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Viewing figures and digital statistics both provide evidence that women’s football is entering the mainstream and can no longer be seen as a niche sport.
It has been estimated by Nielsen that Fox Sports averaged 25.4 million viewers for the Women’s World Cup Final which saw the United States clinch victory over Japan. This was a massive 88 per cent higher than the Final in 2011 on ESPN which involved the same two teams, clearly depicting the fact that women’s football, and soccer in general is truly on the rise in the US.
Audience figures were not just high in the US and in markets where games were being shown at favourable times. The Lionesses of England really captured the imagination of the English public, the semi-final match peaked at 2.4 million viewers on BBC One, a game which didn’t kick off until 12:30am, and the third/fourth play-off against Germany drew in an audience of 2.5 million viewers on BBC Three. To put this in to perspective, the Champions League final between Barcelona and Juventus which was shown on prime time on a Saturday night, only drew in an average of 4.18m on Sky and ITV combined.
The British public also turned to social media to show their support. The #Lionesses hashtag was regularly trending in the UK and even reached the top 5 worldwide trends during the semi-final defeat to Japan.
The events official platforms also reported huge traffic. The dedicated FIFA Women’s World Cup™ section on FIFA’s website received 20 million unique visitors, reporting a 178 per cent increase in daily visitors compared to 2011.
On social media, FIFA’s Women’s World Cup™ dedicated Facebook page received a 130 per cent increase in followers, the @FIFAWWC Twitter handle received an 81 per cent increase and there were 9 billion impressions of Tweets about the tournament.
If there’s one aspect where the tournament did have some slight room for improvement it is in the area of sponsorship. Women’s sport as a whole is a sleeping giant in terms of sponsorship opportunities and it was disappointing to see the Canadian NOC were unable to acquire such lucrative packages for 2015 as the German’s did in 2011. In 2011 all National Supporter packages sold out, raising €4 million per agreement.
FIFA’s blue-chip Partners activated some sizeable campaigns with adidas producing a specially-made match ball for the final in Vancouver and continuing their World Cup story-telling strategy through bespoke content on social media. Coca-Cola helped to drive interest in the event by staging a country-wide pre-tournament trophy tour.
The question really is whether or not FIFA and other major rights holders can unlock the potential of women’s football for sponsors? The bundling of women’s tournament marketing rights together with the men’s tournaments is problematic, as this limits brands’ opportunities to buy into dedicated women’s football packages. FIFA may wish that they had the flexibility to develop a strand of sponsorship properties dedicated entirely to the women’s game in order to better support both the LOCs and interested brand sponsors. If this were possible, sponsors would then get access to a full range of women’s football properties including youth tournaments and specific campaigns such as the Live Your Goals campaign which was born in 2011 ahead of the Women’s World Cup. The campaign lives on with the clear objective of making women’s football an accessible sport to girls and young women all over the world and is one that many brands would love to associate themselves with.
The success of the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ has helped to move women’s football into the realms of being a truly global and exciting platform; one from which it is now perfectly possible to build great marketing campaigns whilst simultaneously contributing to the growth of the sport. 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.
The ideal brand for women’s football, and women’s sport in general, would be one that makes a commitment to help grow the profile of the sport as well as putting their hands in their pockets to make it happen.
There have been a few brands that have signed partnerships within women’s sport in England, however not enough has been done to activate the sponsorship and take the sport to the next level. Two examples include SSE’s sponsorship of the Women’s FA Cup and Continental Tyres who are sponsors of the FA’s Women’s Super League and the England Women’s national team.
A further high profile sign of women’s football entering the mainstream is this inclusion of women’s footballers into FIFA’s EA Sports computer game for the first time this year.
To summarise, all the signs are good, with women’s football and the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ specifically breaking new ground. But now is the testing time. Following the highs of Canada will crowds in domestic women’s football grow, will the emergence of live broadcasts of women’s football such as BT’s coverage of the Women’s Premier League continue its upward curve and start attracting higher audiences and will sponsors start seeking out opportunities in this area more actively? Only time will tell but there’s no doubting the fact that Canada and the Lionesses has given the women’s game some real momentum.