This week marks the start of the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 and with expectations it will draw the biggest crowds ever seen at a Women’s European Championship, it feels we’re on the cusp of forever change for the women’s game.
Women’s sport has been under the spotlight for a relatively short time; however, women have undoubtably made the biggest waves in sport over the last decade.
From the introduction of boxing (for women) at the London Olympics 2012 and Nicola Adams’ historic boxing gold, to 2017, when the women’s team drew Cricket crowds and won the ICC World Cup. You could write a list of significant moments in women’s football – but most recently the 2019 Women’s World Cup was the first time the women’s game felt mainstream.
This shouldn’t play down there is still a job to be done. 2018 Women in Sport research showed coverage of women’s sport peaked at ten percent of total UK sports coverage but there is reassurance in the speed of change.
2021 saw record viewings for domestic women’s sport – almost 33 million people tuned in to watch The Hundred and Women’s Super League and Chelsea FC Women’s Instagram interactions proved higher than 12 of the men’s Premier League teams during the 21-22 season.
As we await the first whistle of the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 tournament, expectation is set for it to be the biggest crowd pleaser yet – and with football emerging as a bastion for women’s sport the brands are already flooding the pitch.
In the run up to the tournament we’ve seen Nike shed light on women’s inclusivity with its campaign, Everyone’s Game launching with a disruptive cover story in Elle magazine, featuring the Lionesses as never seen before – sharing personal stories of being under-represented.
Adidas continues to champion bespoke women’s sportswear and realign the biases in sport. It recently announced a collaboration with winners of Saudi Arabia’s first-ever women’s football league and continues to work with grassroots female talent such as Hackney based, Romance FC, through its Adidas Football Collective.
The announcement of this year’s tournament sponsors who include the likes of female shave brand, Venus, TikTok, Lego, Pandora and Starling bank – are a clear marker of transition into mainstream entertainment.
But do these brands have a right to shape the game?
Ultimately, sponsorship brings in money that takes women’s sport beyond community funding levels. As well as the financial investments in teams and players, women’s sports sponsorships advance equity and enact meaningful change within the sporting arena.
The other thing brands do masterfully, is tell stories – and the realness of stories present a powerful opportunity. The confluence of sponsors, broadcasters and athletes is creating opportunity that hasn’t historically existed – to turn a spotlight on the women. It isn’t just the thrill of the game viewers enjoy – it’s the stories that hook audiences too.
An example of this is Venus, as a champion of women who re-write the rules, the brand is leaning into its purpose of showing-up in spaces women do not feel comfortable in their skin, to understand better the barriers preventing women and girls into sport.
The brand recently published research identifying skin consciousness as a major barrier for women. Through its latest campaign #MoveYourSkin it hopes to normalise seeing real women playing sport; scars, rolls, bumps – and all, to inspire the next generation into sport.
England and Chelsea footballer Eniola Aluko touched on the important contribution brands can make by challenging the issues – the key is acknowledging the benefit should be mutual: “they will help themselves, as well as the sport”.
While there will always be naysayers slamming the motivation of brands, if the common cause results in a positive outcome for women’s sport, there’s got to be a win in that.
Here are some principles for brands to consider:
- Understand where the needs lie – putting your personal agenda aside, truly listen to those who are invested in the sport and consider where your impact will be felt the most
- Think long-term – cultural change doesn’t happen overnight, before you commit ensure you are in it for the long haul and define a role for women’s sport in your long-term marketing strategy
- What is your legacy? – consider the endgame, the legacy you wish to leave and define this in a tangible way so there is a clear course of action toward achieving it
- Don’t forget communities – if you’re investing in women’s sport ATL ensure you’re impacting communities at grassroots, this should be aligned your legacy
- Pair-up – women’s sport is complex, and you will need a partner to help you navigate it, a partner will offer informed and meaningful insight, add credibility to your cause and they will value your support also
- Think beyond the numbers – Brands have a wealth of business, marketing, and commercial knowledge to offer, if your marketing budgets don’t extend to a major sports sponsorship deal be smart about ways you can add value