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Meg Lay
| 24TH AUG 2023

Zeno Thinks: Can you hear the roar? How the Women's World Cup ignited a media frenzy and brand engagement

It’s been 5 days since the Lionesses' defeat to Spain in the Women’s World Cup final and whilst my heart still hurts, we cannot forget this historical moment. And no, I’m not just talking about the women doing what the men have failed to do in nearly 60 years but rather the football fever that took over not just the UK, but the world.

 Viewership of women’s football has never been higher:

  • An audience of 21.2 million watched the BBC's television coverage of the World Cup tournament
  • In Australia, the Matildas’ win over Canada became Channel Seven's most-watched programme this year
  • The U.S. game against the Netherlands broke records for the highest-ever English language viewership of a group stage match in women’s FIFA World Cup history

 And all of this has been backed by a swathe of media coverage across UK publications – from front page headlines to brands taking out ads to show their support for the team – the Lionesses have been dominating.

Media coverage of women’s football has been on the rise for the past few years. Between the 2015 and 2019 Women’s World Cups, the number of articles published about the competition rose from 124 in 2015 to 642 in 2019.During this year’s tournament, The Guardian alone produced over 400 articles.

We’ve also seen brands pledge their allegiance to the Lionesses – from Burger King rebranding to Burger Queen to KitKat encouraging the Lionesses to have a break after the final.

Alongside PR stunts, we also saw a range of brands focus on the important message of the perception gap between the male and female sport. For example, Sports Direct launched its ‘Wake Up to the Future of Football’ campaign to encourage fans to see the female game as the future of the sport. 

In addition, what the rise of female football does show are the different opportunities open to brands. Unilever was the first major company to throw its weight behind the Lionesses with its personal care brands, including Sure and Dove, becoming official sponsors. This marked the first time a range of personal care producers have sponsored a World Cup, in either the men’s or women’s tournament. 

However, it hasn’t all been positive. Nike has been heavily criticised for initially refusing to sell the shirt of Mary Earps, England’s goalkeeper and winner of the Golden Gloves, despite being the official kit of the Lionesses and launching its Women’s World Cup ad campaign. 

Consumer scepticism is high and trust for businesses is at an all-time low. Consumers have increasingly hit back at brands for greenwashing and this June saw brands try and jump on the Pride month bandwagon only to be accused of pinkwashing (see this article on how to authentically support the LGBTQI+ community).

And sports-washing is no different.

As a brand’s purpose becomes increasingly more important, it’s no longer enough to talk the talk without walking the walk. Consumers see through flashy, multi-million-pound advertising campaigns to lift the lid on what brands are doing beyond high-publicity international tournaments.

So how can brands avoid being accused of sports-washing?

It’s simple really.

Build authenticity from the bottom up which will in turn drive credibility. If brands want to be seen as advocates for levelling the playing field in men's and women’s sports, they need to do so all year round and provide more funding for not only football but ALL female sports at professional and grassroots levels.

Brands that only come out of the woodwork every four years for a major tournament will soon be found out. 

Sponsorship and media presence are a mighty way to start getting people behind these teams and players but with the Women’s Super League set to kick off in October, I’ll be carefully watching how brands continue to support the women’s game.