England’s Lionesses begin their Euro 2017 campaign against Scotland on Wednesday, and go into the tournament amongst the favourites for the first time ever – evidence of the rise of the women’s game in our country over recent years.
Earlier this year Barbara Slater, Director of Sport at BBC, revealed that more than 11million people in the UK tuned in to watch the 2015 Women’s World Cup, almost half of whom had not watched the game before.
England’s bronze medal in 2015 has proved a catalyst for the meteoric rise in popularity and you do not need to look further than our own FA Cup Final for proof. In 2013, a crowd of fewer than 5,000 attended the Women’s FA Cup Final in Doncaster. Fast forward to 2017, and a record 35,000 came through the turnstiles for the same event, now held at Wembley.
Over the last five years, UK TV audiences have grown by 500 per cent. Data from sports research agency, Sport MR’s Sports Event Spotlight, showed that at its peak, five per cent of the national population were following the UEFA Women’s Champions League and two per cent were interested in the Women’s Spring Series.
Whilst these figures don’t immediately seem big, they represent a following of between one and three million adults tuning in to women’s football, which highlights the huge potential and growth of the game.
These figures will be welcomed by the FA, who announced their Game Plan for Growth strategy earlier this year, and if England have a successful tournament in the Netherlands it will be a big boost ahead of the inaugural winter season for the WSL in September.
Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea have recently increased the support for their women’s team. With that has come an exciting, entertaining and competitive league which now expands to WSL2. More top clubs are getting involved, such as Tottenham Hotspur – who recently won promotion to WSL2 – and Leeds United Ladies, who announced last month that they have re-integrated into the Leeds United family.
But it isn’t only the big names of football recognising the opportunity in women’s football. The 100 per cent community-owned Lewes Football Club have become the first professional or semi-professional football club to pay its women’s team the same as its men’s team, as part of its Equality FC campaign.
Whilst the growth of the game is apparent, there is still a long way to go before equality is widespread. Commercially, the game is also improving – we are seeing brands knocking on the door of women’s football to see how they can get involved, but more must follow in their footsteps.
Compared to the cluttered space of men’s football, the women’s game offers huge potential for brands looking to own a space and be part of a sport engulfed in passion, with the chance to think differently around the rights and assets of a sponsorship deal.
UEFA recently announced it is launching its first sponsorship package covering all women’s events starting from the 2018/19 season, signalling another turning point for women’s football in the sponsorship space, and encouraging brands to activate with genuine purpose as opposed to simply fulfilling contractual obligations.
Last month we saw MasterCard activate for the first time around the Women’s Champions League Final at Cardiff, recognising that the growth in the women’s game gave them the opportunity to be innovative and trailblazers.
McDonald’s have become the exclusive broadcast partner of Channel 4, who have the rights to the upcoming European Championships, jumping at the opportunity to showcase its support for the FA’s ‘Football for All’ campaign.
The FA have also just announced an exciting three-year partnership with Disney to encourage greater participation amongst girls. Earlier this year, Avon became the first female-focused brand to sponsor an FAWSL club, Liverpool, as their Official Beauty Partner.
Whilst these partnerships are fantastic for women’s football, more brands need to recognise the unique opportunity and get involved. The domestic game in England and Scotland has enjoyed a partnership with SSE, who have supported women’s football at all levels since 2015, as well as Continental Tyres.
However, to avoid the scenario Notts County found themselves in on the eve of the Spring Series, clubs require more sponsors to fuel their growth.
Spikes in media coverage and the profile of the women’s game will continue to grow around the major international events, but it is keeping that momentum and driving the game further that is crucial for the FA, clubs and brands alike.
A successful Euro campaign for the Lionesses would certainly help build a lasting impact back on home soil.