Morgan Brennan, Head of women’s football media brand Indivisa, explores how far women’s football has really come since the 2017 Women’s Euro and how brands are better understanding women’s football fandom.
Prior to the start of the 2022 Women’s Euro, there were numerous documentaries and features being broadcast which highlighted how far women’s football has come, transitioning from grainy black and white footage of a by-gone era to the multicoloured madness of the Women’s Super League.
But while that progress has been staggering, a better comparison is how far the Women’s Euro and women’s football has moved forward in only the past five years since the 2017 competition.
In 2017, the best-attended match of the tournament was the final between the Netherlands and Denmark, with 28,182 fans almost filling FC Twente’s De Grolsch Veste stadium.
Fast forward to 2022 and that record has been smashed by England’s opening match at Old Trafford which was watched by almost 70,000 fans in the stands. That record will be broken again when the Final is played at Wembley Stadium at the end of July.
More importantly, as this tournament is about more than just the first and final match, it was recently announced that the 2022 Women’s Euro saw more spectators at stadiums across the first fifteen matches than the 2017 tournament did during its duration.
Outside of the Euro 2022 tournament, women’s football has seen other records being broken, most notably by Barcelona’s matches in the latter stages of the recent Women’s UEFA Champions League.
Of course, these attendances and equally impressive viewing figures need to be put in perspective.
While Women’s Champions League and Euro showpiece matches perform well, this isn’t always reflected in club football, with many matches struggling to get attendances in four figures.
Can England hosting and performing well at the Euro change this? I think and hope so.
Another sizeable change since the 2017 final is UEFA’s decision to unbundle sponsorship rights for women's competitions, a decision which has resulted in a greater buy-in from partners, compared to the past when those rights came as part of the deals for the men’s competitions.
This decision has not only resulted in more money coming into the women’s game, to the extent that it even surprised some at UEFA, but also meant that these brand partners are fully invested in activating these rights and driving the game forward.
It’s also brought in brands not previously associated with football, such as Pandora, Lego and Starling Bank.
It’s been interesting to see how brands have activated their partnerships. Purpose seems to run through most campaigns, as it tends to do with a lot of modern marketing, but with the women’s game that focus can be critical.
It's true that a greater proportion of women and children attend women's football matches than attend men's games, but what brands seem to be realising is that women’s football viewership is not best viewed through gender but interests and identity. Fans of women’s football are all more likely to identify with social issues, they over-index on being vegan and caring about equal rights and are more likely to identify as feminists. Brands are recognising this and on top of financial investment, they recognise the importance of making change.
EE’s latest Hope United ad highlights the sexist online abuse that female players often face. Heineken’s Fresher Football campaign tackles the deep-rooted gender bias in the media and search engine algorithms, while Adidas's Pitch, Please campaign is addressing the challenges around inequality of access in grassroots football by providing pitch access for women, girls and non-binary players.
While Indivisa covers both the elite and grassroots game, we recognise the importance of grassroots football in growing the women’s game and it’s positive to see brands doing the same. As well as providing the stars of tomorrow, women’s and non-binary grassroots football provides community, fosters fandom and drives the game forward in ways that you don’t see or perhaps aren’t needed with the men’s game.
As the founder of grassroots club Victoria Park Vixens and someone who has played football since they were a child, seeing where we are now and how quickly we’ve progressed since 2017 is really positive. As is how the profile of the players has transformed.
It’s great to see Lionesses adorning Pepsi bottles, men, women and children wearing shirts with female players’ names and numbers on, billboards of larger-than-life Lucy Bronze and the wider media giving profile to more players. Growing up in Australia, I’m sure that if women’s football then would have been where it is today, I’d have probably had pictures of Sam Kerr on my wall rather than Tim Cahill and it feels good knowing there are fans of all genders today being able to identify with women players.
We’re in a good place and brands are playing their part, but we can’t be complacent. We all need to drive forward and take this momentum into next season, into the 2023 Women’s World Cup and beyond.