Ruth Grimoldby, PR and Communications Director at Prism Sport + Entertainment looks back at 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup and assesses learnings for brands to capitalise on the growing global interest around women’s sport.
The 2023 Women’s World Cup has been hailed as the most successful in the sport’s history, smashing records on and off the pitch. World Cup fever has taken over and the popularity of women’s football has been well and truly cemented across the globe.
1.4m tickets were purchased for the 64 matches with huge stadiums filled, surpassing the record total for the tournament set eight years ago in Canada. With broadcast, the Women’s World Cup was forecast to reach two billion viewers worldwide or nearly a quarter of the global population. (An increase of 79% from four years ago.)
However, the headlines about media rights going into the tournament were not completely positive. Media rights to the Women’s World Cup were sold separately to the men’s equivalent for the first time, which led to a standoff in some key European markets along with Japan. This was only resolved five weeks before the tournament kicked off with no details of the negotiated price ultimately released.
Australia’s Matilda’s continued to highlight the debate around equal pay, with all 23 members of the host nation’s squad featuring in a video criticising the gender disparity in World Cup prize money. Team prize money stands at US$110 million, a 300% increase from 2019, but still just a fraction of the US$440 million awarded in Qatar 2022.
Over the past month, we have witnessed football fever taking hold of joint host nation Australia with the host cities and local organising committee organising events and fan activity, on a scale that dwarfed France 2019. According to Seven Network, 9 out of 10 of Australia’s TV viewership tuned in to watch the Matilda’s semi-final match against the Lionesses, making it the most-watched TV event in the country’s history, peaking at 11.15 million viewers.
With the success on and off the field in the world cup, how have brands navigated the space and capitalised on record-breaking audiences?
Google Pixel Increasing Visibility in Women’s Sport
Over the past few years, Google has launched itself into sports sponsorship, with some notable deals including McLaren Racing, MLB and more recently The F.A. and women’s teams, as the tech giant moves their focus onto women’s sports. Aside from the new campaign around Pixel products and the launch of Pixel FC, Google announced a huge step forward on their search engine and deepened their investment in gender equity in sports. via media and league partnerships aimed at increasing coverage and visibility, Google now provides easy access to live streams and highlights directly from the Search results page.
Pixel and the Women’s Sport Trust found only 2% of print football coverage and 6% of TV football news in the UK covers women’s games.
TikTok and FIFA Maximising Gen Z interest in Women’s football
The Women’s World Cup is the latest sports property to align with the social channel, following a title partnership with the Women’s Six Nations the platform is keen to continue investing in women’s sports and its partnership with FIFA has brought bring fans closer to the action with content, including behind-the-scenes moments, team arrivals, live pre-match content promoting the games and where to watch it, match highlights, player and coach reactions. TikTok seems to be the ideal partner for football as it has enabled it to tap into audience growth and appetite as they pursue a wider fanbase through a variety of creative ways.
A global study from WSC Sports revealed on the eve of the Women’s World Cup that growth in avid followers will increase 57% from the 929m from the last edition in 2019 to 1.472bn.
#fifawwc 3.3B Views
#Lionesses 1.9 B views
Read more about engaging Gen Z with sport here wpp.com/en/wpp-iq/2023/05/gen-z-a-lesson-for-sports-brands
The FIFA Women’s Health, Wellbeing, and Performance Project.
Going into the tournament, injury concerns around female players were a huge topic of concern and in the current landscape of women’s health in sports, the urgency to develop this area is evident. The FIFA Women’s Health, Wellbeing, and Performance project is committed to dismantling barriers that have previously impeded the realisation of women’s full potential in sports. This a huge step forward in not just dedicated medical research funding for women but key pillars of education, research and awareness which are posed to drive transformative change for women in sport.
FA looking for a Solution with Nike
Throughout the World Cup, fans, players and pundits have called upon Nike to produce a replica version of Mary Earps’ goalkeeper shirt. This isn’t just an England or Nike problem. There has been an outcry in Australia over the Matilda’s kit and Adidas are also not selling goalkeeper shirts, while fans outside Brazil have reported struggling to buy a shirt with ‘Marta’ on the back for what was her sixth World Cup.
The Lioness’ kit was unveiled by Nike in April 2023, with images of Earps cut out of the promotional material. She spoke passionately and at length about the damaging message she believes this sends to aspiring goalkeepers. Nike’s decision not to sell goalkeeper shirts is based on their commercial strategy, but Earp’s Manchester United Adidas WSL shirt sold out last season and was the third best-selling shirt for the club overall.
Did Nike and other sponsors miss out on not only a large number of sales but a tremendous opportunity to grow women’s goalkeeping globally?
Since reaching the final of the tournament, the FA have suggested they have a ‘plan in place’ to resolve Mary Earps’ replica shirt issue as a petition, which was kickstarted by a 16-year-old fan, nears 42,000.
Team USA and Fox Sports
Ahead of the tournament, US broadcaster Fox Sports kicked off its tournament marketing with a flagship promo focusing on the US Women’s National Team titled ‘Team USA v Everyone’. With the USWNT seeking an unprecedented third consecutive title, the creative idea is that the American players know the rest of the world is out to get them: fans and players across the planet want them dethroned. Leaving the audience with the question… ‘What will it take to stop the US team? – Oops sorry Fox Sports, that content didn’t age well, it ended up with the team labelled arrogant, unlikable, and of course, some excellent gifs circulated on social at the expense of the USWNT.
Football has long been one of the main catalysts of change in women’s sports, but this tournament has shown that there is still so much untapped potential for brands to engage with a large fan base. The Gen Z population has contributed in a massive way to the popularity of this tournament and has impacted how fans absorb and connect with content. The next step for women’s sport is to take learnings from the role that social media has played in football, especially TikTok, with engaging Gen Z fans. Alongside game-based content and stats, audiences want compelling storytelling, behind-the-scenes player content, inspirational grassroots stories and fan interaction. Fans of women’s football feel closer to their heroes as they get better access and raw content with the stars of the game.
The figures have shown that a record-breaking audience has watched and engaged with this World Cup globally, so can brands who did not activate before the tournament jump on and ride the wave and make the most of World Cup fever?