Leap in women's football viewing 'sets new benchmark' for Euro 2021

Lionesses: semi-final takes place on Thursday
Lionesses: semi-final takes place on Thursday

UK brands eyeing next tournament in England as 22 million viewers tune in to World Cup.

Viewing figures and commercial interest in women’s football are "growing at a rate of knots" and brands should start planning for Euro 2021, which takes place in England, according to a leading sports sponsorship executive.

Steve Martin, chief executive of M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment, told Campaign that the viewing figures for the current World Cup have been exceeding his expectations and that The Football Association, the host organisation for Euro 2021, was "hugely benefiting" from the broadcast arrangements.

On Friday, the BBC said that its coverage of the World Cup has reached a total of 22.2 million viewers, compared with the previous record of 12.4 million set in 2015. The numbers measure how many adults have tuned in for at least 15 minutes continuously.

When England meet the US in tomorrow’s semi-final on BBC One, the audience is expected to top the record 7.6 million peak who watched the national team beat Norway last Thursday.

"That sort of number is hard to get for any TV programming now, even destination shows like Strictly Come Dancing," Martin said. "It has such a dramatic impact, not just for now but for forward-thinking sponsors who want to be with the England team for a longer time."

The broadcast arrangements for Euro 2021 have yet not been agreed, with Martin suggesting that it would "pique the interest not just of ITV but of everybody".

ITV was unavailable for comment, but a spokesman for Channel 4, which screened Euro 2017 with sponsorship from McDonald’s, said it was "always interested in exploring potential opportunities".

Martin did sound a note of caution over the number of less-than-full stadia in France, but claimed that there was great sponsor interest nonetheless and that his agency had seen more briefs concerning women’s sport in the past two years than in the previous ten.

"Looking ahead to Euro 2021, I think this World Cup sets a new benchmark," he said. "We’re talking about a very fast-paced evolution in women’s sport and women’s football especially, it’s growing at a rate of knots. Commerically it’s put women’s football in the spotlight like never before."

There was agreement from research group Kantar, which today published its first piece of viewer research into women’s World Cup ads in the UK. During the last tournament it found only one ad, but this time it found eight.

"The potential for more brands to get involved with women’s football future is huge," Kantar’s managing director of offer and innovation Graham Page told Campaign.

Karen Martin, managing director of BBH London, advised brands to make Euro 2021 "a priority on your marketing plan now" and "get in there early".

However, it looks like BT and Mars have stolen a march here. Last month BT struck a five-year deal to become lead sponsor of all the England teams, while in March 2018 Mars renewed and extended its partnership with the mens’ team to cover the women’s and disability teams until 2022. 

"So," Steve Martin said, "brands might have to be smart around the individual players. On Thursday night it was Lucy Bronze who stood out for England. You might see some deals coming out with the individual talent, which was what we started to see [in men’s football] in the 80s and 90s."

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