If you had any doubt about the commercial value of Women’s Football, think again.
Recent developments are showing that the commercial opportunities for the Women’s game are better than ever. Women’s football is becoming increasingly popular and attracting wider audiences, not to mention that is generating greater attention online, on social media and in broadcasting.
The 2015 Women’s World Cup, and in particular England’s success in the tournament, was a changing point in the women’s game. The tournament was watched globally by 750 million people. Just recently, 4 million UK viewers tuned into Channel 4 to watch England vs Netherlands in the semi-finals for the UEFA Women’s Euro 2017. It was the highest audience figure for the channel that year.
The increase in global audience and in coverage has made clubs and the FA itself rethink their strategy. This has lead to an increase of Women’s football coverage by the BBC and it made possible long-term sponsorship deal that are aiding further developments of the sport. The attendance for the Football Association (FA) Women’s Super League (WSL) is at an historical high point and more investment are coming into the sports and towards the players than ever before.
The type of interest the sport is attracting holds great financial potential for sponsors to exploit. By far, the biggest commercial sponsor of Women’s Football has been Nike, which has created long lasting partnership with the US national team, as well as individual partnership for some of England’s Lionesses. Nike, however, is not the only one recognising the worth – and positive return on investment – of the women’s game. SSE has signed in 2015 a 4-year deal to be the headline sponsor of the women’s FA Cup.
This stats should not come as a surprise. Lisa Parfitt, managing director of Synergy, leading sport marketing company, says that sponsorship of Women’s Football is a really attractive proposition – especially now that the FA has separated the rights from men’s and women’s FA Cups. Further, she adds, there is a strong branding and economic case to be made for sponsoring women’s football: it brings forth a powerful message in favour of diversity and inclusion.
This sort of commercial reasoning really opens up the possibility of the commercial landscape that Women’s Football has the potential to hold. Even some agents like Georgie Hodge, head of women’s football at Base Soccer, are becoming increasingly aware of the growing and diverse commercial opportunities, especially given the development of women’s football from grassroots to leagues’ players. Women’s Football offers a non-saturated market where investors can look for areas of growth with high profit margins.
New brands are showing interest in the women’s game, opening it up to new markets. Partnerships like the one of Avon with Liverpool Ladies and Disney with England add tremendous value to Women’s Football by showing female players in a new light, reaching new demographics, supporting family values and equality. These partnerships are a win-win for all, benefiting the FA goal of widening participation as well as the brands, the players and the sport itself by increasing the overall level of investments.
Furthermore, it’s important not to forget the impact that the media has on the sport.
Vice captain of the England Women’s team, Jordan Nobbs, has highlighted how a professional footballer career is now, more than ever before, possible. In fact, increased media coverage and players’ presence on social media increase the commercial growth of the sport by increasing the value of the sponsorship’s, since sponsor are more prominently featured.
However, despite the growing success, Women’s football still struggle to fight the scepticism towards its commercial viability and to find the necessary support from global and local sponsor. Football is still one of the industries with the greatest gender inequality, where female footballers still have to undergo discrimination and an ever increasing pay-gap, which cause some women to quit the sport.
The FA has invested £17 millions in the sport just in 2017. The commercial potential of Women’s football is there, but yet to be fully realised. The UEFA Women’s Euro 2017 have given a really positive result in terms of media coverage, viewers, attendance and profitable business opportunities for the sport as a whole, but the road is still long.
Only some sponsors have been visionary enough to capitalise on this underrated market, but Women’s Football needs more. It needs a governing body able to leverage the success of their female teams and able to acknowledge the economic value represented by women. Further, it needs better marketing, better kick-off times and an even stronger grassroots movement.
Paul Ten Hag, managing director of the Dutch Women’s Football League, thinks that Women’s Football deserves its own identity and that the sport has also the people to make that happen. The women’s football network is a target of 700,000 people, what the sport needs is to bring those people on board to become even more attractive to the media and possible business partners.
But finally, what Women’s Football really needs is for someone to acknowledge that it can stand alone commercially. Ignoring that reality will be only indicative of lack of vision and will lead to missed commercial opportunities. Only forward-thinking commercial partners will be able to seize the high-reward investments that Women’s football has to offer.
Sharon Machado Sanchez is Business Analyst for Network90 Club, having graduated with an first class Honours Economics degree at the University of Stirling. She represented her University Football team during her undergraduate degree and continues to support and engage in women’s football.