Taking sponsorship in women's football to the next level


By David O’Connor, Senior Account Director GMR Marketing

The FIFA Women’s World Cup™ in Canada has captivated audiences the world over with some fantastic duels. Long gone are the days when this tournament was an ‘also ran’ in FIFA’s wide portfolio of events. Following on from 2011’s successful edition of the event, Canada has delivered on a number of different fronts, but there are still huge sponsorship opportunities going amiss in women’s football.

Viewing figures and digital statistics both provide evidence that women’s football is entering the mainstream and can no longer be seen as a niche sport, however, if there’s one aspect where the tournament did have some slight room for improvement it is in the area of sponsorship.

Women’s sport as a whole is a sleeping giant in terms of sponsorship opportunities and it was disappointing to see the Canadian NOC were unable to acquire such lucrative packages for 2015 as the German’s did in 2011. In 2011 all National Supporter packages sold out, raising €4 million per agreement.

The question really is whether or not FIFA and other major rights holders can unlock the potential of women’s football for sponsors? The bundling of women’s tournament marketing rights together with the men’s tournaments is problematic, as this limits brands’ opportunities to buy into dedicated women’s football packages. FIFA may wish that they had the flexibility to develop a strand of sponsorship properties dedicated entirely to the women’s game in order to better support both the LOCs and interested brand sponsors. If this were possible, sponsors would then get access to a full range of women’s football properties including youth tournaments and specific campaigns such as the Live Your Goals campaign which was born in 2011 ahead of the Women’s World Cup. The campaign lives on with the clear objective of making women’s football an accessible sport to girls and young women all over the world and is one that many brands would love to associate themselves with.

The success of the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ has helped to move women’s football into the realms of being a truly global and exciting platform; one from which it is now perfectly possible to build great marketing campaigns whilst simultaneously contributing to the growth of the sport. It is not often that a brand gets an opportunity to break new ground in global sport, but women’s football is showing signs of offering just that.

The ideal brand for women’s football, and women’s sport in general, would be one that makes a commitment to help grow the profile of the sport as well as putting their hands in their pockets to make it happen.

There have been a few brands that have signed partnerships within women’s sport in England, however not enough has been done to activate the sponsorship and take the sport to the next level. Two examples include SSE’s sponsorship of the Women’s FA Cup and Continental Tyres who are sponsors of the FA’s Women’s Super League and the England Women’s national team.

A further high profile sign of women’s football entering the mainstream is this inclusion of women’s footballers into FIFA’s EA Sports computer game for the first time this year.

To summarise, all the signs are good, with women’s football and the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ specifically breaking new ground. But now is the testing time. Following the highs of Canada will crowds in domestic women’s football grow, will the emergence of live broadcasts of women’s football such as BT’s coverage of the Women’s Premier League continue its upward curve and start attracting higher audiences and will sponsors start seeking out opportunities in this area more actively? Only time will tell but there’s no doubting the fact that Canada and the Lionesses has given the women’s game some real momentum.

GMR Marketing is part of the Diversified Agency Services (DAS) Network of agencies within the Omnicom Group, a global network of best-in-class marketing agencies providing solutions to many of the world’s leading brands.

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