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4 Brands Championing Female Sports in Western Europe

Female leagues and athletes have historically been underrepresented in the sports world. But as young consumers become bigger women’s sports fans, brands are showing their support, too…


TL;DR

  • Though viewership of women’s sports is typically a fraction of men’s, the past two years have seen a surge of interest in women’s matches and broadcasts
  • Now, the majority of young Europeans say female sports are just as interesting as male sports
  • As the 2022 European Women’s Football Championship rolls on, brands from TikTok to Nike are using their platforms to support women in football

Female sports have always taken a backseat to male sports, with viewership, sponsorship, prize money, and overall interest paling in comparison. Female athletes have long been paid significantly less than their male counterparts, have faced sexism, and have been severely underrepresented. According to the Economist, just 3% of British newspapers and 5.4% of broadcast sports news in the U.S. mentioned women’s events in 2019.

But things are starting to change, and interest in women’s sports is surging for the first time in decades (or ever). A survey from Sky Sports and Leaders in Sport found that interest in women’s sports has risen dramatically in the U.K. over the course of the pandemic, thanks in part to an increase in broadcast coverage: 21% of respondents reported following women’s sports more during the pandemic, and 68% of that cohort say their newfound interest was driven by the increase in broadcast coverage. What’s more, almost a quarter of men surveyed said they now follow women’s sports more than pre-pandemic. Now, stadiums are filling up and selling out for women’s sports, and record numbers of people tuning in from home. Turnout for the opening game of the 2022 European Women’s Football Championship (or “the Euros”) broke records, with following tournaments selling out stadiums—and even moving to bigger stadiums to accommodate the growing body of fans. The first quarter of 2022 saw the highest viewership ever for women’s sports in the U.K., up 50% over 2019, the last full year before the pandemic. (The U.S., too, is seeing a boom in interest in women’s sports.) Indeed, YPulse’s WE Sports and Athletics report found that 65% of all young Europeans say that women’s sports are just as interesting as men’s sports, and 58% of young females in the region consider themselves sports fans.

Despite all this forward movement, a 2021 study from YouGov found that 75% of Europeans still believe that media coverage and sponsorship are not yet equal between men’s and women’s sports. To push the tide forward, brands are jumping on board to push for equity and representation in the sports world with campaigns and partnerships aimed at spotlighting and championing female sports leagues and athletes. As the Euros continue across Europe, here are four brands tapping the event to support female sports now:

Nike x Rebel Girls

This month, Nike teamed up with “girl-driven edutainment” brand Rebel Girls to champion female footballers in Europe in a series of videos, illustrations, and more aimed at amplifying the stories of women footballers and coaches from around the world to inspire young girls and celebrate the joy of the sport. The inaugural ad, titled “Never settle, never done,” features top female football players from across Europe as well as girls from grassroots teams in a “high octane” video that calls for more professional opportunities, investment, access and visibility for women in football. In addition to the ad, Rebel Girls has created and produced original stories and illustrations of Nike athletes and communities, which are available on the Nike app and across its social channels. Rebel Girls is also hosting seven audio stories about female footballers on its own app and website. The two brands have also created a limited edition book, “Rebel Girls: Game-Changing Footballers, 12 Thrilling Stories of Female Athletes.” Nike has promised to distribute 20,000 free copies of the book to kids in Nike retail stores and partner stores across the greater London area and schools across the U.K.

Sports Direct

U.K. retailer Sports Direct launched a campaign promoting gender equality in football. Titled “Girls Don’t Like Football, We Love It,” the campaign was released ahead of the 2022 UEFA European Women’s Football Championship, using the tournament “as a catalyst for a new era of women’s football in the U.K.” The spot showcases known and unknown female players and coaches as well as fans and plays with the long-held misconception that girls don’t like sports. In the video, the camera sweeps through scenes of girls playing football, watching tournaments, and kicking balls around in the street, pausing to say various iterations of “girls don’t like football.” The video ends with these girls shouting “we love it,” showing that “in spite of all the barriers, there is a rising tide of women who feel passionately about the sport.”

TikTok x UEFA

TikTok has increasingly become the official sponsor of live sporting events over the past few years as the platform solidifies itself as a top place young consumers turn for all things pop culture. In fact, memes/viral content (a.k.a. the sustenance of TikTok) is the third top type of pop culture moment young Europeans say they pay attention to—and number one for Gen Z. In an effort to support the growing interest in women’s sports, TikTok has become the official entertainment platform of the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 tournament. The partnership follows the successful promotion of the UEFA men’s tournament last year, and will build off the growing engagement with women’s sports on the app. The hashtag #womeninsports has garnered 1.2 billion views, for instance, and Western European teams have managed to reach their fans on the platform: the England women’s national team’s TikTok account has brought fans behind-the-scenes during competitions and Burnley FC Women has broadcast all of this season’s home matches live on TikTok. As the UEFA’s global sponsor, TikTok has launched event-specific features, including computer-generated effects, hashtag challenges, TikTok LIVEs, and Sounds. UEFA also gave TikTok access to its extensive library of football programming assets to develop highly engaging and innovative content, including archival footage.

Heineken

Heineken has upped its sponsorship and representation of female sports in the past year, most recently releasing a campaign in the U.K. that celebrates female soccer fans and addresses gender bias in sports. The campaign, titled “Cheers to All Fans, Men Included,” diverges from the usual men-watching-the-game format to show groups of female soccer fans enjoying the match with a glass of Heineken—and even shows some women opting to watch the game instead of spending time with their dates. In addition to the ad, Heineken launched the site Fresher Football, which aims to highlight the often-overlooked achievements of female athletes in the Union of European Football Associations Champions League. The site will help correct gender biases evident in inaccurate statistics on the internet by influencing algorithms and “convincing search engines and fan sites to correct the information they provide users.” Heineken is also an official sponsor of the Union of European Football Associations Women’s Champions League this year, following its partnership with the league last year.

YPulse Western Europe Business users can access the full WE Sports and Athletics behavioral report and data here.

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