There’s more to women’s football for brands beyond the World Cup

The much-anticipated Women's World Cup will kick off this Thursday, possibly amid the disappointment of many brands that were sidelined due to unprecedented interest and limited ad inventory. However, while the tournament will be a few weeks of party for women's football, advertisers have a bigger role to play in the code's long-term sustainability.

Amid palpable excitement from the commercial world, FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 will kick off this Thursday as Australia’s Matildas take on Ireland at Sydney’s Stadium Australia. 

The tournament, co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand, is shaping up to be the most attended women’s sporting event in history. The ticket sales crossed the one million mark back in June, surpassing that of the 2019 tournament in France. Australia, which will host 35 out of the 64 matches, reportedly accounted for over 75% of the total ticket sale. 

However, despite the platform’s obvious appeal to advertisers, many brands had to settle for watching on the sidelines this time around. 

Broadcast rights holder Optus Sport, and its free-to-air sub-licensee Seven Network, both sold out their advertising packages around the actual tournament a while ago. Optus Sport has all 64 games live and on-demand, while Seven will air 15 (including all of the Matildas games).

Optus Sport houses an array of football tournaments, including the Premier League, and broadcasted the previous Women’s World Cup in France. Clive Dickens, VP of television, content and product development at Optus, tells Mumbrella that the interest from advertisers last time was nowhere near this level.

The timezone difference in 2019 meant most of the games were on between 10pm and 6am. There was significant consumer interest, Dickens says, but advertisers were less keen. 

Clive Dickens

This time, apart from the obvious factor of the games being on home soil, Dickens explains that “with America being the world’s champion, England being the European champion, and Australia and New Zealand being the hosts, you’ve got a really good, perfect storm”. 

Meanwhile, another element that contributed to the scarcity of partnership opportunities is a joint sales policy made by Optus Sport and Seven. There are ten official partners, and they are guaranteed eyeballs across Channel 7, 7mate, 7plus and Optus Sport.

The partners are Adidas, Hyundai, Rexona and Qantas, while the sponsors are Cadbury, Coca-Cola, Kia, McDonald’s, Visa and Xero. 

Dickens says it’s a collective effort from both parties to “simplify ways to reach Australians” during an important moment like Women’s World Cup. 

“The audiences will be extremely high, particularly if the Matildas play well. But how the streaming audiences will fall between BVOD and SVOD is actually much harder to predict Optus Sport has a very high number of accounts and active users, as does 7plus.

“If we didn’t have this joint sales policy, it means that we’ll effectively create channel conflict or confusion in the ad market about where’s the best place to put their investment.”

Seven’s FIFA Women’s World Cup commentary team

Seven West Media’s chief marketing and audience officer, Melissa Hopkins, agrees with the sentiment. “For the audience that may watch the whole tournament end to end on both Seven and Optus Sport, they’re having a consistent brand experience. That is unique and attractive to any sort of CMO,” she says. 

The broadcaster pitched against other free-to-air networks, including Nine, Ten and SBS, for the rights. Seven West Media’s chief revenue officer, Kurt Burnette, says the fact that they were rewarded the contract is interesting in itself because Seven is not known for its football coverage. 

“We went after that really hard, and we went after it with passion,” he says. 

There are expectations around numbers, of course, of at least a million viewers for the Matildas games across national and digital. But Hopkins says she would love to see that figure double. 

“For us as a business, this is bringing in a whole lot of new viewers or non-regular viewers on Seven’s platform where we also get to showcase the other content we have, such as The Voice,” she says. 

“But then again, I can talk about all the commercial things, but we have a passion for Seven to become a part of the fabric of Australia … it is a big opportunity for us to remind Australians around why they should be watching more Seven.”

Hopkins and Burnette 

Optus Sport and Seven agree that the Women’s World Cup is an attractive platform for advertisers, due to its ability to develop a positive brand association, especially in Australia. 

As FIFA’s chief women’s football officer Sarai Bareman said to the New Zealand Herald podcast, the Matildas are “the darlings of the country”. She admitted that she is concerned about New Zealand’s ticket sales because its national team, the Football Ferns, doesn’t command the same selling power. 

According to independent company Futures Sport and Entertainment’s February survey, the Matildas are the fourth most loved national sports team, and the only women’s team in the top five. 

Optus is in an interesting position where it shares both the brand and broadcaster perspectives for this particular event. Having engaged in a very public topic   its cyber attack for the past year, Dickens says Optus is keen to utilise the “optimistic, positive platform” that is the Women’s World Cup as an important part of its own brand recovery. 

“I believe all brands know that it’s a platform for inspiration, not just a platform for sport or for women’s football,” he says. 

“It is a platform for inspiration, particularly among young Australians … who will go on to use that inspiration and do other inspirational things that aren’t just about sport.”

CommBank Matildas training at Marvel Stadium on 13 July. Source: Football Australia

Tom Rischbieth, head of commercial and events at Football Australia, is appreciative of the Cup’s phenomenal impact on the business and the sport itself. However, he says there’s more work to do to sustain the long-term commercial interest in the code.

Earlier this week, before their opening match with France, the Matildas released a video calling on domestic and international governing bodies to further invest in the women’s game by addressing problems such as the prize pay gap.

Football Australia launched its Legacy 23 strategy one year after Australia was announced as the Cup’s co-host, to drive long-term results after the tournament’s buzzing atmosphere will eventually and inevitably fade. The goals include reaching gender parity in participation by 2027 and improving infrastructures and facilities. 

Rischbieth knows the challenge of commercialising women’s football won’t go away altogether, despite Australia housing some of the best players in the world. However, he is positive about the code’s outlook and how Football Australia can work with brand partners. 

“From a national team’s perspective, we don’t play as regularly as home and away seasons,” says Rischbieth. “You get the Matildas playing only every month or two, according to the FIFA calendar.

“But the benefit that we have is that those moments where they are playing are arresting national attention.”

Rischbieth says brands that want to be involved after the dust settles for the World Cup will have opportunities around the periphery, including through programs of recruiting female referees or by building female-friendly female facilities around the country. 

“It’s going to be a party for four or five weeks, but we see the growth in the game only continuing to accelerate,” he says.  

“The trends around fandom, purchasing power and participation are all going in the right direction, which is why we’re we’re pretty bullish about what the state of the game is going to be for many, many years beyond the World Cup.”


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