Extension of the UEFA Women’s Champions League to reframe expectations of women’s sport



Just under 30 years ago, a new competition emerged that set the tone for an entire generation of elite sport.

Developed from the old European Cup, the concept of the UEFA Champions League captured dormant business value in club football, then inflated it in an even more drastic way than anyone could have. imagine at the time.

It was a different time, rooted in different expectations. It will be another ten years before a continental women’s competition is inaugurated – the UEFA Women’s Cup was first contested in 2001/02, before being renamed the Women’s Champions League in 2009. This week, this tournament has taken a bold leap forward.

A structural reorganization has produced something more comparable to its male counterpart, albeit on a smaller scale, with the 16-team group stage giving the best teams more opportunities than ever to meet at the highest level. Meanwhile, a multi-year global broadcast deal with DAZN has led to a surprisingly ambitious distribution.

DAZN is streaming all 61 games for free this season via YouTube, a move that improves its access to viewers in territories where its network is less established and puts its mark in front of fans who might not think of subscribing otherwise. It does so, naturally, while massively expanding the reach of the tournament itself. At the same time, DAZN has partnered with the dedicated women’s football platform Ata Football, which will offer 31 matches to its subscribers, and announced a six-city tour across Europe to promote its coverage. Adidas is on board as a sponsor.

The expansion of the Women’s Champions League – accompanied this week by the announcement that M&C Saatchi Sport and Entertainment, Matta, Threepipe Reply, Two Circles and Heart Production will all be on hand to provide creative and commercial support to the Women’s Euro UEFA 2022 – comes amid some intriguing questions about the business development of women’s team sport in general. The next goals are easy to identify.

Tent events like international tournaments are attracting cyclical interest, while there is also a rapidly growing contingent of popular female stars emerging from what were, until recently, male-dominated sports. The challenge now is to build larger and more dedicated fan bases for the women’s teams whose dedication is constant throughout the year. It is the source of more sustainable growth.

There are a lot of rights and trademark holders who have recognized it and some familiar models are appearing. DAZN’s strategy for the Women’s Champions League is echoed in Sky Sports’ partnership with the BBC for the English Women’s Football Super League, with the pay-TV giant paying rights and marketing engagement and the unencrypted release. offering a wider audience for the selected games. Indeed, Sky and the BBC have already worked together on this summer’s inaugural edition of English cricket’s Hundred, with all women’s games also being broadcast for free on YouTube.

These are optimistic times. Sky Sports and Leaders in Sport released a report this week whose main finding was that 21% of UK adults and 24% of men were following more female sport than they had been before the start of the Covid pandemic. 19, significantly alleviating fears of blocked momentum.

Elsewhere, a study by sports marketing agency The Space Between found that female sports fans were 25% more likely to buy sponsored products than male sports fans, and that sponsor memorization was twice as high. higher than in men’s sport. If these partners are more integrated at this point, they must also tell a different kind of story: the survey found that 40 percent of female sports fans think it is “very important” that sponsor brands reflect their own values, compared to 20 percent of male sports fans, when they are more often motivated by community and environmental sustainability.

How much anything that should encourage greater experimentation and independent thinking is open to exploration. For the next edition of SportsPro magazine, Editorial Director Michael Long asked several industry leaders whether business models should be built from scratch or whether they should follow existing models.

Either way, it’s impossible to overstate the value of a holistic perspective in the way women’s sport is run, as well as the way it’s sold.

“A number of people thought it was going to be pushed back because of Covid, but in fact it came back strong with real momentum,” said Dame Heather Rabbatts, the extremely experienced former director of the Football Association (FA) England, during a panel at the Leaders’ Week event at Twickenham Stadium.

“I think in terms of governance of women’s football, of course, you have to look at the landscape, but create a governance structure that reflects its values, its ambition, its vision, and I am absolutely convinced that it will therefore. He’s growing in maturity and in terms of his voice, so I don’t think it’s about emulating, it’s about inventing what’s right for women’s football – taking inspiration from the best of what we have. seen in men’s football around the world.

Despite all the successes of recent years, there are still cases where a female sports strategy can feel stuck. Ten European women’s football leagues released a statement last week that Fifa’s plans for a biennial Men’s World Cup could have a “deeply damaging” impact on the progress of women’s football by flooding the media landscape. The global governing body has brought in former United States Women’s National Team coach Jill Ellis to oversee a task force on the international calendar, mirroring the work of global development chief Arsene Wenger in the men’s football, but left open to accusations of a reactive date in this case.

The memory of the statement made by the founding clubs of the European Super League – with its passing on a line of a women’s tournament “as soon as possible after the start of the men’s competition” – is still fresh. The team behind the new World 12 small-format rugby tournament were also criticized last month for their intention to delay the women’s edition for a year.

These growing concerns about an unequal approach are not rooted in the idea that there is an obligation to manage women’s property, but in the argument that it is worth doing it right. The positivity around the rise of women’s sport makes it too easy to get involved to be an end in itself. This threatens to relegate it, in the end, to becoming just another exercise in brand hygiene.

Hopefully it becomes more and more clear that there has to be a wholehearted commitment to success. There are stories in women’s sport that should be told differently. There are protective structures in governing bodies – as events in the United States sadly revealed over the past week – that need to be built differently, with more diverse and transparent leadership building on experience. relevant.

The older he grows, the more he will develop fanbases with different priorities, even if there is a large overlap with existing events. All of this requires special attention.

There is a clear and substantial potential to properly discover and develop women’s team sports could be the greatest opportunity for the industry over the next two decades. Whoever will capitalize on it, over the long term, will have understood what it is.


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