Spain’s hard-fought victory over England in the FIFA Women’s World Cup Final marked a record-breaking tournament this year. Attendance records were shattered before the knockout phase had even begun. Globally, more than a billion people watched the tournament from home, with hospitality revenues up 534% from 2015.
This and other hallmarks – such as the 50th anniversary of the US Open offering equal pay to male and female players – illustrate the recent elevation of women’s sport. Until 2019, athletes were not compensated for taking part in the Women’s World Cup, whilst the FA Women’s Super League (WSL) lacked a competition prize pot. Most clubs relied on their men’s teams being willing to spare funds.
Brands have played a significant role in reducing pay inequality in women’s sport. The WSL was able to turn fully professional due largely to its multi-year, multi-million sponsorship with Barclays. The FA now lists 17 commercial partners in the women’s game, up from 6 in 2017, with women’s sport being described as a ‘sponsor’s dream’ in some circles.
The benefits for brands in backing women’s sport come to light in three main areas:
In a survey by consultancy Revolt, 50% of fans said being a women’s football supporter was central to their identity. Fans of women’s sport are 24% more likely to think positively of a brand sponsoring their favourite team vs. fans of men’s sport. And, according to data from World Cup hosts Australia, these benefits are even more significant among Gen Zers.
Since commercial rights to women’s football started to be sold separately from men’s partnerships – a process known as ‘unbundling’ – investment has more than doubled, according to Nielsen. Typically, such sponsorships are offered to brands at just 10-20% of an equivalent men’s sponsorship. As interest in women’s sport grows, price tags are set to rise but, for now, brands can forge connections to fans at a fraction of the price.
Women’s football today is thriving. Yet years of under-investment have created long-term inequities, like sub-par facilities for players and fan frustrations with accessibility. Brands who invest in women’s sport can use their platform to push for further narrowing of the opportunity gap, as did Barclays when highlighting the poor condition of WSL pitches compared with those used by men’s Premier League teams.
Combining these three elements can foster brand legacy in women’s sport, and opportunities are not limited to periods when the women’s sport spotlight is at its brightest, such as the Women’s World Cup or International Women’s Day. During the Men’s World Cup in 2022, Adidas devoted its Equal Play campaign to highlighting gender inequality, resulting in an 11.7% increase in brand buzz and a 149% rise in online conversations. Likewise, Vodafone launched its ‘I Exist’ partnership with football club Besiktas on a platform of improving women’s social conditions in Türkiye, culminating in a 13% boost to its reputation in the country.
As these examples show, the recent World Cup has merely accelerated the unstoppable rise of women’s sport globally. As the dust settles on a memorable tournament, the onus is firmly on brands to forge long-term successful partnerships with fans and together drive lasting social change.