At the start of the Women's Euro 2017 finals, Sports Sponsorship Insider spoke to Mark Bullingham, the Football Association’s group commercial and marketing director, and Katie Brazier, the FA’s head of women's leagues and competitions, about the commercial opportunities in the women’s game.
To promote the England women’s national team a.k.a ‘The Lionesses’, which played its opening game against Scotland last night, the FA launched its 'Salute' campaign (see video below), calling for fans to show their support by submitting a salute on social media via #Lionesses.
The FA’s marketing team has also announced a three-year partnership with the media and entertainment giant Disney to increase participation in, and challenge perceptions of, girls’ football.
Here’s how the promotional campaign and partnership feed into the FA’s wider commercial ambitions for the women’s game in England.
Sports Sponsorship Insider: What are the FA’s goals for the 'Salute' campaign?
Mark Bullingham: We are putting a lot of effort into marketing the team. The main aim of ‘Salute the Lionesses’ is to give them the profile that they deserve to build a generation of heroes. There is a lack of female role models in team sports, not just football, in this country. The campaign will help knock down cultural barriers. I think it’s critical to do this to boost participation amongst girls and to show our support for the team at the Euros.
SSI: Tell us more about the partnership with Disney?
MB: The first thing to say is that it’s a long-term partnership. We haven’t committed to a minimum duration but long term they want to help us to give a generation of girls an active lifestyle – with benefits for health, teamwork, friendship by getting involved in a team and communication skills. They plan to build the programme across Disney’s franchises, which will help meet our joint goal. In particular, they have some strong female leads from Daisy Ridley in Star Wars, to Emma Watson in Beauty and the Beast and many of their animated characters. Their values will fit brilliantly with the Lionesses so we see huge potential for joint marketing programmes.
SSI: Reflecting on the commercial development of the women’s game, how has the women’s England team developed as a commercial property since the last Euros in 2013?
MB: Personally, I’ve only been at the FA for one year, but we’ve take a critical decision that the women’s game should have its own distinct commercial programme across both its competitions and the England teams. At the moment, we have partners across the men’s and women’s game where women’s rights are in some cases tagged on to the contract. We are going to make separate contracts and get the right brands behind it who will put their marketing support into the women’s game to help it achieve its growth potential. After the Russia World Cup, all FA women’s contracts will be separate, although a brand can, of course, continue to sponsor both the men’s and women’s game.
SSI: Do you have staff dedicated to the commercial exploitation of the women’s football team?
MB: We brought in Marzena Bogdanowicz in March, who has worked with Team GB and the British Olympic Association, as our new head of marketing and commercial for women’s football. She manages a cross-functional team of about eight to 10 people, who work in communications, marketing, sponsorships sales and sponsorship services for the women’s game.
The FA will look to sell rights to the women’s game directly rather than through an agency partner. And we are investing heavily in the game itself. The commercial income doesn’t come close to outweighing that investment, however both the national team and the women’s super league has potential to grow quickly.
SSI: How important is the England women’s football team to the growth of the Women’s Super League?
Katie Brazier: What we saw on the back of the success we had at the World Cup in Canada, where we won the bronze medal, was a huge rise in attendance for the second half of the WSL season. Overall, the WSL experienced a 48 per cent rise in attendance for the 2015 season. The players are also far more accessible to the fans and media than the men’s game, which is something we are trying to encourage – the Lionesses are very keen to position themselves as role models and promote the sport.
SSI: How are WSL clubs financed?
KB: It’s a mixture. All the clubs get a development grant from the FA linked to them delivering against certain criteria. For a WSL 1 club, that’s up to £92,500 per year. For a WSL2 club, it’s up to £62,500 per year. For some clubs, this grant is more important than for others – those clubs that are owned by men’s clubs being the most well-funded. In terms of sponsorship, some clubs have joint men’s and women’s sponsorship, but clubs are becoming more progressive: Liverpool has an agreement with Avon and Man City with Nissan.
SSI: Will the league keep its Presenting Partner-based sponsorship structure in the next cycle?
KB: We need to make sure we get the right partner to help promote the league. We currently have BT as the Presenting Partner in a separate contract from its broadcast deal. The Presenting Partner deal exists until the end of the current club licensing system cycle, which ends after the 2017-18 season. The broadcast side will have a further year to run to the end of 2018-19.