Brands have not yet woken up to the potential of Women’s Football

By Sarah Burns

Latest audience viewing figures for the England v Scotland Women’s World Cup game, played last Friday, show that it attracted an audience of 4.6 million. This is the biggest audience ever in the UK for a women’s football game. Despite this, when shopping in Sainsbury’s on Saturday morning I didn’t notice a single Women’s World Cup-related brand promotion at all.

Was I surprised? Not really.

In the months and indeed weeks before the start of an international men’s football tournament like the World Cup or the Euros, we are approached by a steady stream of clients keen to sidestep the strict sponsorship rules and capitalise on the competition with an imaginative prize promotion.

This didn’t happen with the Women’s World Cup.

It’s no longer such a shock to see women pundits like Alex Scott in the TV studios with the men, Barclays has recently signed a three-year Women’s Super League sponsorship deal worth over £10 million and many of the England players – Steph Houghton, Gill Scott, Lucy Bronze – are on the verge of becoming big household names.

Women’s football is certainly being taken more seriously and it’s undeniable that this Women’s World Cup has a higher profile than any women’s football tournament to date.

The BBC, for example, is showing all the matches somewhere on the network, with England games and the final, which is played on Sunday July 7, on BBC One. It’s also been trailing its coverage for several weeks and, in fact, across its TV, radio and digital platforms this summer the BBC has promised us more live women’s sport than ever before. It’s using the hashtag #ChangeTheGame and, although I may be alone in finding the tone faintly patronising, in terms of moving towards some kind of gender parity it’s got to be positive.

There is still a way to go, though. For this tournament FIFA did double the overall prize money to $30 million, with the eventual winning team taking away $4 million, but it still falls far short of the $400 million total prize fund available at the 2018 World Cup and the $38 million the French men received for winning.

This time last year, when there was a Men’s World Cup on, Barclaycard reported that consumer spending grew 5.1% year on year during June – apparently it largely went on beer, barbecues and big tellies – with expenditure in pubs going up by 9.5% in the same month and rising to 33% on the day of England’s first match . Apparently, in the week leading up to the semi-finals Tesco sold a million burgers, a million tubs of ice-cream and 50 million beers.

Could a Women’s World Cup ever have the same sort of impact? Well, particularly if the England or Scotland women have a good run in this year’s competition I don’t see why not, but for that to happen brands big and small need to get behind the women’s team with a groundswell of prize promotions activity.

Granted, Budweiser, EE, Head & Shoulders and Lucozade are brands which have made some promotional effort for the competition, but they are all official FA partners and I just haven’t seen any of the prize promotions related to the sport, the host nation or the progress of the home teams, which I would expect if this was a men’s event.

According to data from Nielsen, 314 million people worldwide are interested in women’s football. This is split 54% men, 46% women, with millennials aged 25 to 34 the main fanbase – surely a demographic that brands are keen to reach? Nielsen also found that 61% of fans of women’s football agree that brands involved in the sport are appealing, compared to 58% of football fans and 51% of the general public.

It’s a virtuous circle. Prize promotions giving people the chance to win, say, technology products, party packages or trips to France (only official sponsors can offer match tickets as prizes or, indeed, use the official logos) build on existing interest in an event. This in turn creates further excitement and engagement with the event, so to generate the same levels of interest the men’s game attracts from consumers, there has to be a similarly high level of interest from brands. I don’t see that with the Women’s World Cup 2019, but, particularly if England or Scotland have a good run in this year’s competition then maybe by 2023?

Sarah Burns is Managing Director of prize promotions agency, Prizeology

Image: The FA

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