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When it comes to sponsoring women's soccer, now is the time for brands to step up

Why aren’t more brands celebrating women’s soccer? 

Undoubtedly, there is a huge issue with gender equality in Soccer. You only have to glance at the $4m vs. $38m prize fund for the winners of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, to understand the scale of the gulf. Or have a play with one of those ruin-your-day-in-an-instant wage calculators for male soccer stars. Spoiler: Cristiano Ronaldo just made something like $4,948 whilst you were reading those three lines. 

A player playing in National Women's Soccet League (NWSL) cannot make close to that. In a month. There’s a maximum, annual salary cap of $46,200. 

But here’s the thing. In the U.S., we have arguably the best soccer team to have walked the planet. Period. They’ve finished in the top three of every World Cup since its inception. They’ve won it four times now, after Sunday’s dismissal of the Netherlands. They have four Olympic Golds, multiple FIFA World Player of the Year awards, Rapinoe’s haul from France and have broken records all over the place. Including a few more with that 13-0 win over Thailand. Thirteen. 

Yet, their male counterparts who have never won a World Cup, medalled in one (way back in 1930), have never won a FIFA World Player award, didn’t qualify for 2018, have never won an Olympic Gold, recently struggled past Curaçao in the QF’s of CONCACAF…could play, and lose, every game in a calendar year and earn more than the Women’s team in bonuses and appearance money. And average a higher salary. 

Oh, and by the way, the US Women's National Team generates as much, if not more, revenue than the men’s team. 

The list of issues is endless, and goes way beyond the pro game. 

Clearly, there are serious problems in gender equality in Soccer, sport and beyond, that need addressing. A responsibility to change this should be felt by all, and especially by brands wanting to benefit from being part of the sport. 

And that’s my problem. 

Brands, on the most part, are investing in Women’s Soccer as it’s ‘the right thing to do’. 

To align themselves with something good. 

To cover up that ugly corporate image, with something worthy. 

Something that doesn’t feel too much like marketing. 

A self-congratulating, feel-good investment… that costs a lot less than if they’d sponsored the men’s game. Nice. 

I’m being over the top to make the point here. Obviously, any investment and recognition from brands, big or small, in Women’s sport is good. But it could be better. It should be better. 

Instead of using the dollars brands have spent, to talk about the dollars they’ve spent (in such a good cause), they should be using it, in my opinion, to celebrate the game. To celebrate the players. To celebrate the athletes. To celebrate the skill. The coaches. The goals. All thirteen of them. To celebrate the pin-point cross-field balls. The crunching tackles. The setbacks. The comebacks. The full-backs. 

You get the point. I love soccer. It’s the best game on the planet. 

So, when we have the pinnacle event in world soccer, and the best team in it - why aren’t we celebrating it, and them, for what it is and what they can do? As the athletes and heroes they are. 

Everything we do and say should be conscious of society, feel inclusive, and uphold the values that we all want to live by. That should be inherent. 

But, let’s not be silly, we’re marketers. We are not going to change the world….in a 60-second spot about equality/role models/pay parity….especially alongside a nice shot of an airplane or a new model of car…

But we can reset the norm. We can change the game – firstly, how it’s depicted. 

We have to stop looking at, and treating, Women’s soccer/sport as a subset of the male equivalent. 

It’s not inferior, in fact here, it’s better. In every way. 

As people broadly responsible for delivering work that brings a brand to life, and sells products of course…we, more than most, should be doing that for the sport itself. Not because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s worthy of all this and more. 

People aren’t going to attend more games, buy more jerseys or tune in as they feel it’s the fair thing to do…

We have to start with celebrating the sport and its players for being brilliant – that’s how we as marketers can make a difference. We need to make it as famous as it deserves to be. As a sport, for being a sport. 

I also think it’s the best, most credible way to market brands and products too. Making actual connections to the sport, the cultures that surround it and why we love it, to slingshot your brand into the consciousness of fans (old and new) is ‘the right thing to do’. Versus making relatively disingenuous statements about what’s wrong with it, or commitments on how you’re changing it, and then bolting a mass-manufactured product on the end of it. 

It’s not all doom and gloom. Some brands are on the right side of my opinion… Nike did just about everything right in making the game feel epic. Adidas were reactive in celebrating key moments as they would the men’s game, and financially leveled the playing field with winning bonuses for their athletes. Budweiser also made an impactful statement around what it means to be a supporter of the women’s game, and it being more than just a four-yearly thing. I hope they continue to build the profile of the game. 

There’s so much more to get excited about in the women’s soccer game. Let’s start there, with the game itself, it’s where we can make the biggest gains for the sport, the athletes, the fans, your consumers and your brands. 

It’s a long road, but lets at least all get on the right side of it first. 

Simon Yoxall is thre managing director, Iris Sport NA

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