Will the success of the Euro be a game-changer for brands and women’s sport?



Sporting history was made on Sunday July 31 with England’s victory at UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 against long-time rivals Germany. Not only did the fateful moment put a woman in her sports bra, celebrating the pinnacle of her career, on the front page of every newspaper in the country, without her objectification or sexualization, but the moment immediately felt like a cultural reset for sport and representation of women. The inclusion of women in traditionally male-dominated sporting fields, such as football, has been a slow and inconsistent burn. However, the public engagement in this year’s Championship and that electric, long-awaited winning goal on Sunday could prove to be a real game-changer. A sold-out Wembley Stadium welcomed a cheering crowd who had the look a little different from the typical football fan audience. And a whole country was moved to tears when the Lionesses finally ‘brought him home’.

So what might the lasting legacy of this historic moment look like? In the marketing world, this has certainly proven the value of supporting women’s sports, with brands like Heineken, Booking.com, Alipay, Visa, Nike enjoying record numbers of viewership. The fact is that UEFA only recently separated the brand sponsorships of men’s and women’s teams. Until a few years ago, brands that sponsored men’s football ended up with a package deal, where they also supported women’s teams. Melanie Baroni, commercial director at M&C Saatchi Sports & Entertainment, recalled that many Premier League clubs are still operating on the package system. “It was really interesting to see this case study on decoupling everything come to life. It worked,” says Melanie.

“The brands that found themselves in the women’s gaming space were so focused on supporting women, not just in sports, but also more generally. They put their money where their mouth is mostly. It wasn’t just a tag on the sponsorship. It was something awesome to see come to life and there were so many serious campaigns and brands that did a lot for the game in their own space,” she continues. brands such as Visa, Barkleys and Heineken, have taken the ‘go big or go home’ approach to sponsorship and have truly doubled down on the women’s game this year.

FCB Inferno Chief Strategy Officer Tom Lindo believes that while the legacy of victory will provide plenty of opportunities for women’s football to sit in its rightful place alongside men’s football, it will certainly spur brands to make a also step forward. , but the process must be genuine and transparent. “How brands leverage this opportunity in communications needs to be underpinned by their behavior,” says Tom. “It is understandable that many are taking advantage of this incredible moment, but they must ensure that it translates into a significant impact. Whether it’s giving professional gamers the sponsorship deals they deserve or using their platforms to advance relevant local causes.

For example, activating Uber which covers the fares of female Powerleague footballers during the darker months, according to Tom, will do much more for women’s sport than campaigns that seek only to break social stereotypes. Or Barkleys’ help to provide equal access to girls in high school, which Melanie expands on. “Such long-term thinking builds credibility beyond the tournament and will be the true marker of whether brands and sponsors are truly stepping up, changing the way we talk about the sport and ultimately driving participation. “, said Tom.

There’s also something about openness and authenticity surrounding this particular tournament. “Every girl and every woman has her period and is able to talk about it and the impact it has on performance, which is not tested enough at all. There is so much sports science around the body and psychology of men, but that’s changing and people are talking about it openly. Nothing should be taboo anymore. It’s fantastic that these conversations are happening. I think women and girls are just seen as doing sex. sport themselves, it’s pretty huge,” says Melanie.

Another major change the tournament marks is that conversations around women’s football don’t need to start on a back foot. There is no need to make juicy comparisons or brandish negative stereotypes to destroy or subvert them. “We need to move beyond the defensive mindset that has colored the approach to communications about women’s sport,” says Tom. “It just perpetuates outdated and negative perceptions, which were perhaps relevant five years ago when ‘This Girl Can’ was just coming out and the WSL turned professional, but just aren’t anymore. We don’t see that when brands contribute to conversations about tennis, gymnastics or athletics, and the Lionesses have more than earned the right that it’s not necessary in football. football was great, not because they were asked to support women’s football.”

Six weeks ago, Dark Horses released a report titled “The Seven Deadly Sins of Women’s Sports Marketing”, which outlined mistakes made by marketers that were really hurting the women’s game. “Sins like Unity,” says Dark Horses CEO Melissa Robertson. “The temptation to treat all female athletes as a homogeneous group of monochromatic unity. Or the Sin of Lust, prioritizing aesthetics over athleticism.

Melissa continues, “But with a point goal, a slow-mo ‘f**k off you f***** gp***k’, a sports bra and a swirling shirt, everything changed. Everything is now up for grabs from a brand perspective. And we’d like to think that much of what we’ve described in the report should be considered redundant. There’s a huge open green area for brands. They now have the chance to not only help build that momentum and transform women’s football into something that all girls can play, regardless of background, but that all football fans want to watch, regardless of gender .

Benjamin Blanco, head of global sponsorship at Heineken, as one of the brands that “put their money where their mouth is”, shared the sentiment. He describes his participation in Sunday’s game as one of the highlights of his career. He says the “incredible crowd” was there not because it was the women’s final, but because it was another huge game. “Brands will now naturally be drawn to this incredible audience and this incredible game that has been created. This in turn brings more funding into the game, more eyeballs on the game and these brands are actually supporting the women’s movement. It’s one thing to put your money and put your brand on a billboard because you want to be part of this now sudden movement, but that’s an entirely different and more important factor, than the kind of brands that come into women’s football really needs to do something about the game. Whether it’s taking it to different markets or putting their publicity support behind the actual sponsorship. According to Benjamin, it’s crucial that brands don’t just jump on the bandwagon because they think it’s “now the cool thing to do,” but because they have plans in place to bring something in the game.

Melanie, who tells me that M&C Saatchi Sports & Entertainment this year began working with Barclays on a plethora of gaming partnerships, knows this to be true. For them, the focus has been on the Women’s Super League, and now the Women’s Championship. “They do a number of local initiatives,” says Melanie. “They are working with the FA around a partnership to deliver equal access to football in schools for girls, with the aim of having fully equal access by 2024. I hope this is a catalyst and that a lot more schools get involved and do more for the community.” Melanie herself remembers playing women’s soccer and the huge differences she points out speak volumes about how the game has changed over the years. years, as well as what remains to be done Opportunities for girls in football were even rarer than today, with girls playing football until the age of 15 and then being directly transferred to the women’s league.” When you think about the tear system when you have such a wide range in the men’s league, you realize it doesn’t really exist for women in my time. Basically, at 15, you had to play women in their 20s and early 30s – different game, different strengths. The tiering system has changed a lot and it’s great to see. However, she remembers the start of the pandemic, when the January 2021 lockdown saw the boys’ academy able to continue playing despite the restrictions, as they were classified as elite, as opposed to the girls. “There is a different understanding that needs to happen at every level.”

The new understanding at all levels – both brand and company level – will start with changing stadium crowds and who is allowed to participate in football discussions. Benjamin explains that Heineken focuses more on the fans, no matter if it’s people watching at home or at the stadium. “It’s a huge perspective that we had to look at – it’s not women watching women’s football, or men watching men’s football, it’s about a women’s football fan, feeling sufficiently at home. comfortable watching the match in a pub at a screening, at home, or wherever.

“Let’s be very honest,” continues Benjamin. “We are trying to make football, whether men’s or women’s, a more inclusive and diverse place. But in the past there have been challenges – sometimes it wasn’t a particularly, say, positive environment for people to want to take children, or for a woman or a man to necessarily feel comfortable . But going back to the women’s final on Sunday… I was sitting there, really wishing my kids were there with me. That my wife was there and we were there as a family, because it was just an amazing occasion, not just a big football game.

So victory is a fact – the game was brought home by the Lionesses. But what butterfly effect this moment will have on feminist discourse, sport and how the nation views the two remains to be seen. “Going forward, brands that want to invest need to invest in the WSL to get people showing up week after week, not just every two years,” says Melissa of Dark Horses. “To invest in grassroots football, to make sure the next Beth Mead or Nikita Parris gets the ball in the back of the net and doesn’t slip through. And then invest in those players, once they’re found. People love sports because they love the stories and the players – the soap opera of it all. And after this tournament, they are spoiled for choice.

She continues: “Because while we may get carried away with the exhilaration of finally beating Germany or crushing Norway eight times, we have to remember that parity is still a long way off. The combined sponsorship deals of any the England women’s team don’t even match the deals for one of England’s lowest-end male players.

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