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Women’s World Cup: The ultimate business case for women’s sport

It’s been nearly three weeks since an epic finish to the Women’s World Cup in Australia & New Zealand. Given everything the tournament delivered, setting new records on and off the pitch, it would take this long just to reflect on how high the bar has been raised in women’s football. Spain ran out worthy winners and it’s a shame that their success and that of the organisers has been overshadowed by controversy off the pitch. The reality is that we witnessed another landmark moment for the women’s game and while we will certainly see important changes come out from the Spanish FA debacle, we shouldn’t lose sight of just how much was achieved down under.

The difference between 2019 and 2023 versions was stark. If you didn’t know the tournament was on in France, you could have missed it.  There was no missing the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. The marketing of the tournament was everywhere, from airports to city centres to public transport to players being displayed on high rises. Local brands left no stone unturned in leveraging this moment to show their support for the sport. To see these athletes elevated and celebrated in such a noticeable way was a sign that brands are seeing the benefit of being a part of this movement.

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The attendances were also through the roof especially for games that didn’t feature host nations. Given the popularity and the success of the Matildas (Australian team), it didn’t come as a huge surprise that their games were always sold out. But Panama v France and Colombia v Germany selling out 45,000 seater stadiums in the group stage? How does that happen? Well, when you look closer you realise that it’s a direct result of investment in marketing of the tournament and engaging with fans in a way that makes them feel a part of something. The organisers worked with Colombian influencers to ensure all marketing and communication was aimed directly at that audience and it worked brilliantly.

Colombia, alongside Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa and Jamaica showed that the quality of play and parity in the game have improved immensely in recent years. Who would have thought that perennial powerhouses like Germany and Brazil would fail to advance beyond group stages while three African countries advance to the knockout stages for the first time in the tournament’s history? What this demonstrates is that the game is becoming much more global and it’s attracting audiences that weren’t there before. As brands continue to look at this space and wonder whether it’s worth the investment, it’s worth considering just how quickly everything is changing. Which begs the question, why is brand investment still lagging when there is overwhelming evidence that if you build it, they will come. 

In the end, the tournament generated more than half a billion dollars in revenue and two billion people tuned in from across the world. These numbers are second only to men’s World Cup in Qatar which is extraordinary considering the advantage of time and investment which has benefited the men’s game in the past 100 years. 

So, what’s next? 

The growth of the game around the world is only going to accelerate and this is particularly relevant for brands. In a world where it’s becoming harder and harder to compete for people’s time, serving them more ads is not the answer. Investing in a cultural zeitgeist and being part of something that is pushing society forward is far more beneficial. It’s time to look through a different lense when considering whether investing in the women’s game makes business sense. The key here is not an ‘either or’ but rather an ‘and’ conversation when you consider where investments should be made. Investing in women’s football or other women’s sports does not need to come at the expense of men’s, but rather considered as a critical part of the marketing mix. When you invest in the women’s game, you invest in the very people who will grow up leading your business and buying your products. Your investment is also a signal to all your current and future employees about your belief system and we all know the power of culture to drive business outcomes.

So, to conclude, we’re in a unique moment in time the only question is whether brands will get on board this train before it leaves the station.