The Lionesses’ Current Success in the Euros and How it’s Inspiring a New Interest in Women's Football
“Change is an ongoing process, but women’s football will never be the same again”1.
Leah Williamson (Captain of the Lionesses): “For every success we make and change of judgement or opening the eyes of people who view women as someone who is equal – that changes society and that is a powerful message. These strides we take forward can impact everyone on that wider scale”2.
England’s 2-1 victory over Germany in the Women’s 2022 Euros tournament was viewed by a record-breaking TV audience of 17.4 million – that’s almost a third of the country. There were a further 5.9 million streams via the BBC services, on top of the 87,192 fans at Wembley stadium (breaking another record) and the countless fans in fan zones in England and Germany. For context, the men’s team was watched by 11.7 million in 2018 when they were defeated by the US at the World Cup semi-finals. The surge in views will, hopefully, start inspiring more girls to join football teams and existing players to consider a professional career in the sport3.
A bit of background
Women’s football clubs were originally created in the 1890s in the United Kingdom, but the FA (Football Association) banned them in 1921 because the sport was allegedly “quite unsuitable for females”. This ban lasted fifty years.
The Lionesses’ win ended a 56-year dry spell since England beat West Germany in the 1966 World Cup. Following on from their success, Internet searches for ‘women’s football tickets’ surged, with interest in Manchester City’s Women’s team up 3000% immediately after the Lionesses’ win. Brighton also reported selling more tickets since then than the whole of the previous season. The website selling tickets for the Lionesses’ friendly match against the US in October crashed because demand was so high. This hopefully serves as a mere taster of the impact that the surge that women’s football is having as an aftermath.
Starling Bank, the tournament sponsor described the Lionesses as “Record Breakers. History Makers. Champions”, suggesting that the sponsorship was lucrative, perhaps even more so than was hoped. Rachel Kerrone, brand and marketing director at the bank, said that they sponsored the Women’s Euros because the tournament aligned with their mission of “lifting women up and smashing glass ceilings”. The bank also led numerous initiatives as part of this sponsorship; for instance, it developed the first ever Fantasy Football game for the Women’s Euros and planted 50 trees for every goal scored, totaling 2,700 as of 27th July. The Bank also donated £28,000 to Sports Aid and grassroots teams across the UK to develop “the pipeline of female footballing talent”. This bodes well for a lasting sponsorship and relationship between the team and the bank. Hopefully, Starling Bank’s faith and commitment towards the Lionesses inspires other companies to do the same and will contribute to men and women’s team sponsorships and deals to stand more equally.
Notoriously, as a consequence of the tournament, star defender Lucy Bronze already has deals with Pepsi, EE and Visa to top up her salary. Captain Leah Williamson agreed a deal recently with Gucci whilst already being signed with Pepsi and Nike. Lynsey Douglas, global lead in women’s sport at Neilsen, says that “We’re now seeing the results of the FA and UEFA investing in, and backing, women’s football over a number of years, and it’s bearing very strong results”4. Neilsen also alleges that fans of women’s football are more gender-balanced and younger than their male counterparts, which is attractive to brands.
Following the Lionesses’ win, many companies who also sponsored them, such as LinkedIn and Pepsi Max, were quick to react and celebrate. Royal Mail “shar(ed) an image of a ball, wrapped in brown paper and two first class stamps, addressed to: Home”. Heinz shared that “Sometimes, the wait makes the result taste even better! 150 years after inventing the beautiful game, football is coming home again”5. The sheer number of popular and large brands that have celebrated and promoted the Lionesses’ win is a large step forward and shows a growing support and interest in women’s football, tending towards what will hopefully be a parity between men and women’s football teams.
All in all, Lisa Parfitt, co-founder of sports marketing agency, The Space Between, reported that, “The Lionesses have provided the perfect shop window for brands looking for potential for sponsorship in their marketing campaigns.”6 Women’s football has enormous reach, but women’s sport fans are far more likely to be an advocate for a brand’s sponsors and far more likely to buy those brands’ products”.
The not so good
Although the general trend in women’s football seems that it is growing in popularity and interest is rising, there is still much progress to be made. Indeed, a FIFA report published earlier this year suggested that 55% of Euros players had been abused online with Lioness, Rachel Daly, calling the football environment a “tough place”. This included gender abuse, amongst others. Furthermore, Alex Scott, a former Lioness, criticised Premier League clubs who refused to host matches during the Women’s Euros: “Back in 2018, we were begging clubs to host games for these championships, and many said no. I hope they’re watching now… they never saw the vision”7. This is outrageous and begs the question: would they have turned away men’s clubs asking to play on their grounds? You can guess the response for yourself…
More shockingly still, as with gender pay gaps in most roles in the professional sector, football is no exception. For context, England and Barcelona right-back Lucy Bronze (the alleged top-earner of the team) earns £200,000. The average salary in the Women’s Super League stands at just £30,000 with some players earning £20,000. When compared to Cristiano Ronaldo’s alleged salary of £26m per annum at Manchester United, this is a slap in the face. More than that. It is despicable; a top male player earning ONE HUNDRED times more than a top female player.
Not only this, but the Lionesses were awarded a £1.3m bonus pot to share equally between them following their win whereas the men’s team were promised £5m, had they won the 2021 Euros.
With this in mind, we need to consider what can be done in the future to bridge the gap between men and women’s football and ensure that they are playing, and being paid, equally.
In a hopeful statement, FA chief executive Mark Bullingham told the BBC that England’s victory is a chance to ‘turbocharge’ the development of the women’s game and there is “no reason” why the women should be playing a different game to men. The FA has also pledged for 75% of schools to provide equal access to football for girls in PE lessons by 2024, up from the current 65%. Following on from that, the Lionesses have addressed a letter to Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, the two Tory leadership party candidates to address the lack of opportunity for girls to play football and other sport more broadly. The Government has already pledged £230m of investment to build or improve 8,000 football/multi-sport facilities by 2025; the pitches or sporting centers will also be named after the 23 players in the squad who brought football home at Wembley. Hopefully, the push from the Government will contribute to putting women’s football and sport, more generally, in the spotlight going forward.
There are further opportunities this year to showcase women’s sport, such as the Commonwealth Games and the home tournament with the Women’s Rugby League World Cup this autumn; there is much hope that these will further attract more female fans and make them aware of the opportunities for women in sport.
In relation to brand deals and sponsorships, the 2022 Women’s Euros has brought thousands of new fans as well as new sponsors, but the team will need to keep up momentum to reach the £1bn turnover predicted by 2030. A recent three-year deal was signed between the Women’s Super League, the BBC and Sky Sports, at £8m a season in a hope to make women’s sport more accessible and attract wider TV audiences. Indeed, “the record TV and live audiences, not to mention the Lionesses’ historic win, should be proof enough to brands that now is exactly the right time to invest for the long term in women’s sport”8. Another commented “for those visionary enough to back the women’s team along their journey, especially Nike, they’ll enjoy a halo effect for a long time to come”9. So, as well as a growing interest in football from fans, companies have echoed that too and will reap the rewards going forward. This will help brands further advertise as well as allow female players to land more brand deals, topping up their salary generously.
Women need equal sponsorship and TV deals, bigger backers and access to physiotherapists, dieticians and psychologists to bridge the gap with the men’s football teams and attempt to reach equality. Nonetheless, the Lionesses and other women’s football teams are gathering interest exponentially. As former Lioness and BBC presenter Alex Scott said recently regarding sponsors: “You know what? If you’re not involved, then you’ve missed the train, it’s finally left the station and it’s gathering speed”.
Finally, as Ian Wright, a commentator, said after the final about women’s football: “If girls aren’t allowed to play football, just like the boys in PE after this, what are we doing? We’ve got to make sure that they are able to play. If there’s no legacy after this, what are we doing?”10
Written by Clara Topiol