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European women’s football: Interview with Peter Willems, head of marketing activities and sponsorship at Uefa

European women’s football: Interview with Peter Willems, head of marketing activities and sponsorship at Uefa

By: Matthew Glendinning

15 Nov 2017
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Following the third Leaders Generation XX Series Think Tank on ‘Changing the Game in Women’s Sport’ in London yesterday, Uefa’s marketing chief Peter Willems responded to key question put by Sports Sponsorship Insider on the future of women’ football sponsorships in European competitions.

Uefa's plans include the unbundling of sponsorship rights from the men's competitions and, potentially, a different structure in terms of sponsorship tiers.

For more information about Uefa’s marketing campaign around women's sport 'Together #WePlayStrong' visit weplaystrong.org 

What were Uefa’s objectives as the main partner of this week’s Leaders Think Tank into women’s football?

Uefa is firmly committed to growing the number of girls playing football and building strong, sustainable women’s competitions therefore opportunities such as yesterday’s think tank are invaluable in opening up the debate around innovative sponsorship models which can help grow the game. What we want to do is really excite brands and organisations about the new sponsorship opportunities being created, all aimed at accelerating that growth of women’s competitions. 

With Together #WePlayStrong we have kicked off a big strategic initiative and campaign to get more girls to play football and we have now also decided to unbundle the sponsorship rights. We are shaping the rights available across the competitions and the participation campaign and want to hear from brands about what they really want in this space. 

We are in a unique position compared to the men’s packages as we almost have a blank canvas as to how we shape our packages and we want to be as collaborative as possible at this stage to get it right for everyone. 

The Leaders Think Tank allowed us to have those discussions and road test some ideas as well as offer our support to the wider women’s sport movement. It is very much a collaborative, two-way conversation and the potential for our women’s competitions to grow with the support of a raft of new and innovative brand partnerships is a prospect which really excites us. 

Uefa launched Together #WePlayStrong for the Uefa Women’s Champions League final this year and continued for this summer’s Uefa Women’s EURO 2017 tournament in the Netherlands. What have been the tangible results of the campaign so far?

The Together #WePlayStrong campaign is part of a wider strategy to grow the number of girls playing football across Europe and establish it as the number one sport for women. 

So far, we have engaged tens of millions of girls with new, fresh and engaging content and are growing new audiences of teenage girls on platforms like Instagram and musical.ly. 

Since the launch our research shows a rise in the social audience for women’s football, from 8m to 9m on Facebook alone (source: Pulsar Women’s Football Tracking Study, August 2017).

Our campaign targets teenagers and our research also shows the women’s football audience skews younger across both males and females, highlighting that we’re successfully engaging a newer generation of football fans who take interest in the women’s game.

Aside from our campaign, we have a workshop project with our national associations. Thus far Moldova, Azerbaijan and Romania have taken part and we are on course with them to achieve sizeable increases in participation and go to market locally with marketing campaigns and partnership offerings to support this growth. 

Moldova, for example, is on course to double female participation in the next six months and have set a new stretch target to aim for in the coming years. They’ve signed their first partner specifically for girls’ participation programmes and have engaged a local YouTube influencer to drive attendance at festivals designed to introduce girls to the game. It’s just one strong, early example of the tangible and positive impact of Together #WePlayStrong.   

Was the campaign also built to send a message to potential sponsors that Uefa is putting its marketing resources behind the women's game? 

Yes, absolutely. While the campaign is specifically designed to talk to teenage girls and to make football a lifestyle for them, there is no doubt that we also want to make a clear statement about Uefa’s investment and ambitions. We have made a very concrete assertion of our commitment to growing fandom for women’s competitions and growing the opportunities and appeal for girls to play. This approach opens up our offering and appeal to brands who also want to be in the lifestyle space. Our current partners are very positive about the work we’re doing and through the previous Leaders Think Tanks we have garnered very positive and encouraging feedback from a wider set of brands. 

Are the sponsorship development challenges different around the club-based women’s Champions League and the national team-based women’s EUROs. If so, why?

There are interesting challenges but also ones that complement each other well. Traditionally the major events, such as Women’s EURO, deliver a big spike in interest and celebration, versus the more regular rhythm and frequency of the club competitions. Developing our new women’s package with these competitions, as well as the U17 and U19 tournaments which showcase the next generation of talent coming through, plus most importantly a blank canvas to develop initiatives to drive participation, means we have a compelling proposition to offer to brands. 

Traditionally, women's football sponsorship has been bundled with the men’s properties. Has this been the case with all Uefa properties and have there been cases where brands have successfully activated across both the men's and women's competitions?

Yes, these sponsorships have all been bundled in the past. There have been plenty of examples where brands have successfully activated – however there is always the potential to do more, especially given the stature of such excellent competitions. Historically, activation has varied due to many reasons, such as the strength and presence of the brand in the market hosting the competition. 

If you separate the men’s and women’s programmes, will you package the women’s competitions in the same way as you package the men’s competitions – or could there be a title sponsorship opportunity for example?

This is what really excites us. The packaging is not completely finalised yet, as this Think Tank is an important opportunity to hear from brands and agencies about what they want.

Traditionally we have not had pure naming rights deals but have been open for a structure that would give “Presenting Partner” rights with a greater share of voice. There are endless possibilities which we can work to shape in partnership with brands who share our excitement. 

Will sponsors of the men's competition gets first option on the equivalent women's properties or do you envisage an open market?

There is not a formal first option but of course we will discuss with our existing partners as a matter of courtesy and from initial, informal discussions, there has been strong interest so far.  

Are there activation opportunities assets in the women's game that you can’t offer in the men’s game. If so, what are these?

There is more flexibility in the women’s game, more access opportunity and less broadcast restriction at the moment so it’s a good time to shape these packages for the digital future. There is also more opportunity to work across the grassroots participation and elite competition and tell strong stories across the two. 

Do you envisage that break bumpers or other bought media will form an important part of Uefa women’s football sponsorship or is the media value elsewhere?

The record-breaking viewing figures for the Women’s EURO in the summer shows that some traditional mass audience assets like break bumpers can still play a valuable role in any deal. However, media value around other content formats will be just as important, plus the huge value will be working with a brand that wants to make a genuine difference to the game. 

Does Uefa have a preference where women’s competitions will be broadcast e.g., public terrestrial, commercial terrestrial, pay-tv, OTT or social media platforms?

It is all about getting the balance right and generating the best possible mix. Broadcasts on free-to-air, where possible, will help us in our objective to grow the number of girls playing, while the target audience for fandom of women’s competitions is going to be a younger, more diverse audience therefore OTT and Social Media makes sense there. It’s also important to state that we are constantly looking to develop content aside from pure match footage that is relevant for the audience and according to the channels they consume it on.

Could Uefa decided to create its own OTT platform for women's football? If so, how might this work for sponsors?

This is a potential option, although at this stage a little early to say how it could work for sponsors. Safe to say nothing is off the table and that’s why this is such an exciting juncture for women’s European football and its competitions. 

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