Are advertisers missing an ‘open goal’ with the Women’s World Cup?

Are advertisers missing an ‘open goal’ with the Women’s World Cup?

Advertisers still seem hesitant to get involved long-term in the Women’s World Cup, which kicks off in just under three weeks’ time, according to media experts and planners.

This is despite Fifa recording record ticket sales for this year’s tournament and record viewership of the Lionesses’ historic win at last year’s Euros, which was the most-watched women’s football match ever in the UK with a peak audience of 17.42 million viewers.

Misha Sher, global head of sport, entertainment and culture at EssenceMediacom told The Media Leader: “With less than a month to go until the Women’s World Cup kicks off in Australia and New Zealand, you’d expect a flurry of activity from brands across Europe. The game has gone through transformative growth since the last edition in France, but if we look at activity around this tournament, the lack of brand activation is hard to ignore.”

While Nike and Adidas have been active in “dialling up” their association with the tournament and participating teams, Sher said that is to be expected given their relevance to the sport and “shouldn’t be used as a barometer” of how far things have come since the last tournament in 2019.

“What’s clear is that most brands in other categories haven’t invested at the levels we would have hoped and I can only put that down to the tournament’s location.”

With many games airing early or mid-morning, the viewing environment is “far from ideal” for fans to get together or for any buzz to be created, as most viewership will take place at home. Michele Sarpong, head of audio, display and OOH activation and independent agency the7stars, agreed, calling the time difference a potential reason for “hesitance” from advertisers.

She also told The Media Leader that while there has not been a huge amount of interest from brands in advertising around the tournament, there is “always a slow uptake at the start”, outside of big sponsors, with most major sporting competitions.

Sarpong said: “I think we are in an extremely short termism period, so activation around sporting events outside of the big sponsors happen within a much shorter lead time and often occur once the competition has already kicked off.”

This was echoed by Demi Abiola, investment business director at mSix&Partners, who said he expected “the buzz” to start in the next few weeks. He added that brand interest in the tournament would depend on their category.

So far, Google Pixel has sponsored both the Men’s and Women’s Senior Teams in what is believed to be the first time both teams have been involved simultaneously in such a high-profile partnership deal.

Interest from advertisers is potentially “slightly more” than the last Women’s World Cup in 2019, according to Gemma Lee, partner, AV delivery at Dentsu agency Amplifi. But it is “nothing that’s been crazy”, which she said was similar to the last Men’s World Cup.

Sher remained optimistic regardless of the relatively subdued brand response thus far. He added: “This should not be seen as a setback to the women’s games as we are seeing growth in every metric, including broadcast rights, salaries, sponsorships, attendances, and general interest in the sport. The game is unrecognisable to where it was in 2019 and we should look at totality of everything that has happened in recent years than focus specifically on this tournament.”

A larger, more engaged audience than ever with £7bn spending power

In a recent interview on The Media Leader Podcast, Creativebrief director and columnist Nicola Kemp urged brands and the media industry to “hurry up” in support of women’s sport, and specifically the Women’s World Cup.

“I really, really think that any major sponsor should be having serious conversations internally about equity within sponsorship. We are not seeing a fraction of the investment in the Women’s World Cup as in the Men’s World Cup. We have to close that gap.

“As consumers, we are changing, our expectations of brands are changing and this is such a huge opportunity. I am actually quite jealous of anyone in the space sponsoring the Women’s World Cup because this is like an open goal, but the investment has to be there and the intention and the authenticity; and at the moment I do not think we are there yet.”

Research from Nano Interactive, a privacy-first targeted advertising company, predicted a larger and more engaged audience than ever for this year’s Women’s World Cup, with 67% of Brits planning to watch this year and 76% saying they were more interested than the last competition in 2019 (from a representative sample of 2,003 UK adults).

The survey also uncovered the expected audience is “diverse and highly valuable,” with on average a monthly disposable income of £100-£300, meaning the total audience would have a spending power of £7bn, alongside an almost equal gender split of 52% male to 48% female viewers and 42% of viewers aged 25-44 and 25% aged over 55.

However, nearly half of viewers (40%) said they were reluctant to share personal data for targeted advertising during the tournament.

Podcast: Jill Scott on how media attitudes to women’s football have changed

“The Women’s World Cup is set to be the biggest ever, not just for sports fans but for advertisers too,” said Nano Interactive chief revenue officer Niall Moody. “Our research shows huge numbers of the UK population will be following the tournament which represents a huge opportunity for advertisers to reach them both during matches but also when consuming football-related content.

“However, it’s clear that consumers also want their personal data respected with privacy-friendly advertising. Brands and advertisers who embrace truly ID-free targeting this summer will be able to target people online in an effective but respectful way that is future-proofed.”

At last year’s Future of Media conference, now-retired England footballer Jill Scott described how media and brands were “staying on board” with the women’s team after their Euros win, unlike previous competitions where it was hard to sustain interest.

However, she did stress that authenticity, not “jumping on the bandwagon” and investing in the long-term for grass-roots football was crucial.

She also highlighted joint initiatives like BT’s Hope United campaign to tackle online hate as an example of something showing more equal interest in the women’s game.

Which media owners and brands are currently involved?

The Women’s World Cup begins on 20 July with co-host New Zealand taking on Norway. Match broadcasts will be shared between ITV and BBC.

This is the first time ITV has broadcast the Women’s World Cup, but it has held the rights to show the England Women’s qualifiers for the World Cup and the Euros on free-to-air for the last few years.

ITV launched a campaign across its network this week entitled “The Pride Has Arrived”, to promote its coverage of the tournament.

The campaign was extended off network with a two week out-of-home activation which will run from July 10 until July 23, comprising digital 6-sheets and some 48-sheets.

The Media Leader understands ITV has secured a sponsor for its coverage of the tournament following a competitive pitch which will be announced imminently, and that it has had “really strong interest” from global brands across both video-on-demand (VOD) and airtime packages as well as for creative partnerships.

News UK’s TalkSport will carry commentary of all England and Ireland games, plus selected games in the knockout stages, while reporters will be watching all of the games in the tournament.

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