Women’s World Cup: How brands are leveraging a ‘culturally relevant’ moment 

Women’s football is quickly gaining momentum with the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup tipped to lure one billion viewers offering advertisers a momentous opportunity to tap into a “culturally relevant” conversation in a growing commercial market.

A target television audience of one billion people has been set for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France. More than 720,00 tickets have already been sold and a recent string of landmark commercial deals suggest women’s football is edging itself into the mainstream after decades of battling for brands, broadcasters and fans to take notice. 

You only have to look as far as Barclays to see the appeal of investing in women’s sport has surged. The bank set the bar high after signing a £10m deal with the newly formed Women’s Super League, marking the largest single investment in British women’s sport by a business.

Visa, one of six global FIFA sponsors, has also shown its support by pledging to spend the same on marketing the Women’s World Cup as it did the men’s in Russia. England team sponsors Lucozade Sport and Head & Shoulders are also promising equal prominence in advertising for the Lionesses.

However, that leaves the suggestion other sponsors – including FIFA’s five other global partners Adidas, Coca-Cola, Hyundai, Qatar Airways and Wanda – are still investing less in the women’s game than the men’s. FIFA is too: the winners of the Women’s World Cup will receive just $4m compared to $38m for the men.

And, there’s still a smaller audience for women’s football than men’s. Last year’s men’s World Cup in Russia attracted a global audience of almost 3.5 billion.

This means there is a chance for brands to tap into a zeitgeist around women’s football at a time when coming on as a sponsor is still (compared to the men’s game) cheap.

If the general public know who they are, and know their stories, they’re going to tune in which will raise the profile of the game.

Claire Keaveny, Lucozade Sport

Marie Binet, account and innovation director at Publicis Sport and Entertainment, points out that with the greater focus on women’s football and if the England team gets another good run in the competition (they made the semi-finals last time), those deals could be very good value for money.

“With greater focus on this tournament, and depending on individual player performances, we could easily see [England women’s] fan base double and therefore their engagement level, making their inventory an attractive proposition to many advertisers,” she adds.

There is also an opportunity to position as progressive, with 83% of the audience for the Women’s World Cup believing there needs to be greater strides for equality, according to GlobalWebIndex. But it also offers a chance to reach a more traditional football audience, with 54% of viewers predicted to be men.

But the BBC is the official broadcasting partner meaning opportunity to monetise a TV audience is limited. But the broadcaster is guaranteeing “full coverage” of the tournament across TV, radio and online and is promoting the competition with its ‘Change the Game’ campaign, paying homage to the 264 female footballers who will play in France.

That should bring the competition to the attention of a wider audience, trigger further interest and conversations.

Tapping into a timely conversation

The growing interest in women’s sport has been a key driver for brands to tap into a timely conversation and show their backing for the game.

Lucozade Sport is one of those brands looking to join the discussion through its partnership with England’s Lionesses. It sees an opportunity to “talk to people in a culturally relevant moment with a culturally relevant vehicle”, according to the company’s head of marketing Claire Keaveny.

“My hope is people are increasingly talking about the Women’s World Cup and we’ve created part of that conversation,” she says. “I want the general public to watch our advertising, see what we’re doing and be inspired to turn on their TVs when the Lionesses are playing. This is a real chance for us to be part of that change in perception.”

The BBC’s #ChangeTheGame campaign.

The drinks company has been a long-standing partner of the England men’s team but signed a deal with the women’s squad earlier this year in a bid to raise the profile of the sport and take advantage of the “groundswell” around female football.

“I started to notice a groundswell, particularly over the last few months for women’s sport in general. Because of the build-up to summer this year with the football World Cup and Netball World Cup, there’s real momentum behind it,” Keaveny explains.

“Across two of our best-selling flavours we’ve put the faces and names of some of those [Lionesses] players to try and make them household names. I truly believe that if the general public know who they are, and know their stories, they’re going to tune in, which will help to raise the profile of the game.”

Boots, which is a partner of all five UK and Irish national teams, is looking to align its core messaging with the women’s game. The retailer’s UK marketing director Helen Normoyle says 2019 felt like the right time to enter the women’s sport space for two key reasons: the growing popularity of the sport and the opportunity to leverage customer insights relating to the link between playing sport and feeling confident.

“As a brand, we were looking at ways to reach our customers and bring our purpose to life in a more contemporary way,” she says.

“Women’s football has never been more popular. With our reach up and down the country, we have a huge opportunity to bring their [players’] stories to life and hopefully inspire the next generation.”

Procter and Gamble-owned hair care brand Head & Shoulders has promised “equal footing” for both men and women as part of its partnership with the FA.

Katharine Newby-Grant, P&G’s marketing director for Northern Europe, says being able to show women on equal footing is great. But the brand wants to “actually showcase them” in its new campaign ‘Join the Pride’, which features TV presenter Claudia Winkleman as well as Lionesses Beth Mead and Keira Walsh.

Visa has promised to spend the same on marketing the Women’s World Cup as it did on the men’s in Russia.

“If you want to inspire future generations they need to see their role models, they need to say ‘that’s me and I can do that’. It’s a really important moment and there’s a lot more social consciousness and as a brand we felt compelled to take a stance on that,” she says.

“We can use our advertising as a force for good. We can help change society, to shift cultures, to shift biases.”

Aligning sponsorship with long-term strategy

It’s essential brands make sure sponsorship ties extend beyond the Women’s World Cup to ensure consumers recognise this is more than just an opportunistic marketing ploy. This is why its vital brands align their respective partnerships with long-term strategies.

Keaveny explains that the partnership works for Lucozade Sport because it fits with its overarching brand strategy and core message: ‘Made to Move’.

“The beauty of when partnerships really work is when it aligns with your brand strategy. Our brand strategy is getting more people moving more because the more they move, the more relevant Lucozade Sport becomes,” she says.

“We know the Lionesses are a strong asset that will help us to get more people moving more. Longer term, over the next three years, we will be using them to help us to achieve that mission.”

Keaveny admits it can be difficult to measure the success of sponsorship but she will be looking for a growth in sales and that the campaign helps the brand reach new audiences.

If you want to inspire future generations they need to see their role models, they need to say ‘that’s me and I can do that’.

Katharine Newby-Grant, P&G

“It’s really difficult to isolate what sponsorships or partnerships actually deliver for a brand. It really comes down to how good the idea is and how well you execute that partnership,” Keaveny explains.

“But success is a key brand metric: did we grow sales? Did we bring new people to the brand? And how effective and efficient is our advertising?”

Newby-Grant highlights that, as a brand, Head & Shoulders strives to instill confidence in men and women through its core messaging, which is something she believes aligns well with sports people who are consistently in the spotlight.

Similarly at Boots, the brand will draw on that notion of building confidence and Normoyle is adamant its partnership with the FA will extend well beyond the summer.

“It’s not just about the World Cup next month. This is a three-year partnership so we’ll be working very closely with the FA to work out what can we do in each country to really bring this partnership to life over the next three years,” she says.

It’s clear the key challenge for FIFA and other global governing bodies is to grow the game in a way that entices brands willing to commit to providing a platform for female football beyond major events. And while it might be a long way from matching the men’s game on a commercial level, small steps breed change.