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A step change in the beautiful game heralds new opportunities for brands – but only if they act with authenticity
In the land down under, the curtain has fallen on an exhilarating group stage at The World Cup. 60 goals, 2.31 goals per game, a goal every 39 minutes and England’s next idol, Lauren James, has everyone talking. This tournament has been action-packed, drip-feeding fans and viewers moment after moment of exquisite football. The world has been watching and the superb spectacle of this World Cup is likely to alert more and more brands to the brilliant opportunity that the women’s game can offer from a sponsorship and partnership perspective.
Women’s football fandom continues to grow rapidly, and the World Cup will only add to this upward trajectory. Over 2 billion tv viewers are expected to have tuned into this year’s World Cup, up from 1.12 billion in 2019. There are already some viewership records that have tumbled in the group stages. Some 6.43 million people tuned in to the U.S.A’s 1-1 draw with the Netherlands, which became the most-watched group stage match in Women’s World Cup history for an English-language broadcast. It’s clear that the appetite for the game is there, and at an ever-accelerating pace which is brilliant to see.
Whilst the viewership numbers speak for themselves, what’s also interesting, and something that might appeal to brands in this digital age, is how fans wish to consume content centred around the teams and players involved. Many women’s sports fans have been unable to access coverage of their teams on traditional broadcast channels so have reverted to online and/or social platforms. The graph below from Euromonitor International demonstrates TikTok engagement rates per follower across the National Women’s Soccer League and Major League Soccer in America, where the average engagement rate per follower of the women’s league was more than double that of the MLS in 2022.
While a small sample size, this helps to demonstrate the appeal to brands who might wish to tap into what is clearly a digitally engaged, and growing audience.
Setting The Standard
Following the Lionesses' triumph at the Euros last summer, research from the Women’s Sport Trust showed that of the 15.8 million viewers who had never watched women’s sport prior to the tournament, 16% were under 35 and 47% were female. It’s an exciting, new audience for brands to engage, hence it’s no wonder why so many brands are capitalising on the commercial opportunities provided by the women’s game, with many activating in full force at the World Cup down under.
But first, let us cast our eye back to the 2019 World Cup which signalled a momentous shift in brand support that this year's iteration has built upon.
A standout display of brand engagement in 2019 saw VISA, as the tournament’s headline partner, making a commitment to support Women’s Football with a sponsorship investment equal to that made in the Men’s FIFA World Cup in Russia, in 2018. A watershed moment, described by VISA’s SVP of Marketing, Adrian Farina, as “about time”, that set the tone for brands looking to activate in the space.
A similar pledge was employed by FA sponsors Lucozade Sport and Head & Shoulders who provided equal prominence in advertising for the Lionesses as they do for the men’s team. In contrast, other major tournament partners including Adidas, Coca-Cola and Hyundai were subject to criticism for failing to invest equally in the women’s game, in comparison to their backing of the men’s World Cup.
Fast forward to the present day and we are seeing more consistent levels of engagement from brand partners of the tournament, who are activating in a much more authentic way to engage audiences and participants from grassroots to the elite level.
The New Norm
In a UK-focused effort, Weetabix has teamed up with the FA again with a clever campaign that capitalises on the World Cup’s engaged audience. Shoppers buying Weetabix packs will be in with the chance of winning an official FA shirt, with a new winner every 90 minutes. The brand is capitalising on the fact kick-offs will be at breakfast time, giving them a competitive ‘Weetabix advantage’. The on-pack promotion is supported by a 360-degree in excess of £2m which includes the first-ever TV advert to support Weetabix’s on-pack promotion in partnership with the FA, with an estimated reach of approximately 64% of the UK.
Budweiser, who has been the official beer of English football since 2019, launched their biggest trade campaign to date centred around Beth Mead and football legend Karen Carney. Accompanying traditional OOH activations, the brand has partnered with major retailers Asda and Tesco where 50p from every pack of 15x300ml bottles sold in Tesco will go to developing football through The FA.
In May, Unilever was announced as an Official Sponsor of FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™. At the centre of the partnership is the brand's 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. This sustained level of investment, coupled with authentic activation, not only demonstrates a significant commitment to the development of the sport but also has greater potential to generate increased brand affinity with the aforementioned engaged audience that women’s football has to offer.
These are just two examples, with a whole host of partners on board at this year’s tournament, but it demonstrates the scale and rationale surrounding brand investment in women’s football.
One thing to raise here, however, is that brands ought to be wary of ‘jumping on the bandwagon’. Flash-in-the-pan support is likely to negatively affect brand image and affinity amongst consumers, so they should look to support the game in totality. Longer-term investment into the sport is needed to sustain its growth and this should be a value shared by prospective partners, should they want to generate a valuable and authentic presence in the sport and truly reap the benefits provided by such a passionate brilliant fanbase.
Women’s sport and women’s football, in particular, is no longer be seen as a cause worthy of corporate support. Instead, as proven by the World Cup, women’s football is elite – it’s a fantastic platform for brands to engage with, offering them the chance for meaningful activation but also to align to a state of excellence and excitement. Most interestingly, sponsorship of leading women’s sports properties may in fact be of greater value and offer enhanced cut-through for brands, in comparison to the men’s game, given that a) their sponsorship platforms are less crowded, and b) required investment levels are likely to soar in the coming years. The key to effectively utilising women’s sport as an audience engagement platform is to do so authentically.
What next for women’s football?
Well, we expect to see more liquid football, net-busting goals, and defining ‘football heritage’ moments as the World Cup continues into the knockout phases. But beyond the tournament, we hope to see brands present in the game activate in an authentic manner that reflects the authority and respect that women’s football rightly demands.
At Mongoose Sport & Entertainment, we pride ourselves on delivering impactful partnerships and campaigns, and are excited to be supporting a number of leading women’s sports properties across new sponsorships and activations – for more information, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a question, enquiry or fancy joining Team Mongoose? We’re always looking for new additions to the Mongoose burrow. Are you a hungry & motivated sales person or passionate & energetic activation specialist? We’d love to hear from you.