment to women’s football, opening up new markets to them and allowing them to target new demographics.
Bridging the technical and commercial side
Technical excellence is of paramount importance in order for the women’s game to continue growing and increasing in commercial value. The future of women’s football now requires development programmes that meet the requirements of the many competitions currently in place for women, as well as a proposal that takes into account the current structure of the women’s game, which is a complex mixture of amateur and professional players.
Traditionally power houses can no longer take it for granted as other emerging nations are progressing at a fast pace. Grassroots development becomes increasingly important to seed the succession of talented players in all age groups and it is also becoming increasingly attractive for sponsors. Brands are understanding the value of supporting girls and women’s ambitions more and more, becoming active and supporting family values.
FIFA is aiming to increase global participation of girls and women by 60 million in 2026 and other football organisations have pledged their support with UEFA recently launching its “Together we play strong” campaign. Looking ahead, this means that investing in player development is directly related to success on the pitch, and at the same time translates into potential business opportunities and more funding to invest in the future of the game.
Scoring higher: what will take the women’s game forward?
Women’s football needs to seek brands with innovation and creativity at the forefront. For this reason, football organisations, leagues and clubs need to commit to creating a dedicated Team focused on exploring commercial potential and they need to take advantage of global campaigning. Brands need to be exposed to the women’s game by their leaders and organisations that in turn need to stay in tune with the society in which we live.
Selecting the right partner will have direct impact on bolstering the image of the women’s game. A committed brand should: provide an activation budget, provide a digital presence, and be interested in growth and participation with a long-term vision and commitment. Acknowledging that the women’s game is strong enough to stand alone commercially will give a great advantage to brands and football organisations, whereas ignoring it will certainly be indicative of a lack of vision and will mean missing out on a golden business potential.
Mayi Cruz Blanco
Wyscout Blog Contributor
Marketing / Corporate Communication / Women’s Football
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