Women’s World Cup shows how marketers are undervaluing women’s sport

With the recent success of campaigns such as Sport England’s “This Girl Can”, the start of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada this week comes at a time when interest in women’s sport is growing. However, while broadcasters and industry bodies are making moves to tap into the opportunity many brands, including FIFA sponsors, have been slower on the uptake.

FIFA/Getty Images
FIFA/Getty Images

The FIFA Women’s World Cup will reach 30 million female football players and 336 million fans worldwide, according to FIFA, while the BBC is broadcasting every game for the first time.

Thierry Weil, FIFA’s marketing director, told Marketing Week that there is “no doubting” the growth of the women’s game since the first FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1991, presenting a big opportunity for brands.

“All FIFA partners have rights to both women’s and men’s World Cup tournaments with both events opening up a variety of opportunities for their brands to reach a highly engaged, global audience,” he said.

Dave O’Connor, senior account director at sports marketing agency GMR, agrees that interest in the game is continuing to grow.

“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,” he says.

It is not only the World Cup and football that is opening new doors for brands – rising interest in women’s sport in general means companies have new audiences to target.

Dan Ramsay, acting marketing director at BT Sport, told Marketing Week that the broadcaster is putting women’s sport “at the heart of our gender” through its coverage of the women’s WTA tour and programmes like The Clare Balding Show.

“We certainly think that that’s matched by an interest from the general public as well,” he said.

“Previously I think women’s sport was underserved, because it was really limited to not much more than two weeks at year at Wimbledon where people tuned in. I don’t think that did it the justice that it deserved.”

“Previously I think women’s sport was underserved, because it was really limited to not much more than two weeks at year at Wimbledon where people tuned in. I don’t think that did it the justice that it deserved.”

Dan Ramsay, acting marketing director, BT Sport

FA and FIFA promote women’s sport

The Football Association (FA) has launched a campaign, #WeCanPlay, to tackle stereotypes around girls’ football after FA research found that over half of girls felt football was not a game for them and four in five girls who play do not feel confident about it.

FIFA is looking to promote the sport through a TV spot, “No Barriers”, which is being broadcast during World Cup matches, as well as through its international football development programme, Live Your Goals, which encourages more girls and women to play football.

However, many brands, including FIFA sponsors, have been slower to tap into the rising opportunity.

Missed opportunity for brands

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Adidas says it is aiming to be “the most visible and talked about brand at the tournament” by pushing its #BeTheDifference campaign, which will see it deliver behind-the-scenes imagery and real-time content on social.

It is also providing the context15 match ball as well as an exclusive colour of its X and ACE football boots.

Robert Hughes, global PR and social media director for adidas Football told Marketing Week: “The beauty of the FIFA Women’s World Cup is that it puts the female game under the global spotlight.”

He added that the tournament is an opportunity for the brand to “showcase the talent of our professional assets and connected with our female audience”.

However, despite its claims, it appears that its WWC campaign has not spread across all its platforms.

Richard Armstrong, founder of content marketing agency Kameleon, told Marketing Week that in the week leading up to the start of the tournament, adidas’ website showed “no mention of their association with the Women’s World Cup, a visibility level that would be deemed unthinkable a week away from their male counterparts’ tournament, for which they created 3,000 images and 300 videos”.

He added: “This apparent lack of interest in an event they are sponsoring I find somewhat staggering, especially given the fact that they are receiving a well-documented beating by Nike in the women’s market.”

FIFA sponsor Coca-Cola travelled to 12 Canadian cities in the two months leading up to the tournament with its FIFA Women’s World Cup Trophy Tour and has also released limited edition packaging for the event.

However, its only commercial and OOH advertising were local to Canada, while a look at its website today (11 June) showed no sign of its sponsorship.

Nike and SSE paving the way for brands

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This is not to say that no brands are realising the opportunity women’s sport presents.

SSE became the first major sponsor of the Women’s FA Cup this week when it announced a four-year title sponsorship deal in an effort to invest in the women’s game and create a country-wide programme of girls-only football activity.

Meanwhile, Nike has been one of the few brands to focus on women’s sport, announcing plans in December to “invest heavily” in womenswear in an effort to tap into what it called a “cultural shift” towards increased participation across sporting categories by women.

Its strategy appears to be working – it credited womenswear sales for revenues of $7.5bn in its third quarter fiscal 2015 results released in March, up 7% year on year.

However, such moves remain few and far between, representing a missed opportunity for brands.

“Brands needs to be braver and use their power to make statements of intent and support female sport, as I honestly think they could generate a healthy ROI and should truly support what is a growing market,” Armstrong added.

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