Until Next Time

Image Credit: jacoblund

As the dust settles on the World Cup, and the nation licks its collective wound at the final heartbreak, we reflect on what perhaps has to be viewed as a missed commercial opportunity for Women’s football and take a look ahead at how this can be rectified prior to the 2027 World Cup.

The Good Bits

It’s not all doom and gloom!

There was huge growth in plenty of areas in comparison to the previous iteration in 2019, and a number of records tumbled in the process. 

There was a global TV audience of 2bn, up from 1.1bn for the tournament held in France in 2019. There was US$570 million generated in revenue, a number that meant the tournament broke even for the first time. The figure for prize money and player payment trebled to $152 million, whilst the total budget for the tournament went to $395 million in comparison to $156 million in 2019.

Meanwhile, we saw some exciting brand sponsorships, with companies investing in women’s football in a more authentic and purposeful way than they have before. 

For example, Unilever pledged their commitment to FIFA’s Women’s Development Programme. The initiative is designed to provide opportunities for women and girls and supports the continued growth of women’s football around the globe. Unilever will provide funding, human resources, and support for tailored development programmes. More crucially, however, the partnership will extend long beyond this year's tournament, until 2027, in what is a long-term commitment by Unilever to grow the women’s game. Investing at all levels from grassroots to FIFA’s top tournaments, the brand aims to supply a total of 80,000 gift packs containing personal care products direct to fans at various FIFA events over the coming years. 

However, whilst there were plenty of good things to celebrate about this year’s World Cup, good isn’t good enough and the steep rise of women’s football, in turn, means the game demands more from a commercial perspective.

What could have been …

Ultimately, whilst we’ve witnessed visible growth at this year’s tournament, there could have been more.

Whether it was the unfavourable time difference for the European/US markets, rows over broadcast rights that threatened a broadcast blackout, or last-minute sponsorship deals, it feels as if an opportunity to grow the game and generate long-lasting and sustainable commercial interest in the sport has been missed.

If we take the broadcast issue, for example, the poor planning from Fifa (that only saw broadcast deals agreed a month before the start of the tournament) essentially left brands with too little time to generate valuable and important campaigns, discouraging them from investing.  

Despite those logistical concerns, brands should also share the blame for failing to maximise the commercial growth of women’s football at the World Cup due to their inability to recognise the opportunity at hand. As per Thayer Lavielle comments, executive vice president at The Collective (of Wasserman), it is proven that when brands engage with professional women’s sports, fans are 54% more aware of sponsors and exhibit 45% more purchase intent. Brands have failed to invest in the sport and are in turn missing out on potentially loyal and engaged customers.

Looking ahead, let’s avoid the pitfalls!

Women’s football is ripe for investment. The viewing figures and booming fandom should demonstrate to brands that there is a real opportunity for the taking. Ahead of the 2027 World Cup FIFA need to be more organised to afford brands the time and foresight to invest properly and drive the game forward with the view to eventually matching the men’s game from a commercial standpoint. And brands need to show more conviction and recognise the value of partnering with an ever-growing entity in women’s football.

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