2019 may not be over just yet, but the FIFA Women’s World Cup was one of the highlights of the sporting year.
Only the men’s Rugby World Cup final between England and South Africa attracted more viewers on UK TV than the England Lionesses when they took on the USA in a semi-final in Lyon.
As an official sponsor of that tournament, Visa were among the major brands to take a lead on growing the women’s game, pledging to spend the same amount of money on their activations around the 2019 Women’s World Cup as they did on their 2018 Men’s World Cup activity.
Now, with women’s football continuing to break domestic attendance records, Visa is maintaining that promise with the announcement of 15 new members of Team Visa - a stable of 15 women’s footballers from diverse countries and levels of recognition who will be supported by the brand.
“We kept good to that promise,” Adrian Farina, Head of Marketing - Europe, Visa, told Sport Industry Group about the brand’s 2019 Women’s World Cup spend. “We committed to invest in the media and in our marketing activation around Europe. It was done more out of principle than out of an economic return on investment in the short term, because what we're doing is investing in our advertising campaign to a level that people see it, and now we have to invest behind Team Visa to the same level.”
That investment in the Women’s World Cup was an attempt to boost the media coverage of women’s football. It involved partnerships with The Guardian, The Telegraph and Sky Sports in the UK, as well as other outlets across Europe, which Visa sees as an investment in coverage.
“It has to do with putting our money where our mouth is,” said Farina. “It's linked to our purpose. If you if you read our corporate website you will read words about universal acceptance, about helping communities thrive, helping individuals thrive. So how can we help individuals and communities thrive? One example is we can help women fulfil their vision of they want to be.
“With the partnership with The Telegraph and The Guardian in the UK, the result of that was that they were able to cover more journalists’ hours and we became their sole sponsor for both - 100% of the ads during the World Cup on The Telegraph and The Guardian were Visa’s.
“Yes, that allowed us to have great visibility, but the truth is it resulted in better coverage of the World Cup.”
So successful was that in the brand’s eyes, that it has partnered with publishers again to promote its sponsorship of the Great British High Street initiative, helping drive visibility for small or independent businesses around the UK. And while Visa’s latest women’s football initiative - Team Visa - might look like direct player sponsorship, Farina points out that he hopes it will have a wider impact on the sport as a whole.
“Shining a spotlight on the players will go a long way,” he said. “When you're a kid, you look up to those players, and the fact that they look cool doing what they do, winning trophies, becoming household names, you see them in endorsement deals, all the things that drive attention.
“But it’s also about what they do off the pitch - or what they do after it. It shows younger girls that there's a path. You can play professionally for 10 or 15 years, and then there's a professional career waiting for you. And whatever you choose, it's not done: it's not over. You can stay in the sport, you can go into business or sports marketing or whatever you want - be in journalism, become a commentator.
And that allows a parent to go from saying ‘Don't leave school for football,’ to saying ‘Why not?’ Because there's a life after it.”
But helping Team Visa players to become household names is, of course, also a goal for the brand, whose 2018 Men’s World Cup ambassador was Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Visa has always partnered with a wide mix of talent across its Team Visa initiatives for past Olympic Games - from the Nigerian bobsleigh team to the world’s most decorated Olympian Michael Phelps - and will be in a position to tell the stories of Team Visa.
But Farina says it wants to go beyond the lazy metaphor that many have fallen into around women’s football.
“You saw a lot of that during the World Cup: brands who just came along at the last minute and tried to do a good story about overcoming the negatives or preconceptions. We stayed away from that. For us, it was more about driving positive change, driving positive acceptance of the women's game.
“Our campaign for the Women's World Cup was around the concept that one moment can change. And our campaign will see inspired by the stories that we heard from the players themselves: how it was your first coach who told you keep on playing, your dad or mum who drove you an hour and a half each way to get to training, or the first pair of boots that were actually your boots - not your brother’s old ones. Just one moment go on can change the game for good.
“So by being the big sponsor that we are, we are we we hope to contribute in our own way to that one moment.”
The level of investment into the women’s game by brands like Visa is unprecedented, but is starting to give the sport quite a number of ‘moments’. From games held at Wembley and other iconic stadiums, to televised World Cup matches becoming shared national moments, the sport is starting to lay foundations with a little help from its friends.