By James Corcoran, Account Lead at Fuse
After England’s spectacular win at Wembley on Sunday, there is no doubt that women’s football has come a long way. Just over 10 years ago, top tier women’s football teams were playing on second rate pitches, players had second jobs and the domestic season was played in the summer months with often only a few hundred fans in attendance.
Fast forward to the present day and the growth of the game has been dramatic. This has been typified by all the incredible records broken across the UEFA Women’s EURO 2022, none more so than the 23.3m people who watched England’s win over Germany via all BBC platforms. This made it the most-watched women’s football match on UK TV of all-time and the most-watched programme of 2022 so far. What’s more, 87,192 fans attended the match making it the biggest crowd ever recorded at a European Championship Final (men’s or women’s).
But this growth has not happened overnight, nor without careful strategic thinking. Governing bodies such as the Football Association (FA) and UEFA have reshaped the women’s game over many years – to make it more popular and attractive to commercial partners, brands and broadcasters. But to do this, the game needed central investment. Players needed to be fully professional with higher pay (no more second jobs), training facilities needed upgrading and the domestic game had to mirror a more traditional football season (no more matches over the summer months).
The current overwhelming support is in part thanks to the women’s game fan experience. Tickets are very affordable, the match day experience is family friendly and less ‘tribal’ than the men’s, plus, the players are very down to earth and approachable – they often stay after matches to sign autographs and talk to fans.
Fuse Analytic Tools point to global interest in women’s football having grown by 46% over the past decade with more than 330m people interested in the sport. These figures have resulted in commercial investment from sponsors. Brands such as Pepsi Max, Walkers and Doritos invested significantly in through-the-line campaigns thanks to PepsiCo’s global sponsorship of the UEFA Women’s EURO. Its integrated marketing campaign ran across digital, social, PR, POS, OOH and on-pack promotions which reinforced PepsiCo’s ‘One Game’ approach of driving inclusivity and gender equality across the entire game.
Thanks to England winning its first major championship since the World Cup in 1966, the commercial profile of the Lionesses is the strongest it’s ever been. Rights Holders will – and should – use the tournament’s successes, such as TV audiences, match day attendances and the new levels of awareness and engagement to seek increased investment from both broadcasters and sponsors.
Brands will also be looking to further invest in England players who are now an inspiration to the nation. Players such as Lucy Bronze and Leah Williamson were already household names, but thanks to moments of brilliance from the likes of Alessia Russo, Ella Toone and Chloe Kelly, brands will be looking to secure individual deals with players to capitalise on the cultural shift.
One of the signs of a successful Women’s EURO legacy will be if the domestic game sees an uplift in sponsorship investment. Some brands may choose to wait and see if interest significantly grows before committing. But many will choose to make their mark early and ride the wave of momentum for women’s football in the UK, especially as the sport can now provide significant return on investment.
Of course, continued investment from sponsors will play an important role in communicating the game to new audiences, but the onus will largely be down to Rights Holders. We need match day attendances to grow domestically, and more fixtures played in larger stadiums at key points throughout the season.
The biggest legacy the Women’s EURO can leave England is a rise in grassroots football – where there are hugely important societal benefits at a local community level to be made. Both physical and mental wellbeing is improved with exercise plus football also teaches teamwork and discipline – key life skills for anyone. For women’s football to see significant growth, it will need an integrated approach to marketing, commerce and communications from a range of football stakeholders and partners.