European Success: Why it’s no longer just a male pursuit and how brands can benefit

The UEFA Champions League has been on everyone’s lips this season, with a combination of majestic football, big name clashes, astonishing goals and a certain topless striker doing his thing, helping to confirm the competition’s place at the pinnacle of the football tree. However, what’s truly made the knock-out stage so breath-taking has been the almost limitless drama on show in fixtures between teams competing at the peak of their powers. Matches of high quality and high stakes creating the perfect environment for headlines, sub-plots and stories that could hold their own against any Hollywood blockbuster.

It’s a powerful mix, and one that’s likely to be on show in a competition that bares similarities, but carries a different profile: The UEFA Women’s Champions League.

Arguably the best four women’s sides on the continent will be going up against each other later this month, as Manchester City take on holders Lyon, whilst Chelsea face former winners Wolfsburg. In a competition that averages over 3.5 goals per game and semi-finals which feature the striking power of players such as Alexandra Popp, Nadia Nadim and Fran Kirby, there are likely to be fireworks.

Yet, whilst the men’s competition can point to a host of long-term, big name partners including Heineken, Mastercard and PepsiCo, the women’s competition remains a long way off such support.

Clearly the competitions vary greatly in profile: the men’s fixtures are near guaranteed sell-outs and are regularly broadcast to millions around the world, but with the rights to the women’s competition now decoupled from the men’s, a unique opportunity has arisen for the right brand at a time when women’s sport is exploding.

UEFA’s decision to unbundle the rights and package together UEFA Women’s EURO 2021, the UEFA Women’s Champions League and UEFA’s women’s national team youth competitions along with the Together #WePlayStrong campaign is a sure-fire nod to SSE’s ground-breaking sponsorship of the Women’s FA Cup.

The commercial call to separate the women’s competition rights from the men’s was one that took foresight, first from the FA and later SSE who took on the title sponsorship. It’s a decision that has ultimately led to rejuvenating the competition and creating an environment for the Final to get record-breaking attendance at Wembley Stadium, pushing the BBC to broadcast not only the Final, but also the semi-finals for the 2017/18 competition.

So there’s precedent for this at a local market level, but can it work across Europe? Naturally challenges exist, in particular the relatively low match attendances, but by looking at the bigger picture, success for a sponsor relies on more than just bums on seats in the stands.

SSE’s Dads and Daughters campaign used the sponsorship to open the door to stories that could engage people who may have never stepped inside a stadium, but crucially spoke to SSE’s target audience. When viewed alongside the SSE Wildcats grassroots football programme, a picture of true partnership emerges, one in which the brand shows they really do care.

The sponsorship landscape is currently awash with brands spending thousands, if not millions, on the latest VR and AI technology in an effort to stand out from the crowd, but this is no guarantee of genuine engagement. Consumers, now more than ever, can discern a marketing ploy from a real investment in sport, and the new UEFA package offers just this.

By building on the rich platform this progressive and female-focussed property creates, a brand has the perfect launch pad to create authentic and credible stories that can show what a brand believes in.

With all of this comes the cherry on the cake. Last year’s UEFA Women’s EURO was watched by 149.5 million people globally, and with women’s sport growing at some pace, the 2021 competition is likely to exceed those numbers, providing a golden moment for brands involved in the sport to point towards.

So, although European success is currently the reserve of the men’s competition, it won’t be for long. The SSE Women’s FA Cup pointed the way, but the future looks bright beyond England. UEFA has played its hand well, and with a level of foresight (and appropriate investment) the right brand could as well. Success in Europe has never looked more likely for the women’s game.