What a fortnight it has been for women’s football, writes Icons.com Sales Manager, Ben Soley. Amid the feverish anticipation for this summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, club-level attendance records were broken and investment in the sport continued to reach new heights both on and off the pitch.
It is becoming increasingly evident that women’s football has a huge potential for rapid and wide-ranging growth, as well as the ability to become a very lucrative industry in its own right. And, as with any industry exhibiting these trends, now appears to be as good a time as any to climb aboard the bandwagon and invest in an area of sport experiencing an explosion in popularity.
Two Sundays ago saw perhaps the most prominent and staggering example of how far the women’s game has progressed. At Atletico Madrid’s new home – the setting of this year’s men’s UEFA Champions League final – a world record was set for the highest attendance (60,739) at a women’s club game.
To put that into context, there were over 7,000 more fans were in attendance for the women’s game in Madrid than were at the home of Real Betis, as Lionel Messi stunned the world with a magical hat-trick.
FC Barcelona Femení’s victory means Atletico’s lead at the top of the table is cut to three points with just six games to go. The evident enthusiasm for these fixtures only enhances the reputations of its stars, like Lieke Martens, a recent Icons signee.
While it might go without saying that more television viewers will have tuned in to watch Messi and company than Martens and her team, the numbers at the Wanda Metropolitano paint a very real picture of women’s football as it begins to benefit from larger platforms and more stable and respectable infrastructure.
On top of this, coverage of women’s football is vastly improving. The Telegraph this week launched a dedicated Women’s Sport supplement and a daily section in its printed publication. The initiative has been widely celebrated and has led to comments that echo Clare Balding’s affirmation that “the tide is turning”.
This all comes on the back of a commercially successful European Championship in 2017, which was watched by a record-setting cumulative TV audience of 178 million. Now it’s reported that another record has been broken as nine countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Japan and South Africa, have submitted formal bids to host the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
The next step forward is clear. In order for these enterprises to become sustainable the women’s game still needs yet more funding from large corporations, the types behind the big-name brand sponsorships that power men’s sports.
Enter Barclays. A long-serving partner to the Premier League, Barclays last week penned a £10m sponsorship deal with the Women’s Super League (WSL), the top tier of women’s club football in England. The groundbreaking deal sets a precedent for other big-money deals in this country and around Europe. Beverage industry giants are also leading the way with prominent partnerships between Budweiser and the England Lionesses and Gatorade and Manchester City.
Here at Icons, we work closely with such blue chip partners, such as Mastercard, Pepsi and Heineken, helping them promote their sponsorships of tournaments such as the UEFA Champions League. Big name brands have the spending power to help support women’s football, to help it grow, but they are also understandably interested in a return on their investment.
It is clear now that there is rising interest in the women’s game, led by these visible and record-setting increases in gate numbers and TV viewing figures. What should follow, naturally, is increased investment from sponsors wanting to get in early and capitalise on the sport’s growth.
Earlier this year, we met with The Football Association to discuss the Official England Licensed Memorabilia range and licence. We agreed there were huge positives to take away from the Lionesses’ success at the recent European Championships and that the team has great potential. It’s a young, hungry and undeniably exciting team. Potential like this always has the ability to excite potential partners and sponsors on the lookout for areas of rapid growth where they can find a speedy return on investment.
A World Cup year is a crucial time for any sport, but especially affects one that so often experiences scepticism from outsiders. With women’s football on a remarkable and culturally-important rise in the build-up to this summer’s tournament in France, clubs, brands and media outlets are actively increasing their involvement in various ways.
We can see the potential the sport has – that’s why we signed with one of its brightest stars earlier this year. Perhaps now it is time for more brands and corporations to sit up and pay attention.